Your customers hate your group email box (and you should too)

I’m currently dealing with two group email box issues. In one instance, I’m a frustrated customer, irritated beyond belief by the lack of response to my repeated email service requests. In the other instance, I’m the party ultimately responsible for a group email box, and I’m getting an earful from a frustrated customer. The overlay of these two, unrelated incidents is perfect: Some sort of cosmic justice is clearly being served.

Stages of Group Email Box Grief

You might be familiar with the Kübler-Ross model, which shows how grieving people progress through Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I think something similar happens when any of us try to use a poorly managed group email box. It goes something like this:

  • Hope. After the initial disappointment of not finding a human being with whom we can interact directly, we console ourselves that, at least, our problem has been recognized by our service provider. By creating a named email box, the service provider is clearly implying that help is a click or two away. Got a generic question about your health plan coverage? Email coverage@xyzhealthplan.com. Need help from someone in Finance to get an expense check cut? Why, ExpenseTeam@yourcompany.com sounds like a productive place to turn. But the relief at finding such elegant, targeted service solutions is often short-lived.

  • Perplexity. After a day or so of non-response, we wonder. Did I really send an email to that email box? Did it get through? If it got through, did anyone read it? This stage is characterized by self-doubt and forensic examination. We check and recheck our Inbox, Spam Folder, and Sent Mail under the (reasonable, by the way) assumption that if the tool was working, someone would have responded by now.

  • Dismay. A week has passed. On the realization that no process could possibly take this long, Dismay sets in. In this stage, we ratchet up the pressure, typically by resending our original note with a snarky addition, like, “I really would like to hear from someone on this! Please?”

  • Anger & Activation. At this stage, we realize that help is not forthcoming. For most of us, this happens between Day 7 and Day 8. (Though my experience with them suggests that Millenials make the entire progression from Hope to Anger & Activation in as little as an hour.) We start looking for alternatives, as confidence in the system plummets. In the extreme, we try to get face to face with someone who can solve our problem (“I’m going to drive in to the cell phone store and make them solve this billing issue!”). But alternatives include calling switchboards and asking for the CEO, starting a Twitter rant, or activating a defection to other providers. None of these reactions enhance a customer relationship.

The Service Provider’s Response

As a service provider myself, I’m embarrassed to admit that emails to info@celent.com don’t always get perfect, productive responses. Of course we have a process in place that routes inbound queries to more than one person, to make sure we don’t run into out of office issues. But things occasionally fall through the cracks, due to technical reasons (e.g., aggressive, evolving spam filters), scheduling quirks (e.g., all Celent staff are in the same meeting), or simply due to human nature.

The latter category is particularly vexing. When several people are responsible for something, the real-world effect is that no one feels responsible. I’m convinced that using an info@ email box inevitably lessens the sense of accountability and responsibility that drives all effective service teams. Add in the dynamic of impersonal, electronic communicationswhich by its nature generates less empathy than a simple conversation between two human beings and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

In this annoying age of one-to-many communication (says the blogger, ignoring the irony), there’s a strong case to be made for enabling more direct, personal connections. Many companies will resist this old-fashioned, and by some measures, expensive, view. They will go down the path blazed by online retailers, and try in vain to provide acceptable service levels via FAQ and info@ email boxes. But the price they will pay is customers who frequently progress to Anger & Activation, and then walk away grumbling.

A smarter play is for firms to foster real relationships with their customers. For me, that means going old school. Making it easier for customers to navigate to a real person who is ready to listen and willing to solve problems. I’ve told my team to plaster their direct contact info on every report, presentation, and marketing piece. I’ll keep the info@celent.com address open as a benign trap for spammers. But the rest of you are encouraged to email me directly at cweber@celent.com.

Run, hide, partner, or buy: Fintech, automation, and disruption in wealth management and capital markets

Readers of a certain age may remember Frankfurt's aspirations of surpassing London as the world’s leading banking center. While that vision has not come to pass, Frankfurt remains a powerful hub for global finance. Home to Deutsche Bank, the European Central Bank and the Deutsche Börse exchange among others, Frankfurt’s importance is reinforced by its location at the very heart of Europe.

With this in mind, Research Director Brad Bailey and I are excited to bring the next Celent Wealth and Capital Markets roundtable to Frankfurt on Tuesday, May 10th. Of particular interest will be the role played by fintech firms in disrupting an ecosystem long dominated by large financial institutions. Brad and I will share ideas and examples from recent research, while senior executives with banks and asset managers and other large institutions from Germany, Switzerland, the UK and Italy will offer their perspectives on the disruption and the technology strategies they have adopted in response.

To maximize the participatory nature of this event, Celent is capping attendance at 20 individuals. At present, we have a few seats still open and would love to hear from other clients interested in joining us.

Future architecture: All roads lead to Cloud

Present vs. Future-State Architecture

Our frenetic activity of client meetings, briefings, conferences, and events heated up in the last few months. We recently spoke to audiences in New York, London, and Tokyo.

The present environment of cost-cutting, evaluation of profitability, capital efficiency, and compliance implementation is consuming much management attention and IT budgets. Operational efficiency and operational risk mitigation are top of mind.

However, across our client base and network of financial institutions and vendors, there is also a continued desire to understand emerging technologies like blockchain/DL and artificial intelligence. Many of you are expressing a strong interest in our opinions on the future state of the technology architecture in parallel with these day-to-day operational considerations.

From this vantage point, we believe the potential of blockchain technology (including smart contracts), IoT, and artificial intelligence will drive incremental IT spending going forward as solutions are implemented, further uses cases are developed and tested, and ecosystems and IT partnerships are expanded.

All Roads Lead to Rome Cloud

With respect to the future IT architecture, one striking conclusion we've reached is that all roads lead to cloud. For instance, major blockchain use cases are being built atop cloud providers. Technology firms such as AWS, IBM, Microsoft, and others appear to be prime beneficiaries of this frenetic activity, some of which is strategic, and some of which may be simply tactical and later disappear. In addition, artificial intelligence may be best leveraged in the future with data that resides in the cloud as opposed to in siloed business operations. Moreover, wealth managers increasingly are considering cloud-deployed solutions. Even compliance (e.g. RegTech) is increasingly being sold "as a service".

Clearly not all capital markets, wealth management, and asset management operations are cloud-friendly, both now and in the future, but many types of operations will move to the cloud.

We see this happening gradually and powered by availability, greater standardization, and creative vendor offerings across a spectrum (from ITO and BPO to managed services, utilities, and yes … cloud possibilities throughout).

Proof of artificial intelligence exponentiality

I have been studying Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Capital Markets for ten months now and I am shocked everyday by the speed of evolution of this technology. When I started researching this last year I was looking for the Holy Grail trading tools and could not find them, hence I settled for other parts of the trade lifecycle where AI solutions already existed.

Yesterday, as I was preparing for a speech on AI at a conference, one of my colleagues in Tokyo forwarded me an Asian newswire mentioning that Nomura securities, after two years of research, would be launching an AI enabled HFT equity tool for its brokerage institutional clients in May –  here it is: the Holy Grail exists, and not only at Nomura. Other brokers have been shyly speaking about their customizable smart brokerage, e.g. how to use technology so that tier5 clients feel they are being served like a tier1. Some IBs are working on that, they just don’t publicly talk about it.

Talking to Eurekahedge last week I realized that they are tracking 15 funds that use AI in their strategy, I would argue there are even more than that because none of those were based in Japan (or Korea where apparently Fintech is exploding as we speak).

All this to reiterate that AI is an exponential technology, ten months ago there were no HFT trading solutions using AI, and we thought they were a few years away but no, here they are NOW. And the same with sentiment analysis, ten months ago they were just a marketing tool, now they are working on millions of documents every day at GSAM. Did I forget to mention smart TCA that’s coming to an EMS near you soon?

Stay tuned for more in my upcoming buy side AI tools report.

Asset managers turn up the volume

There are two ways to make net profits – maintain a high margin and/or sell more volume at lower operating costs.

Asset managers find themselves in a low margin environment so the tactical and perhaps strategic path forward is to find volume at lower operating costs. The recent buy of Honest Dollar out of Austin, Texas by the Investment Management Division of Goldman Sachs is the continued direction of purchasing volume by buy side asset managers.

Overall asset managers are buying up robo advisors, not because they are overly threatened, but to expand the AMs existing client base. With automation AMs can add new clients at a relatively low operating cost and find an expanded demand side for their collective funds and ETFs. Look behind the scenes on any of the nascent robos and you’ll see all AMs product supply.

So the purchase of Honest Dollar is an early indicator that increased volume is in play. As Goldman stated, over 45 million Americans do not have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. With targeting small businesses with less than 100 employees, utilizing automation and AM supplied ETFs and other funds a volume growing profit base is viable.

A major play of the automation of investment advice is increasing the total addressable market of investment consumers. The democratization of investing is being made a reality by the ready access to technology, but it must also be said that there is no correlation between democracy and actual wealth accumulation.

Being smart with artificial intelligence in capital markets

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the new buzzword to talk about on the street. Financial institutions need to embrace AI, as we have explained in our January report, or else they risk to lose competitiveness or be coded by the regulators more than they can do it themselves.

I am in NYC next week to share Celent’s view on AI for capital markets. A little preview for your here.

Today we are at a crossroad where data scientists have the computing power, the alternative mind-sets to search and the willingness to look for narrow AI solutions, not the wide AI brain that we should get to in 2030 according to experts. This enables vendors to come up with amazing solutions from Research Scaling with Natural Language Generation to Market Surveillance/Insider Trading with Machine Learning Natural Language Processing or even Virtual Traders via Deep Learning of technical analysis graphics traders look at to take decisions.

The amount of data available is another big driver for the rebirth of AI, and regulators are looking at ways of accessing that data and using it. This is borderline what my colleagues would call RegTech, and it’s coming.

Our Q2 agenda reflects our understanding that you want to know more about AI: we will share ideas on solutions for the buy side, for exchanges and for the sell side. But in the meantime I hope to bring back some cool ideas from the big apple, hopefully also from the secretive quants working in the dark Silicon Alleys.

Most of the vendors I have profiled are specialists’ boutiques, but the cost of such research is however so enormous that generalists are trying to productize their fundamental research for various sectors, from health to homeland security, including financial services in partnership with financial institutions.

This morning I woke up to great news that Microsoft is at the forefront of Deep Learning on voice, imagine what this could bring to Anti-Money Laundering or Insider Trading products.  The other news was that some top quants of Two Sigma just solved an MRI algo to predict heart disease, and I hope other great minds will, as most of them usually do, also give back to society by applying their amazing knowledge to such grand challenges.

Regulators to end ASX’s clearing monopoly

In an interesting development Australian authorities are looking to end Australian Stock Exchange’s (ASX) monopoly on equity clearing and relaxing ownership restrictions that removes a potential hurdle to the ASX’s participation in overseas mergers. First, some background: Australia for long was like many other Asian markets with a single incumbent national exchange that is vertically […]Continue reading...

Betterment and the boldness of youth

Shouting child businessman with retro phone. Success communication business conceptWill the $100 million investment in Betterment by VC Fund Kinnevik turn out to be a bargain, or a bust? The nine-figure sum represents a boost to flagging investment in the robo business, as well as a vote of confidence in Betterment, which has used fees as low as 15 bps and aggressive marketing to […]Continue reading...

Big bucks for Betterment

how to invest in a business: elements to create added values and profits for the investorsThe $100 million investment by Swedish VC firm Kinnevik in NYC based Betterment doubled in one swoop the amount the automated advisor has raised to date. This latest capital raise translates into a valuation of more than $700 million and follows a $60 million round that the firm completed last year. Since that time, Betterment […]Continue reading...

A big bank follows the wirehouses upmarket

Money bag icon (flat design with long shadows)JP Morgan Chase’s decision to double the minimum asset level (from $5 to $10 million) required for service by its private banking group underscores the effect that digitization is having on all levels of wealth management. It echoes the approach taken by the wirehouses, who (with the exception of Merrill Lynch, which has served less […]Continue reading...