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BREAKFAST BRIEFING: Business Growth In The Information Age

Amisha Mehta, Assistant Editor, London, 8 December 2015

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The wealth management industry should view technology as a supplementary tool rather than a threat, industry experts maintained at a recent event held by this publication.

Relationship managers are not going anywhere and should not feel threatened by the rise of fintech organisations or robo-advisors, panellists unanimously declared at a recent WealthBriefing breakfast briefing in London.

Last month, Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, warned that 15 million jobs in Britain were at risk by automation. There's a lot of talk of “disruptive” technologies in the wealth management industry as robo-advisors and automated investment services continue to pop up. Firms have had to adapt to a new playing field and spruce up their digital capabilities to include features such as algorithm-based risk assessment and automated portfolio selection. Robot paranoia aside, this seems to be one of the industries where the “personal touch” is reassuringly necessary. 

Chaired by Bruce Weatherill, chairman of WealthBriefing, the panel consisted of: Steven Light, digital private banking at Coutts; Huw Kwon, head of data science centre of excellence for UK & Ireland at Accenture; Thomas Lack, chief operating officer at Brewin Dolphin; Verona Smith, head of platform at Seven Investment Management; and Duncan Ash, director of financial services at Qlik, which sponsored the event.

Embedding digital services at the heart of a wealth management firm can be complicated. There is a lot of value for a wealth management firm in just sitting down with private bankers and helping them see the power of their digital proposition, said Light. This, in his experience, has proven instrumental in making sure that they really "get it" – that technology is not a replacement for human one-to-one relationships.

“It is by way of such conversations that I have seen private bankers – perhaps traditionally seen as being averse to digital channels of communications – switch to embracing the opportunities presented by technology,” he said.

Kwon shared with the audience an example of a recent project where he used robotic technology and natural language processing to scan and process forms, just as a human would do within an organisation’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. This, he said, has saved relationship managers time to focus more on the relationship. 

“Such technologies should not necessarily be viewed as a 'disruptor' but more as an empowerment tool for RMs,” he said.

Basically, digital touchpoints are becoming a go-to channel for high net worth clients so data analytics and relationship management are not mutually exclusive; they depend upon each other to open up revenue opportunities. 

“Wealth management to us is still very much a people led business. We record what we do through technology but we are not governed by it,” said Lack.

Is there a difference then between having data and insight? Absolutely, the face-to-face time between the discretionary wealth manager and the client is the real differentiator, panellists agreed.

“It’s about the service but what we’re trying to do is supplement that so as to improve the entire experience and make the wealth managers much more efficient in serving their clients,” Smith said.

Devil is in the detail
Big data – a blanket term for the large or complex data that inundates a business on a day-to-day basis – has for some time been floating around in the whirlpool of wealth management buzzwords. 

But it’s not about big data, it’s about finding that right information you need to better serve the client, said Ash.

According to Kwon, it is the tiny pieces of data that together reveal behavioural patterns and present opportunities for web page optimisation. He refers to all such data as digital “bread crumbs” or “footprints”. The trick is to know the context, otherwise they have little value. For instance, the bigger picture may include when the client logged in, what investment product they are looking at and how long they are on the page. From these customer journeys, we can identify an individual's intent and reason for engagement, Kwon said, and then trace these journeys to actual outcomes, such as purchase decisions or to an outcome value such as profit.

“This process can be applied in various client segments, such as high net worth, ultra-high net worth, but the biggest cost savings and service quality enhancement will be realised on the mass affluent market,” he said.

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