Charting The Technology, Operations Challenges For Wealth Sector - Conference

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 26 July 2018

Charting The Technology, Operations Challenges For Wealth Sector - Conference

Does regulation-driven tech spending come at the cost of growth, or can it be a differentiator? This was one of the debates at a recent breakfast briefing held by this news service.

There are signs that wealth managers are devoting more IT budgets for improving efficiency and expanding their business and less on just keeping up with regulatory requirements, a recent discussion hosted by this publication has heard.

For some time, debate has centred on whether compliance-driven spending comes at the expense of business growth. Some argue that this is a problem while other industry figures claim that in certain cases good compliance can be a competitive advantage. 

These were some of the topics aired at a Breakfast Briefing in London, held by the publisher of this news service, to coincide with the launch of the Technology & Operations Trends in Wealth Management Report 2018 (for a link about that report, see here). 

Panellists speaking at the event were Wendy Spires, author of the report and head of research at ClearView Financial Media; Paul Bebber, regional sales manager UK and Central Europe for SS&C Advent; Ben Broadley, head of solution consulting for Klarity Risk; Roopalee Dave, director for wealth and asset management at EY; Dennis Harhalakis, an independent industry consultant; Phil Newbold, commercial chief strategy officer for Kleinwort Hambros, and Verona Smith, head of platform for Seven Investment Management. 

“The industry has made a big leap from where it was 20 years ago in terms of systems openness,” Bebber told delegates at the Carlton Club, St James’s Street. “There’s now a cultural maturity coming into the industry” in terms of how it treats technology, he said. 

Asked about the case for buying “best of breed” systems versus a single, new approach, Newbold said that it wasn’t always possible to make such a binary choice. “It can be cheaper to have one system but that might not be as flexible,” he said. With the development of APIs [software enabling different systems to talk to each other], this has made integration of different systems much easier to execute, he said. 

“Often this is a trade-off between efficiency and cost of ownership,” EY’s Dave said, adding that systems must be versatile.

“Growth’s definitely on the agenda,” EY’s Dave said. The Tech & Ops report, in fact, refers to an increased focus in IT budgets on business growth-related spending, such as in areas of the front office and sales, Dave continued. EY’s own research has borne this out, she continued. 

Newbold pointed out that “what drives revenue from our side is great client service”, and that technology is a big “enabler” of client service, hence seeing more IT spending from the industry. 

“No-one likes spending money but as long as it’s done properly, it [technology] can be applied to other parts of the business,” Broadley said. The pace of compliance-driven spending “isn’t going to let up any time soon”, he added. Risk profiling is becoming more of a mainstream wealth management offering and if handled correctly can be a differentiator for firms, he said. 

One big change wrought by modern technology, argued Harkhalakis, is that incumbent firms’ advantages stemming from extensive bank branch networks are no longer as powerful as before, given the ability of people to tap into services via digital channels. For many people, the relationships that count in finance are relationships with institutions rather than specific individuals such as a RM, he said. “As the client experience moves to the `user experience’….it [approach of banks] needs to be placed in a spectrum between fully digital, digitally assisted through to non-digital,” he continued.

ClearView’s Spires noted that there appears to be more evidence that firms pay attention to what clients say and are putting some of this feedback into action. “They realise they have to be responsive to client needs and are changing fast,” she said. 

To some degree, it makes more sense to ask clients what they need rather than what they want, Harkhalakis said, arguing that wealth managers need to get a genuine feel for client needs so as to manage the client experience effectively.

Seven’s Verona Smith, asked about some of the compliance challenges, such as the requirements to inform clients, said that wealth managers need to think more about why they give information to clients.

She also argued that technology-driven solutions are as important in showing clients’ financial affairs during the de-acummulation phase of their lives – such as in retirement – as during the period of accumulating a portfolio ahead of retirement. 

Panelists also discussed cyber-crime threats and how this creates challenges for wealth managers’ digital offerings, such as the need to balance convenience against security.

Register for WealthBriefing today

Gain access to regular and exclusive research on the global wealth management sector along with the opportunity to attend industry events such as exclusive invites to Breakfast Briefings and Summits in the major wealth management centres and industry leading awards programmes