A TWM Q&A with our CEO
This article was original published by The Wealth Mosaic
First, at the macro-level, technology will need to help businesses thrive against a backdrop of instability. Whilst it may be comforting to hope that a degree of ‘normality’ will return post COVID, Trump and BREXIT; it is likely that 2021 and the coming years will bring their own unique challenges.
At a societal level, the root causes of the deep dissatisfaction that have grown in scale and voice since the 2008 financial crisis across most western societies remain entrenched. We have seen how fragile our world is to a threat such as COVID. Environmentally, we are witnessing the increased impact climate change has on communities and economies; both directly from extreme weather and from demands placed on government and business to change as a result. Practically we are still trying to understand the impact of BREXIT on financial services.
In this context wealth managers will need to invest in technology and data intelligence that can help them adapt to this unpredictable environment in an agile and flexible way. Intriguingly technology itself will also become a catalyst for further disruption. The democratization of trading seen in the ‘David and Goliath’ battle over Gamestop stock, marshalled through social media and delivered on the new generation of retail trading platforms being a recent example. More broadly, few businesses can now ignore how tech-enabled public sentiment impacts their freedom of actions through social media pressure and the easy dissemination of information (whether fake or not).
Second, our clients will become more demanding, and they and the individual businesses serving them will continue to expect more and more from technology. COVID has sped up digital transformation by years and enlightened a previously absent demographic to digital engagement.
But there will be no digital end-state, a place where a client says “right, there is no further technological advance I could possibly wish for. We are done”. In this respect, technological transformation is a misnomer. Instead, what exists is continual digital evolution and the technological challenge is to keep up, get ahead and lead it.
Blurring the lines
The traditional view of what constitutes a wealth manager, an asset manager, a bank or other financial services firm will continue to change. The ability for people to consume multiple services and products from a single point of digital access is becoming ubiquitous. Consolidated experiences bring together entertainment products from multiple providers; health and fitness information from multiple applications; multiple communication channels onto one device. The provision of these services is no longer experienced by the client as siloed interactions. In our sector, wealth management clients will increasingly demand a consolidated financial experience. They will expect easy access to a choice of products; demand
oversight of their financial health in one place; and they are unlikely to want to manage multiple providers.
The technological challenge here is twofold. To deliver an integrated wealth-management-as-a-service proposition blending investment operations, regulatory oversight and covering multiple asset classes through a single client experience. Whilst also providing wealth managers with the capability to reach and cultivate relationships with clients via other vendors and distribution channels.
Those businesses able to think, plan and react with agility to the challenges outlined above will gain competitively over those businesses that do not. Backing up that agile mindset with flexible operating platforms allowing businesses to remain ‘lite’, move quickly and respond to external factors is where technology can help.
In sum, it is no good thinking quickly if you are prevented from acting quickly by your process and system restrictions.
At the business level, agile thinking may result in a decision to open a new business line; include a broader range of financial services from other providers; provide your services via someone else’s Wealth Management as a Service platform; change the way operations are conducted to account for changes in regulation; or to set up a new office in a new jurisdiction to take advantage of new opportunities (or overcome new trading barriers).
To support this, flexible open architecture modular operating platforms that allow businesses to tap into expertise from different product and service providers at different times and at relatively short notice, will become increasingly important. Those tech companies able to contribute to such systems will find themselves in a good position to help wealth management businesses grasp new opportunities as they arise.
To do so they must design products and platforms that possess the following attributes:
Place interoperability as a core requirement of system design thinking.
Allow clients to consume innovative tech whilst avoiding the need for investment in massive, lengthy wholesale systems migration programmes.
Allow clients to invest in those activities and expertise in which they have a competitive advantage, whilst working collaboratively with 3rd parties who are expert in the required enabling activities.
Our clients are focusing on all of them as they are all intimately linked and investment in one area tends to contribute to, or rely on, technologies that support the others. But, if there were two areas where we see focus at the moment, it is on digital experience and data.
Building a digital relationship
COVID has undoubtedly increased the reliance wealth managers place on the digital channels they use to engage both clients and their employees. We often focus on the end client, which is understandable and critically important. Technology plays a vital role in helping wealth mangers deliver the best experience possible to their clients through engaging and intuitive digital interfaces. Particularly when face-to-face contact is prohibited.
However, we sometimes focus less on the technology needs and experience of those people running the day-to-day operations of wealth management businesses. Providing our people with the best possible tools to do their jobs is critical. Firstly, it allows them to contribute directly to the customer experience by providing accurate and timely reporting; reassurance by properly securing client private data, respond to events and corporate actions; and make quick and well informed investing decisions to help grow client AUM.
Secondly, and as COVID has shown, technology is THE tool through which a distributed workforce can be engaged, feel valued and brought together to create high performing teams. Attracting and retaining the best talent in the market provides businesses with competitive advantage. Investment in this aspect of digital engagement, allowing for a blend of remote and office working is likely to remain central to our clients’ needs. It will never replace the need for human
interaction, but it can support it.
Getting the right data. And getting the data right
The quality of any digital engagement, be that with a client or a valued staff member, can only be as good as the data that the digital engagement tool collects, manages and exploits. Technology can paint a pretty picture but if the data the technology uses is inaccurate, you simply end up with a pretty, but inaccurate, picture.
The same is true is for every technological tool found within any wealth manager. Ensuring accurate, timely and secured data flows to, from and between onboarding, CRM, portfolio modelling and management, trading and execution and reporting (to name but some) technologies is non-negotiable. As more sophisticated technological tools are developed; as clients demand more joined up and holistic services, delivered through their digital channel, so too will the requirement to see data as the core commodity wealth managers need to get right.
Directly linked to the data factor, are the tools now available to ESG and impact investing providers that provide investment transparency and oversight to the consumer. The role of data in this increasingly important part of our sector is key. It becomes the mechanism through which we move away from ‘green washing’ and accusations of superficial nods to CSR; to embedding sustainability at the core of wealth management propositions. Ultimately this ensures clients have complete transparency over where their money is invested and, critically, what impact those investments are having.
More broadly, Open Finance offers to build on the Open Banking initiative to help breakdown restrictions on innovation that have been caused by the ubiquity of proprietary solutions in finance and the often prohibitive associated costs of implementation. As Open Finance grows and we see rapidly increasing engagement, helped by evangelists such as the Fintech Open Source Foundation, the range of interesting tools that can be brought together to create innovative value propositions will only increase. The ability be part of this and help facilitate the delivery of exciting fintech offerings to finance sector businesses through integrated systems is hugely exciting.
Our 2021 focus is threefold:
Responding to the challenges and opportunities outlined above, our inhouse development work will focus on our integration architecture. We are working for clients determined to offer fully integrated wealth experiences to their clients and our challenge is create data-centric, agile and flexible operating platforms to allow them to do so.
We will continue to invest in our people. We work at the intersection between financial business operations and financial technology and we will continue to build a team with first-hand experience of both.
We always look to work with the most innovative and forward-thinking technology and service companies in the market. It is our belief that the future of wealth tech is best served through collaboration and interoperability, as such we will continue to invest in our partnership network.
This article appeared originally in The Wealth Mosaic WealthTec Views Report: Looking into 2021, which includes pieces from a range of contributors.
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