Celent’s Innovation and Insight Day: Wealth and Asset Management Stream

Celent’s Innovation and Insight Day: Wealth and Asset Management Stream

We are only weeks away from Celent's 2017 Innovation and Insight Day where we will explore how players in the financial services market are leveraging technology in innovative ways in order to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive and challenging marketplace. We will be featuring a number of case studies, discussions, and deep-dives into topic areas surrounding innovation and focusing on themes, such as:

  • Customer Experience
  • Products
  • Emerging Innovation
  • Operation and Risk
  • Legacy Transformation

This is the first year we will have a Wealth and Asset Management (WAM) breakout session where we will cover a range of topics around innovative solutions and trends in WAM.  The agenda can be found here: Wealth and Asset Management (WAM) Program and will be presented by analysts from the Celent Securities & Investments and Wealth & Asset Management teams:

  • David Easthope, Senior Vice President, Securities & Investments
  • Brad Bailey, Research Director, Securities & Investments
  • Kelley Byrnes, Analyst, Wealth & Asset Management
  • John Dwyer, Senior Analyst, Securities & Investments
  • Ashley Globerman, Analyst, Wealth & Asset Management
  • Arin Ray, Analyst, Securities & Investments
  • William Trout, Senior Analyst, Wealth Management
  • James Wolstenholme, Senior Analyst, Wealth & Asset Management

I particularly look forward to sharing research around the evolving wealth management landscape as the core client base shifts from baby boomers to millennials. While much ground has been covered from the perspective of wealth managers to meet the digital needs of nextgen clients, wealth managers continue to be behind the curve in their digital offerings.

How are wealth managers and vendors responding to the paradigm shift in the development and execution of services and products to meet millennials’ distinct expectations?

This is just one example of the many topics that we will discuss at I&I day – we hope to see you there!

 

Wealth and Asset Management Converges on Celent’s Annual Innovation and Insight Day

Wealth and Asset Management Converges on Celent’s Annual Innovation and Insight Day

This will be the first year that Wealth and Asset Management (WAM) will have its own stream at Celent’s annual Innovation and Insight (I&I) Day. Traditionally, I&I Day has been focused on insurance and banking, and is an opportunity for insurers and banks to demonstrate innovative projects with the chance to be recognized for outstanding capabilities. Typically, each insurer or bank begins preparing months in advance by submitting their case for how they have exceled in a particular sector. For example, in banking, awards are given for innovation in payments, lending, open banking, and product innovation.

As this is the Wealth and Asset Management debut, the organization of the day will be slightly different but no less exciting. WAM attendees will have the chance to hear topical discussions and engage in healthy debate around ideas that are driving innovation in the wealth and asset management sectors. Attendees of the WAM stream will also be able to interact with insurers and banking at designated times throughout the day, creating a truly collaborative and dynamic environment.

A preview of the WAM day:

Senior Vice President David Easthope will discuss Top Wealth and Asset Management IT and Business Trends. Ashley Globerman will share how wealth management firms have modernized legacy platforms to keep up with robo advisors and to serve the millennial generation.  Will Trout will explore the degree to which artificial intelligence (AI) represents a logical next step in the development of automated advice, helping to scale asset management functions and the thinking and reach of the human advisor. I will be joined by Arin Ray to discuss how wealth managers are using natural language processing and natural language generation technology to enhance their value and improve customer satisfaction. Arin will also share how AI tools are improving efficiencies in operational risk and compliance functions, such as KYC and AML. 

Jay Wolstenholme and Will Trout will explore the intersection of Wealth Management and Asset Management. They will cover a lot of ground, sharing anecdotes of how wealth managers are adopting trading platforms and advanced technology once common to only asset managers.  Later, Jay will explore the opportunities of $100 trillion in global assets. How can asset managers and asset owners prosper in this environment using automation and analytics? Brad Bailey will follow Jay’s discussion with an equally compelling conversation on how asset management trading desks are loading up with analytics and technology to execute across an increasingly complex cross-asset market structure. The WAM Stream will end with a lively interactive panel discussion of the edge disruptors in WAM(AI, robotics, big data, analytics … you name it!).

 

Impact Investing Gains Momentum

Impact Investing Gains Momentum

The polarizing political climate appears to be serving as an impetus for some firms to take socially responsible investing more seriously.  At today’s Impact Investing conference hosted by The Economist in NYC, Audrey Choi, Chief Executive of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing, said there is research that shows that 70% of investors want to align their investments with their values.

Not surprisingly millennials are interested in impact investing. Audrey Choi also referenced research that that millennials are two times as likely to buy or divest stocks based on their personal beliefs.

Most speakers throughout the day were aligned in that they wanted to see impact investing become more than just a sleeve of an investor’s portfolio; impact investing should be mainstream as suggested by the full name of the conference, “Impact Investing: Mainstreaming purpose driven finance.”  Jackie VanderBurg, Managing Director and Investment Strategist of US Trust and co-author of “Gender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns and Impact,” explained that gender lens investing, like other responsible investing should not operate in a silo.

Another common theme throughout the conference was that impact investing is smart investing. Understanding sustainability and opening one’s eyes to the different geo-political risks that face our world, is wise and exposes a company to less risk. For example, Audrey Choi, shared a statistic from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which found that 93% of companies stand to be impacted by climate change or the need to defend against it, but only 12% of companies are disclosing the risk.

A roadblock in the world of socially responsible investing is proving to investors that they do not have to compromise return when investing according to their beliefs.  As Jackie VanderBurg said in reference to gender lens investing, “Gender lens investing is not small, soft and pink. It is smart investing. Gender lens investing is the deliberate, intentional integration of gender-based data into financial analysis with the expectation of finding additional opportunities and mitigating risk”.  Money managers and personal investors must apply the same rigorous process to impact investments as they would with any type of investment. 

Joshua Levin, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of OpenInvest, a robo-advisory that permits clients to choose investments supported by their personal beliefs, brought up another challenge: intermediaries. He gave the example that when people first started out investing, people invested to have an impact; that impact may have been to start a factory or own part of a company to influence a company’s decisions. Now with so many intermediaries, investors no longer think of investments as having an impact. Now people invest for diversification.  With a platform like OpenInvest, people can have an impact by choosing not to invest in a company if the company is not aligned with their personal beliefs. 

Many speakers were also in agreement on other challenges facing impact investing: reliable metrics, more products across asset classes, and more education for consumers and advisors alike.  After attending this conference, I am hopeful that firms are working to address the roadblocks to impact investing. While perfect solutions may not be possible this should not impede the value that can be added from investing in a socially responsible way.

In the world of robo 2017, C.A.S.H. is king

In the world of robo 2017, C.A.S.H. is king
For those of you who seek yearly prognostication, here we go. I see four factors or trends driving the evolution of robo world in 2017, and attempt to capture them here with a simple, suitable acronym: C.A.S.H.
  • Cross border activity: We’re now seeing robo advisors extend their reach across national borders. This is not just the case in Europe (think German-UK robo Scalable and Italy’s Moneyfarm, which launched in the UK) but in North America as well. I comment on the planned entrance of Toronto based robo Wealthsimple into the US market in Financial Planning.
  • Asset managers will continue to seek distribution, launching robo advisory platforms that enable the advisor to market their products. They’ll also want a share of advisor profits.
  • Synergies with CRM, compliance and other tech providers will deepen, as robos become more tightly integrated into the wealth management ecosystem. It’s no coincidence that two of the portfolio optimization software providers featured in my last report offer robo advisory platforms.
  • Hedge fund-like robos will prosper in an more volatile economic environment. These robos will use passive instruments to take a position on the market, and in some cases, allow users to “steer” (or apply their own views to) investment decisions.
Taken together, these trends signal the “mainstreaming” of robo advisory capabilities. Robo advice platforms are now less a “nice to have” than a core part of the incumbent advice offer. As such, these platforms are becoming increasingly bound up in the larger industry infrastructure. Those robos that seek to keep themselves distant or apart from this ecosystem will find themselves exposed, and short of cash, once the current funding cycle dries up.

Guidance, not advice

Guidance, not advice

Last week Merrill Lynch announced the launch of its long awaited Guided Investing robo advisory platform. Investors get access to a fully automated managed account for only $5,000, compared to the $20,000 required for call center driven Merrill Edge.

A new type of hybrid model

It’s interesting that Merrill Lynch would launch another managed account platform at this point, given the narrow gap between the two program minimums. But industry wide fee compression underscores the importance of cost savings, and with Merrill Edge’s best growth behind it, even a call center is expensive compared to a digital first approach.

I say “digital first” because Guided Investing clients can still get access to a human advisor. In this case, however, the advisor delivers (in the words of a Merrill spokesman) “guidance” and “education”, and not investment advice. Advisors are able to explain product choice as well as why and how a portfolio is rebalanced, for example. Such capabilities reinforce the Merrill message that its portfolio models are not just algo driven, but managed by the CIO.

Compliance friendly

The compliance friendly terms “guidance” and “education” give another clue to Merrill’s intentions. Like BlackRock and other asset managers discussed in my previous post, Merrill wants to get ahead of the DoL rule and fill the advice gap that will be left by the rollout of a uniform fiduciary standard across both the qualified (retirement) and taxable investment spaces. It’s worth pointing out that Merrill announced its decision to stop selling commission based IRA accounts the same week it launched Guided Investing.

Compliance and economics are powerful (and mutually reinforcing) motivations. Especially when the economics are not just about cost savings, but about the chance to develop a whole new client segment. Guided Investing represents not just another robo platform, in short, but an effort to lower delivery costs and fill out the range of options Merrill offers clients, particularly younger and self-directed ones.

Merrill believes (correctly, in my view) that this type of managed investment solution will be as ubiquitous as mutual funds within five years, and so it has no choice but to move forward. Vanguard finds itself at the same crossroads, which is why the firm’s plan to launch a fully automated robo platform (as a complement to its $40 billion AUM Personal Advisory Services hybrid program) is probably the industry’s worst kept secret.

 

Shining light on the thinking at BlackRock

Shining light on the thinking at BlackRock

It’s clear that there’s more than a little chutzpah behind BlackRock’s demand for tougher regulatory oversight of robo advisors. This post probes the thinking behind it.

Does BlackRock, with FutureAdvisor in hand, want to shut the door on new robo entrants? A desire to forestall such competition would suggest a level of fear that I do not think exists. (Among other things, the robo narrative has moved past the independent or 1.0 stage). BlackRock’s main concern seems to be that the sloppy hands of existing competitors might result in regulatory sanction on everyone, and so put the hegemony enjoyed by BlackRock and its asset manager competitors at risk.

Neither faster, nor better, nor cheaper

While BlackRock may have paid $150 million for FutureAdvisor, I don’t think the firm believes it owns a better mousetrap. FutureAdvisor may have an innovative glide path feature (which may explain why FutureAdvisor has an older clientele than its robo competitors), but tax loss harvesting, 401(k) advice, “try before you buy” functionality and other core capabilities have become table stakes in robo world. If anything, BlackRock may believe that its proprietary ETFs (characterized by low tracking error and a broad product base, e.g., Japanese fixed income) outshine the plain vanilla offerings of Schwab and Vanguard, although this argument is undercut somewhat by the firm’s recent decision to drop fees.

Asset managers in the catbird seat  

Like the ETF business, robo advisory services have become increasingly commoditized, even as the DoL conflict of interest rule presents a massive tailwind for both. It’s a tricky time for asset managers seeking to shift their offer from manufactured product to advice based solutions.  BlackRock appears to feel it is in the catbird seat, and is perfectly happy to secure its hand and that of its asset manager competitors, all of whom have done well by automating their investments platforms. I’m not saying there’s collusion here, just a noteworthy confluence of interests.  

I’ll talk about the motivations behind the launch of another asset manager-backed robo in my next post.

In robo world, B2B = buyer beware

In robo world, B2B = buyer beware

The success of robo advisors in commoditizing the historically manual portfolio management process is proving their Achilles heel, as I noted in my last post. Incumbents have taken over the narrative. Yet the efforts of these incumbents to build, buy and partner with the robos comes with its own risks.

Foremost among these is how to implement robo advice within a multichannel ecosystem. As discussed in the report, Getting the House in Order: Consolidating Investment Platforms in the Wake of the Department of Labor Conflict of Interest Rule, the ability to deliver consistent advice across channels has become paramount in the new regulatory environment.

This consistency requires a clear view of assets held in house, which in turn implies eliminating product stacks and their underlying technology silos. Of the big four US wirehouses, Bank of America Merrill Lynch has led the way by consolidating five platforms into one. Their competitors are still trying to solve the problem.

Regional banks, with their legacy tech and limited budgets, are going to have a hard time getting this right. Asset managers are eager to help them launch robo platforms, despite the “me too” nature of the banks’ efforts. 

It’s hard to blame these asset managers for wanting to distribute their wares. B2B sales are in their DNA. But I’d point out that their headlong rush to abet bank robo contrasts with their cautious efforts to roll out on their own platforms.

Schwab spent months and millions to launch Intelligent Portfolios. UBS has moved much more slowly, and appears to be using SigFig as a placeholder until it can achieve the technological and service clarity demanded by clients and regulators alike. Fidelity danced with Betterment before rolling out Go through its retail branches. It's tepid if not touch and go.   

I don’t begrudge asset managers for taking their time. They have their own considerations, foremost distribution. That’s why they are enabling bank robo capabilities, even if it's not clear exactly how the banks will manage this. Why not give the teenager the keys to the Audi? But with their own clients, they have to get things right. They have shareholders to answer to, and the stakes are much higher.

The Big Bad Robo Halt

The Big Bad Robo Halt

Let’s pause. Take a break. No, the big bad robo halt isn’t the Betterment Brexit brouhaha I discussed in the WSJ last week. It relates to the degree to which the hype around robo has dwindled.

As detailed in last week’s webinar, robos’ ability to automate previously high touch advisory functions is proving their comeuppance, at least in startup world. The commoditization of the portfolio management process, from asset allocation to rebalancing to tax loss harvesting, works in favor of the large incumbents, with their advantages of brand and scale.

Meanwhile, product innovation efforts by independents as described in my Robo 3.0 report have gained little traction. While the robo value proposition (centering on transparency, cost, and user experience) broached by first movers Wealthfront and Betterment and others remains very much in play, incumbents have co-opted the vision.

We're not yet at the point of a fire sale, but the price tag for independent robos is shrinking fast. This is a question of deployment as well as value; among other things, it's become apparent that putting into action a store bought robo is not as simple as plug and play. I'll discuss the robo world challenges facing asset managers, banks and other incumbents in my next post.

How do you say “Brexit” auf Deutsch?

How do you say “Brexit” auf Deutsch?

I was in Frankfurt a couple months back to host a client roundtable and there was a palpable rubbing of hands in anticipation of a possible Brexit. It reminded me of the time I had spent in Frankfurt in the late 1980s, right after university, back when the only real skyscrapers in town belonged to Deutsche Bank. There was a real sense in that era that with the coming together of the European Union in 1992, Frankfurt stood to emerge as a global financial hub.

Obviously, London was to usurp that role. For reasons of language, geography, regulation and infrastructure, that ascendance seems in retrospect to have been inevitable. And yet now, with the UK vote in favor of Brexit, London’s preeminence appears to be at risk.

Jangled announcements of redundancies by a few large banks belie the fact that once the dust settles, financial institutions will shift into a wait and see mode. Yet to say that much remains to be determined is as interesting as saying that the original Star Wars movies were better than the litany of duds that followed.

I hate to fault my friends in Frankfurt, who have fostered the growth of a robust fintech sector and capital markets businesses, for seeing opportunity in the UK decision to step away from the Continent. Schadenfreude is after all, a German word. But I believe that Frankfurt’s aspirations are overdone. Wasn’t it just a few months ago that HSBC and a few other institutions were threatening to decamp Britain for Hong Kong and Singapore? Wisely, they decided to stay. The acquisition of the London Stock Exchange by the Deutsche Börse was another vote of confidence in London.

The ties between the UK and Europe are thick (London is home to second largest community of French citizens after Paris) and mutually beneficial. They are unlikely to be undone by this plebiscite. Yes, the vote will give heart to seccessionists elsewhere in Europe, and increase the fissiparous tendencies (look for another Scottish independence referendum) already present in the UK.

But it’s important to take the long view. The UK has survived, even thrived, in the wake of greater challenges, including strikes, war and the loss of global empire. It is a mature democracy that hosts a financial services hub unrivalled in the world history. Surely it can work through this Brexit.

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

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.