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.

No lumber, no slumber: Canadian robo steps up

No lumber, no slumber: Canadian robo steps up

As I point out in my recent report on robo advisors in Canada, price points for digital advisors are on the high side, even for the lumbering Canadian advice market. Especially as these robos are not known for standout service, as other bloggers have noted.

So should it be a surprise that Invesco Canada has developed plans to roll out Jemstep in Canada, the digital advice service the parent company acquired in January 2016?

Opportunity beckons

The truth is that the roll out has relatively little to do with the small Canadian market, and everything to do with the US, and eventually, the UK, markets. Invesco has been digesting Jemstep for more than a year now, quietly making Jemstep’s robust aggregation and client servicing functions available to those advisors who want them.

Fine tuning is fine, but at some point, it’s time to go big. With prices for robo tech on the wane, there is pressure on Invesco top brass to make something of this acquisition. Indeed, Peter Intragli, CEO of Invesco Canada and head of North American distribution, signaled this launch a while back. It is also worth noting that stand alone Canadian robo WealthSimple is taking a similar tack to Invesco, launching in the US and hiring London based consultants to guide its UK entrance. I’ll talk more about the thinking behind both firms' move in a later post.

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.

Roll over, don’t play dead

Roll over, don’t play dead
In my most recent report, Wings of a Butterfly: Regulation, Rollovers and a Wave of Optimization Software, I discuss the challenges the DoL conflict of interest rule poses to the $7 trillion IRA rollover business. These challenges center on the need for advisors to break down 401k plan costs and make apples-to-apples comparisons of proposed rollover solutions.   Why focus on the rollover? First, the rollover decision serves as a touchstone in the relationship between client and advisor. Trust sits at the center of recommendation to roll over, and seldom are the vulnerabilities of the client so exposed. The importance of the  rollover decision is further magnified by timing. It often takes place at the apex of client wealth, where the consequences of missteps for the investor can be severe. For the advisor, the rollover offers a unique opportunity to capture assets, or at least advise on their disposition, as well as present a coherent strategy for drawdown.   The implications of the decision to roll over extend beyond the client advisor relationship to firm strategy, of course. They are particularly relevant to product development and distribution. I’ll discuss these implications in a later post.

Wells Fargo rides herd on DoL

Wells Fargo rides herd on DoL

It’s no coincidence that Merrill Lynch launched its new robo platform the same week it decided to exclude commission based product from IRAs. Likewise, the decision by Wells Fargo to announce a robo partnership with SigFig suggests that despite the pronouncements of pundits and industry lobbyists, DOL is hardly DOA.

It takes a brave man to guess how the Trump administration will balance populist tendencies with free market rhetoric. In this case, as I note in a previous post, the inauguration of the new president precedes DoL implementation by less than three months. The regulatory ship has left port, and in any event, it's not clear that President Trump will want to spend valuable political capital undoing DoL.

I’ll discuss Wells Fargo’s motivations in a later post. For now, I’ll note the degree to which a robo offer aligns well with the principles of transparency, low cost and accessibility at the heart of DoL. At the same time, I caution the reader to consider the challenges that any bank faces in rolling out a robo platform, a few of which I underscore in this column by Financial Planning’s Suleman Din.

DOL or DOA? The Election and the Conflict of Interest Rule

DOL or DOA?  The Election and the Conflict of Interest Rule

It’s one of those watershed moments. Clinton wins, and the Department of Labor (DoL) conflict of interest rule takes hold and likely gets extended beyond retirement products to all types of investments. Trump wins, and DoL gets slowed down and perhaps even rolled back.

Assuming Clinton wins (which appears likely) firms will need to gear up on three fronts:

  • Platform: DoL makes paramount the ability to deliver consistent advice across digital and face to face channels. Such consistency requires a clear view of client assets held in house, which in turn implies eliminating legacy product stacks and their underlying technology silos, as I note in a recent report.
  • Product: Offering only proprietary products only is a non-starter under DoL. But too much product choice can be as bad as too little. Firms must demonstrate why programs and portfolios offered are the best for each particular client.
  • Proposition: In a best interest world, the client proposition must extend beyond price. Client education, transparent performance reporting and fee structures, as well as an easy to use digital experience, will distinguish stand outs from the broadly compliant pack.

None of the pain points above lend themselves to easy solutions. As such, the banks and brokerages most affected by DoL are struggling to develop processes that go beyond exemption compliance. I’ll discuss more comprehensive approaches in the All Hands on Deck: Technology's Role in the Scramble to Comply with the DOL Fiduciary Rule  webinar I’m co-hosting this November 14.

I hope you will join me for the webinar, and in the meantime, you will share your thoughts and comments on this post.

New Report: Changing the Landscape of Customer Experience with Advanced Analytics

New Report: Changing the Landscape of Customer Experience with Advanced Analytics

Today’s financial consumer enjoys unprecedented information and choice, both in terms of channels and access to third party or crowdsourced opinion. Higher expectations support (and in part reflect) the skepticism that to a large degree defines the Millennial generation. These expectations underscore a fundamental shift in the power balance between the client and wealth manager, one reinforced by regulation such as the US Department of Labor conflict of interest rule

The ascendance of the client should be a call to action for wealth managers. As I discuss in a new report authored with my Celent colleagues Dan Latimore and Karlyn Carnahan, wealth management firms need to operationalize insights from new data sources, and bring servicing models up to date with their more sophisticated understanding of the client.

Campaigns and next best sales approaches that have worked in the past (or at least well enough to encourage firms to invest man hours in their design and execution) must be brought into the digital age. Too often these campaigns are a blunt hammer: they are built to sell product and ignore the evolving needs of the individual client, as well as the multiplicity of digital touch points useful to reach him or her. It is hardly surprising that the client reacts negatively to the presumption inherent in these offers.

Introducing The Cognitive Advisor

Introducing The Cognitive Advisor

Last week I published a report on a topic that has interested me for some time: the application of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to the wealth management business. To date, neither Celent nor its industry peers have written much about this topic, despite clear benefits related to advisor learning and discovery. This lack of commentary, and the industry skepticism that underlines it, reflects successive waves of disappointment around AI, and more recently, competition for research bandwidth from other areas of digital disruption, such as robo advice.

Another inhibition relates to taking on an industry shibboleth. How to reconcile AI or machine intelligence to the hands on, high touch nature of traditional wealth management? This challenge is real but overstated, even when one reaches the $1 million asset level that has defined the high net worth investor. Indeed, the extent to which wealth management is a technology laggard (in general, but also when compared to other financial services verticals) highlights the opportunity for disruption.

In particular, AI offers a means to circumvent the dead weight of restrictions presented by antiquated trust platforms and other legacy tech, a weight which reinforces advisor dependence on spreadsheets and other negative behaviors. As is set out in the report, it is precisely the combination of new behaviors and technologies that can help surmount the finite capabilities of the human advisor.

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.