As Vice President of Wealth Management Solutions at NexJ, Bryan is in charge of products, go-to-market strategy, and sales growth.
With Bryan, I discussed global trends in wealth management and how these differ around the world, and tapped into the persisting debate about humans and robo components in the industry competing with one another.
Geography matters when it comes to trends
Industry trends vary a lot depending on geography. For example, digital transformation is having a large influence on how things currently work in the North American region. Bryan highlights major changes in customer expectations and pressure from the regulatory side—e.g. DOL and the ongoing debate around it in the United States. Another example, in Canada, is CRM2, a set of rules regarding reports and disclosures made by Canadian investment dealers and advisors, which means that everything is driving towards a more sophisticated personalized level of services in line with customer expectations.
“People want to see more fee-based services and personalized advice coming from the different channels that they are used to.”
If we look at some leading companies, such as Facebook or Uber, we can observe that customer expectations set the pace of innovation. This is especially true around digital channels that offer clients an omni-channel option and a self-directed option. Bryan emphasizes that there are various ways to introduce “advisor moments” and give very personalized advice. Thus, the scope is enlarging—it’s no longer just about the best tips in terms of what investments to make. Goal-based financial planning has become the first priority when it comes to trends on the whole.
“From an advisor’s and a WealthTech perspective, it’s all about helping the advisor personalize that service at scale.”
In Europe, the changes have been caused by digital transformation, as well as regulation. Europeans are trying to bring more transparency, financial stability, and security, and ultimately more self-servicing independence for the actual customer. In the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, things look very different; this is an emerging market in which the industry is just making its first steps and exploring plenty of unchartered waters that are no longer there in mature markets around the world. The mindset is already very digital in APAC, so the expectation now is that as financial services develop as a market there, they’re going to be digital.
Does robo equal digital?
Bryan states that it is important not to confuse robo- and digital advice. Moreover, there is another category formed from a synergy between the two: this is what we know as hybrid advice, which is still closer to digital advice.
“Robo-advisors so far have been a really great disrupter in the industry and have helped commoditize the financial advice practice down to the mass market.”
It’s very easy now for somebody who has this digital expectation and is familiar with using self-serve apps to go online, answer a few questions, and get basically an asset allocation that is managed for them. Picking a goal and tracking towards it is enough.
Overall, robo-advisors are likely to be in their first iteration. They are evolving and getting smarter, using more sophisticated investment techniques and products, but essentially they still comprise a self-service solution. What they really lack at this stage is the human touch. This is why hybrid models are so popular, as they solve the equation by weighing up the suggested investment portfolios and aligning them with the specific customer and his or her needs.
The main idea here, says Bryan, is to augment the conventional advice and introduce traditional human touch in a more digital fashion. As a customer, anyone can go and see the asset allocation process and understand how it’s being rebalanced and so on, but some customers want to get advice from a professional, not have something automating the whole process for them. Therefore, in the long run, the majority of customers will still choose personalized advice since we’re not yet at the level where AI can really provide that level of personalization; instead, we’re dependent on financial services advisors to do that. Experts need to think about how we can bring that to the digital channels and enable advisors to be more present across all those different channels. This is the fundamental difference Bryan sees between digital and hybrid advice, and is the direction the industry might head to, especially in the mass affluence and high net worth (HNW) segments.
There is a challenge for advisors, however, as they need to plan how they can provide customers with holistic advice across all those different platforms.
“A typical scenario might be that a customer may start out in robo, eventually grow his assets, and then want more sophisticated and personalized advice through a digital option.”
This demand can get even more complex when it comes to the HNW category. NexJ, for example, helps advisors understand the totality of a customer across all different service channels and introduce the intelligence to know how and when to give advice as part of that digital experience. The next step is to automate and streamline a lot of the work behind the scenes to actually execute that.
Different user experience for each generation
Bryan suggests that it’s important to look at the generation aspect when designing asset-management platforms, and to create different experiences for millennials and for more traditional investors. The same is true for the advisor community, because if we look at the average age of advisors they are themselves pushing retirement, and that means that they’ve been in the industry for a very long time and have certain expectations about how the technology is supposed to work, and their role in financial consulting.
“Younger generations of advisors are more technically savvy and interested in digital solutions.”
That’s why wealth-management products should account for the needs of different generations when it comes not only to the demand side, but to supply as well.
Millennials are flocking to robo- and digital wealth platforms for two reasons:
- First, they may not have assets yet;
- Second, it is the experience that they are more fundamentally used to. It’s very in line with how they use Uber or Google services, where they are in the driver’s seat. Furthermore, WealthTech is not only about millennials but traditional, more established investors, too.
This trend is seen everywhere, but there are different investment styles. We’re going to see investors that are way more involved in the entire decision-making process, according to Bryan. People are different, and so are the ways they prefer to communicate their needs: some like to do it face-to-face, while others can easily do without speaking to an advisor. Similarly, if we switch over to the advisor’s perspective, Bryan acknowledges that more and more firms are asking him how all that experience can be brought to a tablet. This is especially necessary when advisors are out in the field, because they don’t have to be in the office to offer their services.
“The younger, newer advisors are less dependent on their assistants and are ready to execute everything themselves.”
They just want all the reports generated and fed to them, so they can then curate that experience. We see that in things like personalization of the user interface: some people will put portfolio information right at the top, whereas others will put relationship and personal information right at the top. So the arrangement varies: some will review and approve everything, while others prefer to delegate everything to their assistants.
The key is to be able to support all of these different settings, and the firms who started doing so a while back are at the top now: in early 2000, they began mastering all the data. Once that milestone had been achieved, they switched to this sort of omni-channel and multi-experience world where they’re able to cater to all those different needs.
What to expect in wealth management
As for the near future, Bryan thinks we should look at the emerging technology that is being adopted most quickly. This includes automation, AI, and blockchain, which is next in the queue. The trend in the industry is going to be about numerous niche providers of cognitive services. Bryan is positive that we’re going to see more AI and cognitive services from myriad suppliers: we’re going to observe different banks and firms latching on to certain suppliers as their competitive advantage.
However, the winners will ultimately be the companies that are smart enough to use all of the different cognitive services that are out there. The companies that have already done all the work and heavy lifting on the integration and automation fronts are more likely to embrace the cognitive component, and this will be easy for them since they’ve built up their micro service architectures and already have a solid big data strategy in place.
At NexJ, there is a preference for an intelligent customer management approach where the main focus is on operationalization of the intelligence services at hand, allowing for greater flexibility. For example, there is a need for a cognitive service that can generate financial reviews. A solution provider should be able to take the outputs from that in a very API-like approach, feeding them back to the company’s CRM. Such fluidity will further encourage adoption of evolving technology in the future. By offering solutions that account for as much innovation as possible, market players will be able to create and grow their competitive edge.
Interviewed by Vasyl Soloshchuk, CEO and co-owner at INSART, FinTech & Java engineering company. Vasyl is also the author of WealthTech Club, which conducts research into Fortune and Startup Robo-advisor and Wealth Management companies in terms of the technology ecosystem.