Expert: Annie Catchpole - Scorpio Partnership
Moderator: Seb Dovey - Scorpio Partnership
In a recent survey, Google was named by HNW individuals as the most desirable wealth management provider of the future. According to the research, clients want the wealth management industry to develop an ‘information culture’, evidenced by the fact that they deem transparency to be the hallmark of a good business and require quality investment information to determine a firm’s responsibility.
Discussing these findings, attendees expressed conflicting views on the extent that Google’s corporate culture and user-centric solutions could transform or even disrupt the industry’s business model.
Some attendees identified regulation, trust and the personalised nature of advice as formidable entry barriers for tech entrants, whereas others believed that the threat of competition from the likes of Google meant that a change in incumbents’ culture and mind-set were a prerequisite for them staying ahead of the innovation surge.
- Trust and the personalised and sophisticated nature of advice pose formidable entry-barriers for tech-challengers and arguably make the value proposition “undeliverable online”
- The rigid culture and mind-set of traditional wealth managers pose obstacles to innovation in the industry
- Technology should be regarded as a means of augmenting the value proposition, rather than a replacement of personal contact and advice
- Changing customer expectations might require collaboration with tech companies - an approach currently followed by the main industry players in the Asian market
The session opened with an exploration into the lessons that could be learned by wealth managers from Google as a business model. Google was used as a proxy not only in terms of providing a better digital value proposition, but mostly for its culture of seamless information flow and ability to build user-centric solutions. Google’s corporate culture and business principles present a challenge to the traditional mind-set of the industry.
Delegates had opposing views on the extent that tech-firms can transform or even disrupt the industry’s business model. Attendees highlighted that the cornerstone of private banking is trust and personal advice built on strong relationships. Whilst one delegate claimed that the concept of trust is not contradictory to the use of technology (“I have a relationship with my bank through my app”), most delegates argued that some value propositions are “undeliverable online”. It was argued that:
“You cannot get a haircut using internet”
and wealth management should be viewed through the same lens.
Regulation, the sophisticated level of advice and concerns around data privacy and confidentiality were named as formidable entry barriers for tech challengers. Specifically, regulations were highlighted as one of the reasons why Google decided to abandon its plans to diversify into the mortgage market. One delegate argued that clients are primarily looking for sophisticated guidance and personal advice.
It was also noted that tech challengers in the UK wealth management industry had failed to significantly disrupt the market. In particular, the recently publicised poor returns of Nutmeg, the online investment manager, was deemed to be evidence that digital solutions could not fully subvert the status quo. One delegate strongly dismissed the threat of similar tech challengers by remarking:
“20 years since the invention of internet and all we have to worry about is Nutmeg.”
However, other delegates were more cautious about rejecting the influence of technology competitors. Referencing Nutmeg as an example, it was suggested that failure was due to poor implementation and target market analysis, not the proposition per se:
“The platform was built with the philosophy that customers will come – we just do not know when.”
Other delegates strongly warned against the myopic mind-set of “we know what our clients want” and instead urged industry players to encourage technology innovation. They warned:
“We are black cabs and they [fin-tech operators] are UBER. Black cabs have extensive knowledge of directions, but it comes at a cost. Uber drivers offer better value and use technology to close their knowledge gap. We do not want to find ourselves in the place of black cabs being driven out of London.”
Another attendee believed that a barrier to innovation was the senior leadership in wealth firms. Instead, younger and more technologically minded recruits should be brought into the business to harness innovation. A further delegate highlighted the need to build a strong information culture to meet changing customers’ needs.
He suggested that the industry had existed on information asymmetry for a long time. It needs to change and provide solutions people want, the way they want it, with clear and extensive information at the time and speed they want it. Technology can be used to “make finance fun” and/ or augment the value proposition.
“If I am going to have an operation I want the surgeon to use a state-of-the art machine. It does not make the skills of the surgeon redundant, but rather reinforces them and leads to a better result.”
Some attendees acknowledged that simpler parts of advice could be commoditised and delivered online, but those solutions would be appropriate for the mass affluent market and would not meet the sophisticated requirements of HNW individuals. Others suggested that the industry should encourage collaboration with tech companies. One attendee highlighted examples from the Asian market, where technological innovation is driven by incumbent institutions collaborating with tech-start-ups.
Delegates concluded that the industry has seen lot of digitalisation, but no real innovation yet. The reasons for this are high barriers of entry such as heavy regulation, the sophisticated nature of financial advice and the importance of trust and relationship building.
However, while some attendees remained sceptical about the potential of technology to bring innovation to the industry, others considered it as inevitable. They predicted that striving for “the winning blend” of personal advice supported by technology and online user tools is at the core of meeting changing customer needs. They acknowledged that this approach might not work for every market player, but at the end of the day businesses should follow the Google principle:
“Choose one thing and do it really well.”