“Having cutting-edge technology is only of use if you have the right quality of enthusiastic staff to help innovate and deliver advances for your business,” Farzana Khalil, client solutions manager at Multrees Investor Services, told the PAM Annual Front Office Dinner.
“Today we are in a digital age, where empowered buyers demand a new level of customer obsession. This is compared to an earlier industrial age where manufacturing firms such as Ford thrived with mass production of relatively simple products and processes through traditional skill sets.”
“Facebook and Apple are trying to understand and anticipate what their clients need; however, if you really look into their business models, they are also actually trying to guide their clients on what their needs should be. Therefore, if we compare today to the industrial age from about 100 years ago, we can see that there is now greater uncertainty in the value drivers and skills needed to ensure a satisfied client base,” Ms Khalil said.
“In this age there are greater skills required for increasingly complex jobs, there’s mass customisation for the consumer and it is all about value-add products and processes. In the digital age, robo-advisers, a new type of wealth manager has emerged into the industry and they are driving wealth management in different ways,” Ms Khalil noted.
“With the advent of automation in the industry, everyone has a different view on how to engage with our clients, with the robo-advisers, they’re aiming to deliver a 24/7 seamless, faultless and faster service. Unless you operate a ‘follow the sun’ model, it’s very difficult to do that without technology,” Ms Khalil said.
Ms Khalil noted that what the robo-advisers did successfully was having a “laser-like focus” on the customer proposition coupled with a “willingness to apply technology in fresh ways.” They really focused on the digital experience of the consumer.
Robo-advisers implement the investment management process and built a platform product out of this. They focus on a real challenge, however they don’t see it as a "challenge, but as an opportunity - they looked into the inhibitors and in overcoming these, put the platform out for adoption with the consumers."
As wealth managers, clients require you to talk about the world, the market and how we can help them with their lives going forward. The important thing for wealth managers “is balancing clients’ digital expectations and the need for human collaboration. Innovation has been there along the way throughout the ages piecing things together, but when innovation fails it’s not usually due to a lack of creativity, but it’s almost always because of a lack of discipline,” said Ms Khalil.
“We naturally assume that technology can solve all the problems but it is important to view the reality behind the hype. We spend millions each year and drive new technology solutions into our businesses, however we sometimes forget to look at the structure, the data quality and, most importantly, the ‘buy-in’ from our people. Change plays a big impact on staff morale and some of the innovative technology solutions coming through will also play an impact on the status quo,” she added.
Whilst robotic process automation has its positives, as humans are not very good at repetitive activity, so you can remove the mundane and manual elements of what they’re doing day to day, the negative however is the perception of job losses. Ms Khalil continued, “the emotional impact can play a large factor in whether or not you’re successful in delivering change within your organisation.”
Fostering the right culture is achieved through helping staff understand how innovation can improve their day-to-day lives in how they work and also how what they do contributes to the wider business. “A culture of innovation really stems from the top - from you, as the leaders, really empowering your people with the strategy, the client engagement model and how your staff can help shape and drive how things work.”
“In this way we have a more focused workforce, and one that will come up with new ideas and deliver solutions for how things can develop. As a result of automation, we are finding that the requirements of the human resource need to be of a higher standard. More than we originally expected it to be and therefore, you not only need them to think smarter but to work smarter too. Ultimately, attracting and retaining the right quality staff plays a big impact on success,” Ms Khalil said.
Commenting on the client service lifecycle, Ms Khalil said: “Looking at client on-boarding, client suitability and portfolio modelling, right through to the end result of client reporting, there are chances for collaboration in all these cases. Fintech firms are focused on niche parts within that end-to-end process, proving that you can have innovation at every stage and it doesn’t need to be a big bang approach. The key thing is staff engagement around the ideas that come from you and your teams. Essentially you are entrepreneurs – understanding what has taken place with the markets, your clients and collaborating to discuss new ideas driving the real change.”
Furthermore, innovation is taking place right at the operating model stage. “Gamification methodologies are coming through where, for example, users can set themselves fines for guilty pleasure spending. Technology is available beyond our comprehension and as an industry we are behind, but we will catch up,” Ms Khalil said.
She added, “it really comes down to this: with things being so uncertain today, can you afford to be in the late majority, or even worse, the laggards, in not exploring potential ideas and use cases from your teams to see where they might take you. If you employ the right people and develop the right culture, they will help ensure that your business is constantly innovating and improving.”
The PAM Annual Front Office Dinner took place on 8 May 2018 at the Goring Hotel in London. It was attended by 20 members of senior front office staff, three speakers and was chaired by the founder of PAM Insight, James Anderson. The evening was kindly supported by Multrees.