Client Affairs

A Real Differentiator - Getting Client Reporting Right - Coutts

Jackie Bennion 28 February 2019

A Real Differentiator - Getting Client Reporting Right - Coutts

Coutts’ head of digital and design experience shares his insights on client reporting and finding the sweet spot between the tech and the human touch.

Continuing this month’s coverage of how firms balance good client reporting with compliance obligations while still embracing all that tech has to offer, this newswire spoke to Coutts Private Bank about what the key drivers are for improving the customer experience and the bottom line.

It’s a good time to talk to Coutts, part of the wealth management arm of Royal Bank of Scotland that turned in impressive financial results earlier this month, with operating profit and equity more than doubling for the year. Coutts chief executive Peter Flavel said that the bank’s “new operating model is feeding through to financial performance”.

Jonathan Brierley, head of digital design and experience for the bank, shared his views on how the bank approaches client reporting from the clarity of the communication to finding additional value through AI, Google’s Duplex, live data reporting, and always keeping the mindset: personalise don’t generalise. He says there has never been a better time for “easily and transparently displaying financial data sets in an interactive way, and the space has huge scope for innovation." He also says, “Finding a way to become a part of the client's day-to-day messaging approach is where the real opportunity lies.”
Wealth managers can gain an edge over their rivals by delivering a great experience for clients, such as in clear, efficient and fast reporting of what’s happening to their money. Technology has a big part to play in making this happen. Can you explain what you see as the main ways in which firms can often fail to get client reporting right? Are there any examples (names of firms redacted) of particular problems?
The mindset shift has to be from thinking of reporting as a regulated touch-point, to a key driver of the client experience. As with landing any good client communication, good reporting has many of the same core concepts.

Don’t bury the lead story. When a client opens the report, there are a few key items that they will want to see right away, so provide the key information you want to land right up front.

Be clear and transparent. Create content that is personal and engaging rather than just generalised. Use graphs and infographics to break down large data sets, and clearly communicate performance and trends.

Perhaps the biggest: don’t just focus on today, but the clients’ goals. Just because a client may be earning a significant sum, doesn’t mean they aren’t also spending it. What does that mean for them next year, the year after, and five years after that?

How can technology help a firm balance the need to give clients sufficient information to do client reporting well without burying them in data?
Technology lets us create more value in client reports through availability and interactivity, and so generating a better understanding of what our clients really engage with.

Access to our data, personal or otherwise, is quickly becoming a basic utility rather than a luxury. Importantly, by providing a ‘live report’ online, a client can follow the narrative of their position at any time they choose. This engagement lowers the risk of a surprise coming down the line and provides a feeling of empowerment.

With immediate access to data, a client doesn’t just have to wait for a report that appears through the mailbox monthly or quarterly. They are able to have a constant view of their assets.

There have never been more methods to easily and transparently display financial data sets in an interactive way, and the space has huge amounts of innovation. It’s no longer an excuse to hide behind the old fashioned table. Bring on the graphics!

What a report lets us do is freeze that moment in time and provide some much-needed additional colour. It’s also a chance for us to introduce the human touch and a higher level of service. Providing these details in a printed format, using tables upon tables of data isn’t going to make a client feel any better about their financial wellbeing.

What has been the main trend you have seen in the past five years in how firms are managing client reporting? For instance, are you seeing an increase in the amount of such reporting going online and onto mobile platforms; are you seeing more examples of foreign language channels, customised approaches, other?
This is a challenging space to transform, and I believe that’s why there hasn’t been a huge amount of change, industrywide outside regulation over the past five years.

Instead of focusing on the traditional reports, the concept is quickly being replaced with interactive client dashboards and constant access through online banking and investing. These provide an immediate view of assets and can supplement mandatory reporting (which clients can often overlook) in favour of these more engaging and up-to-date tools.

Chatbots and other AI-powered tools are coming out from a number of banks – do you think these routes help client/firm interaction?
As much as we hear about chatbots and AI, on the whole they are still limited to the realms of massmarket filters. These are tools that work for firms looking to lower the amount of human interaction for low-value touch points. There is a huge opportunity here that the big tech firms are carving the way for. Google Duplex is an excellent example of democratising concierge services through AI. In my view, the industry is only scratching the surface of what’s possible.

What about video and digitally enabled communications between an actual relationship manager and a client – are these becoming more widespread?
Video is proliferating, but adoption statistics have actually been quite underwhelming. Early feedback across messaging providers is showing that clients are comfortable interacting over the phone or a preferred digital channel (eg, email) but only after the initial meeting in person with their banker.

We should be looking at how our clients prefer to communicate. Video is an easy answer to replacing face-to-face, and it can be easily regulated by incorporating it into banking apps. However if the client doesn’t want that, and initial industry adoption numbers are quite low, then it is wasted effort. Finding a way to become a part of the clients’ day-to-day messaging approach is where the real opportunity lies.

Regulation has played some part in how client reporting happens – what do you see as the biggest impact? What sort of information now has to be passed on that previously would not have been so before rules changed?
Much of the regulation we have is there to force clarity and consistency, and provide guidance on what a minimum standard is. This is where firms have to focus on involving multiple disciplines in the core design of client reporting. Rather than only focusing on regulation, or going the other way and only getting legal teams involved at the last hurdle, combining client experience, with front line and legal teams is the only way to get the best possible result.

Regulators have a hard job ahead, especially when keeping up with the speed of change in technology. A good example can be requiring a wet signature on a printed document. There are numerous reasons why this seems like a good idea, however technology can allow us to do an infinitely better job.

With e-signatures, we can measure if a client really did spend the time to read a document, if they looked at each page, where they may have gone back to double check a statement.

It’s so much more powerful than anything we can do with a physical document, and this kind of data can help us better support our clients understanding while also delivering on the objective of the regulation rather than just the word.

The goal should be ensuring that our clients truly understand the service they are getting and that they can trust that service. True understanding requires us to care about our clients and ensure that they are educated about their financial needs. A client understanding our advice at a deeper level isn’t a threat, it is actually an opportunity to build trust.

What is looming this year as the next big reporting and compliance challenge for the industry?
If you look across the industry, many firms are still working to get up to date with current regulation, but the trend is obvious. Clearer reporting that is more transparent and shows what the client is getting for their money. It can only be a good thing for the industry, as it will drive competition as clients look to get value for money from their bankers and improved performance and service excellence.

In five years’ time, how do you think client reporting by wealth managers is going to look?
It will sound obvious, and it should, but digitally focused with the end of the paper trail. This should be the minimum standard today; however challenges in the space still prevent that. The biggest of which is how manual the reporting process is. The introduction of automation, data and analytics for personalisation, and perhaps a degree of AI, though that still feels a little further out.

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