INTERVIEW: SEI Sees Gains From UK Wealth Managers' Business Pains

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 28 July 2017

INTERVIEW: SEI Sees Gains From UK Wealth Managers' Business Pains

This publication talks to a firm that sees the problems and opportunities of UK wealth managers as a lucrative new field of business.

There is an old saying in in the UK: where there’s muck, there’s brass. Or as wealth managers might say, the business and regulation headaches of some are a business opportunity for others.

With SEI, the US-headquartered firm providing investment, outsourcing and technology solutions for financial companies, the predicament of UK wealth management is a very tasty proposition indeed. On the upside, recent UK pension reforms - freeing holders of retirement savings to deploy their assets in certain ways - have put potentially more money on the table for wealth firms to manage. On the downside, there is the relentless regulatory process, coupled with threats to traditional business models from fintechs. SEI drove these points home recently in a survey of the sector, as reported here.

Over the past two to three years, SEI has ramped up its effort to serve wealth managers in the UK, changing perceptions of how the firm, now ensconced in smart new offices in London’s Finsbury Square, operates. It has been present in the UK for well over a decade, serving clients such as institutional investors. Its push into wealth management is more recent, scoring agreements with outfits such as WHIreland, for example. SEI has rolled out SEI Wealth Platform, an outsourcing solution that provides infrastructure, operations, and administrative support.

In essence, the platform and services allow wealth managers to do what they should be doing: advising clients and building new business and leaving the drudgery and processes to those with the scale to do so, Brett Williams, managing director, SEI Wealth PlatformSM, UK Private Banking, told this publication. 
"We allow firms to have a proposition," he said. 
Managers of wealth businesses have gone from a situation where, 18 to 24 months ago, they were not prepared to move and spend money to where now they realise they cannot afford not to do so, Williams continued.

More broadly, the work being done by the likes of SEI, and rivals (in some senses) of organisations such as Pershing – part of BNY Mellon – with wealth managers highlights how firms are having to outsource functions to providers with the market muscle to handle the work. Williams argues that it is a matter of when, not if, wealth managers have to outsource. The pretence that they can manage all their middle- and back-office work no longer holds, he said.

Outsourcing question
When firms do finally take the plunge and outsource functions, a question for businesses is whether the organisations taking on the outsourced work will be around in a few years’ time. In the fast-changing financial world, such financial longevity is a necessary selling point for firms taking such work on.

"If people are going to outsource, do people outsource to an organisation that has got the financial clout to keep pace with change?" Williams said.

No doubt, of course, SEI believes that it can answer the question about such financial longevity by pointing to its own economic muscle. The next few years will see its propositions put to the test.

Building the business
Williams spoke alongside Kevin Russell, proposition director, SEI Wealth Platform, UK Private Banking. “Over the three years since I came here (Kevin has been at SEI for over two years) we have focused more on the wealth management private client world. That is very much a focus for us. When we spend money it is to build up our proposition; for wealth managers, spending money on a lot of what we do is just seen as a cost,” Williams said.
The firm is moving to a "much broader" offering than just back-office, settlement and custody, to a complete set of solutions for wealth managers, Russell said. 

And SEI’s offering is very much work in progress, with more developments in the pipeline, he said. "They are going to be strategic partnerships and tactical partnerships based on specific needs of clients," he said.
"We may make some additional acquisitions at some point. Predominantly, though, it is about leveraging the core of what we have got," Russell added.

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