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8 KEY DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OPPORTUNITIES – PART ONE

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By Garry Hamilton, Chief Growth Officer, Equator

 

The pandemic has ushered in an era of systemic change for wealth management. While some firms welcome the chance to adapt to emerging challenges others still shy away from them. It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that digital transformation is critical to the future success – even survival – of many businesses.

Wealth management is not alone in needing to rapidly replace outdated operations to suit remote client relationships. Plenty of other industries, from physical retail to entertainment and leisure, have been caught on the hop.

But the pandemic’s effects whipped up a perfect storm for many wealth management outfits that were typically built around offline relationships.

Fast forward a year, and many players have managed to achieve a level of digital servicing. Yet change has also exposed major vulnerabilities and limitations. It has meant a patchwork of fixes – from Zoom consultations to standalone customer management solutions – resulting in questionable GDPR compliance, and guaranteed inefficiency.

Garry Hamilton

It’s fair to say wealth management was reaching a tipping point even before COVID-19 hit. The pandemic has simply accelerated the need for transformation; providing customers with modern digital solutions alongside more traditional services. The prize for wealth management firms is contented clients and enhanced efficiency.

Based on our knowledge of this complex market we have identified eight paths through digital transformation that wealth management businesses can take to grow value. In this piece we’ll be delving into the first four.

 

1) Technology diligence is a key enabler of value creation in consolidation plays

Wealth management providers face often unanticipated difficulties when buying or merging with other firms, born of splicing multiple software, investment platforms, and ultimately incompatible processes. The result is technology that’s more akin to Frankenstein’s monster than streamlined systems.

Of the 10 companies we researched in our study that underpins the eight paths, we found five different content management systems in play; multiple different portals and CRM databases; and many differing ways of presenting services, content, and engagement.

The danger is that, if left unchecked, acquisition could reduce efficiencies and grow costs.

PE businesses seeking acquisitions can employ strategic planning during the process to ready a digital estate for rapid action. Having a digital strategy and roadmap energises organisations, embeds a culture of change, and creates a framework for evaluating effort.

Action for PE houses: A robust digital assessment of core business platforms, ERP systems, and sales and marketing solutions will give an independent view of your business today, show where you want to be tomorrow, and determine planning and budgeting.

 

2) Exploit AI for a competitive advantage

AI arrived on the wealth management scene with the bold promise of becoming the sector’s saviour. The technology is already addressing many pain points, including admin tasks, managing risk, and scaling.

Yet none of the businesses we studied appears to be using AI. If they are, you wouldn’t know it as they don’t promote AI-driven services. This is clearly a missed opportunity to become more efficient, more effective, and to create value.

In risk management forward-thinking firms are harnessing AI to minimise this burden, which is undoubtedly driving businesses out of the industry.

UK-based, PE-funded start-up Aveni has developed a platform designed specifically to manage and monitor risk. It uses Natural Language Processing technology to monitor customer calls for compliance, risk, and opportunity.

AI is also creating opportunities through algorithmic trading. From fund selection to portfolio optimisation, quantitative trading and real-time systematic investing, AI can make wealth managers more effective and efficient – allowing companies to scale quicker and more easily than was previously possible.

From de-risking to more efficient trading, the benefits of AI are compelling.

Action for PE houses: Evaluate your targets’ current AI adoption, and check whether innovation plans seek to take advantage of AI and its capabilities.

 

3) Maximise untapped opportunities to improve customer experience & staff effectiveness

Digital technology affords wealth management firms new opportunities to improve both staff effectiveness and customer experience. Benefits of adopting cutting-edge platforms range from delivering personalised relationships to enabling first-class self-service.

The tech comes in a range of formats. Modern administration platforms such as Fintech Automation integrate multiple service components of wealth management into a single software platform, covering automated account opening, trading, and accounting.

Alternatively, full-stack digital wealth management platforms – such as Berlin-based, PE-funded tech-house Elinvar, which offers a complete Platform-as-a-Service for wealth managers – can handle a complete spectrum of activities. These range from trading and customer experience, to portfolio reporting, and empowering investment decisions and research.

Other options for digitising services include:

  • developing customer companion apps that embed service and sales for cloud-based trading and CRM
  • using Robotic Process Automation to reduce paperwork and unnecessary phone calls, and accelerate data analysis
  • investing in Field Service Management software to boost security and efficiency for mobile workers

Action for PE houses: Invest in research to understand business needs and pain points, ensuring chosen digital tools relate to customer journeys and demands, as well as employee inefficiencies.

 

4) Properly leverage CRM

It’s tough to hold any specific marketing activity accountable without having an integrated CRM strategy in place.

Sadly, our analysis revealed very limited use of effective CRM amongst the firms we studied, rendering them unable to objectively report on the performance of their new business activities.

Tools like Hubspot and Pardot bring exceptional visibility to sales performance, lead management, and conversion. They allow businesses to:

  • view the status of contacts and salesforce effectiveness
  • understand via dashboards the quantity and status of leads and team targets
  • manually or automatically capture leads from website, email or third-party channels
  • automate lead assignment and nurture
  • deliver outstanding experiences using personalised communications; reducing customer journeys and boosting retention

The time savings alone made from deploying CRM tools typically cover their cost, but fully integrating them into your business processes and lead management prompts far better returns.

Action for PE houses: Integrated, cloud-based CRM is the most effective tool for consolidation and extracting value. The right configuration and customisations will allow the business to exploit automation and drive new fee-earning opportunities. In the next article we’ll consider the final four paths to value growth through technology.

 

Finance

WHY THE NORDICS WILL CONTINUE TO LEAD THE WAY IN DIGITAL PAYMENTS

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By

Kriya Patel, CEO, Transact Payments

 

While the recent introduction of PSD2 — the second iteration of the EU’s Payment Services Directive — has undoubtedly had an effect on the entire continent of Europe, some regions have been in a better place to take advantage of it than others. Largely thanks to a historical willingness to foster and embrace innovation, the Nordic nations were already something of a global leader in the electronic payments space even before PSD2. Now, it looks as if the Nordics is on course to be the first region in the world to fully realise digital transformation in payments.

With a combined population of 21.39 million, the Nordic markets of Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the highest penetration of electronic transactions anywhere in the world. It’s estimated that cash is only used in 3% of transactions in Norway, with this number only slightly higher in Sweden. Given this context, it’s no surprise that there are nearly twice as many payment cards as there are people, at 41.86 million cards. These cards are used for around 7.8 billion transactions annually — worth more than £205 billion — made at just under 600,000 point of sale (POS) locations and online.

You could be forgiven for thinking that given the advanced state of play in the payments market that there would be few opportunities left for incumbents or new entrants to take advantage of. However, for those who are willing to innovate and diversify there could be market share up for grabs. And there are also plenty of things that payments players in other regions can learn from this market. In this article, we will examine what these opportunities and lessons are.

 

Highly developed market

E-commerce accounts for a very large proportion of overall electronic transactions in the Nordics at between 19 and 22%. It’s a segment that is continuing to grow rapidly, even though cards remain the preferred way to pay online and in person.

In fact, cards account for a huge 85% of all in-person transactions in the Nordics, with debit cards used for two-thirds of all purchases in Denmark, for example. In the background, this is enabled by a highly functional consumer-permissioned digital identification system known as BankID that makes Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance for e-commerce much more straightforward for vendors and customers. This scheme, which was first envisioned more than 20 years ago, is one of the key reasons why this region has made such strong advances in digital payments.

Since 2015, all three Nordic markets have embraced digital wallet solutions – Norway’s Vipps, Sweden’s Swish and Denmark’s Bankort. In the case of Denmark, their digital wallet grew from the Bankort debit card solution shared by major Danish banks. Across all three markets, these home-grown wallets have seen strong growth, with Swish reporting the fastest usage growth in the over-45 segment. These domestic wallets are currently looking to grow their functionality, with parking and bill payments being added on top of peer-to-peer (P2P) money transfers and a debit function.

 

Digital wallets to expand functionality

As digital wallets rise and cards continue to be used for a very wide range of purchases, the Nordic markets continue to seek opportunities to reduce cash use for everyday, low-value purchases such as parking and street vendors. This will create room for mPOS (mobile Point Of Sale) and soft POS systems providers, as well multi-function card products. Loyalty is also likely to be another area for growth, with players keen to ensure that they can retain existing customers and attract new ones from their competitors.

One of the most interesting areas in the Nordic region’s payments landscape is how these digital wallet solutions can expand internationally. While digital wallets are growing rapidly in the domestic space, the capacity of these wallets to be used outside the Nordic region is still very limited. Creating international links for Nordic-only solutions will certainly be an area of growth in the coming years, so providers looking to partner with banks or wallet providers should find a receptive audience in these markets.

As with other European markets such as Spain and Germany, we’re also seeing the rise of specialist banks built to meet the needs of smaller companies in the Nordics. Banks such as Norway’s Aprila are expanding rapidly by taking advantage of PSD2’s Open Banking mandate to access SME credit data and deliver innovative payment products and lending solutions. Corporate credit and debit card products will be a major growth area in the near future as SMEs will finally get the attention they deserve.

There’s a great deal that other regions can learn from the Nordics. While the combined population of the three countries adds up to only around one-quarter of Germany, for example, the relatively low population density has proved a fertile ground for digital payments. It will be interesting to see how some of the more innovative services we see in this region can make international links, or how players in other regions try to replicate them.

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Banking

THE GROWTH OF DIGITAL BANKING: WHY COLLABORATING WITH FINTECHS IS CRUCIAL TO ADAPT TO CUSTOMER DEMANDS IN LIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC

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The growing customer demand for a seamless digital banking experience looks set to transform how the entire banking industry operates. Traditional banks have been left playing catch up with the emergence of new fintech players and challenger banks. The demand for slick digitally finance solutions is led by the digital native generations, the millennials and Gen Z. However, the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the uptake of online shopping and remote working for whole swathes of the population. Even the older generations have been left wondering why accessing banking services online remains so cumbersome.

Consumers’ growing desire to access financial services through digital channels has already led to a surge in various new banking technologies which are reconceptualising the banking industry. Consumers have rapidly moved to adopt payment solutions such as those offered by apps like Revolut.

Manoj Mistry

Retail banks continue to launch platforms in the Banking as a Service (BaaS) space, in an effort to remain competitive. An example of this in the UK is how NeoBank (Starling) used to only offer business to consumer (B2C) retail banking services. However, once it launched its BaaS platform, Starling was able to rapidly diversify to include consumer services.

New technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) continue to evolve, and look set to have an enormous impact on banking over the next three to five years. The type of cryptocurrencies that we have seen to date look set to be far more tightly regulated, given significant governmental concerns about their potential for misuse in cybercrime and money laundering.

In the blockchain space, the transformative development which will accelerate the rise of digital finance is the advent of central bank-backed digital currencies. The US Treasury has described the creation of a digital dollar as a high priority project. China is already trialling its digital Yuan. Meanwhile, the ECB is actively pursuing its plans to launch a digital Euro. The launch of stable, highly secure digital currencies, underpinned by major central banks, looks set to ensure that digital finance will permeate every area of our lives in the not too distant future.

How we use digital finance is also set to change radically. We are used to seeing new technology emerge from Silicon Valley. However, an analysis by KPMG Australia suggests that a new breed of apps which prefigures the future of digital finance has already emerged in the East. The report notes that “super apps” are “already encroaching on traditional financial services territory”.

Super apps are defined as apps which “essentially serve as a single portal to a wide range of virtual products and services. The most sophisticated apps – like WeChat and Alipay in China – bundle together online messaging (similar to WhatsApp), social media (similar to Facebook), marketplaces (like eBay) and services (like Uber). One app, one sign-in, one user experience – for virtually any product or service a customer may want or need.

“Due in large part to their versatility, super apps have quickly become ingrained into users’ daily lives. It is not unusual for a WeChat user in China to set up a date with a friend via instant messaging, make dinner reservations, book movie tickets, order a taxi and pay for every transaction along the way, all using one single app.”

We are already beginning to see trends in this direction in the Western world, with Facebook launching a marketplace and even a dating service within its social network. Facebook also attempted to launch its own digital currency, Libra, but this move stalled when it ran into significant governmental opposition. However, Facebook hasn’t given up, and it is determinedly pursuing the launch of a revamped stablecoin, Diem, which has been redesigned to address regulatory concerns.

A group of Citi analysts recently wrote an interesting research paper, which predicts that “the story of digital money in the 2020s will be the growth of tokenised money”. Noting that both Big Tech and Central Banks “are building new payment formats and rails,” they say that “while stablecoins such as Diem await regulatory approval, they could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors. In fact, Diem could be an effective tokenised payment format inside the Facebook universe.” The paper predicts that “Stablecoins, such as Diem, could benefit from the huge network effects of their Big Tech sponsors”. With 3.3 billion monthly users, Facebook certainly has remarkable global reach.

The idea of an integrated tech platform which enables people to interact and purchase goods and services – including financial services – is now being pursued by many major players.

Amazon has long been rumoured to be planning to launch its own bank. Yet, research by CB Insights concludes that, “from payments and lending to insurance and checking accounts, Amazon is attacking financial services from every angle without even applying to be a conventional bank.” This is perhaps not surprising. After all, tech companies rarely replicate existing models. They usually find disruptive new ways to achieve the outcomes that consumers want. Even the messaging service, WhatsApp, has recently moved into financial services with the launch of WhatsApp Pay.

As money becomes digitised and tokenised and ever more areas of our lives move online, the distinction between an online marketplace, a social network and a financial services provider will continue to blur. How traditional financial services companies react to these developments remains to be seen. Some may partner with tech companies in creating new services. For example, Visa and Mastercard were involved with Facebook’s Libra stablecoin project. Visa also responded to the popularity of peer to peer payment services such as Revolut by launching Visa Direct, which enables users to make payments directly to another account in 30 minutes. Most major banks now support Apple Pay, which enables users to authorise payment by scanning their face or thumb.

Banks can also collaborate with tech companies in terms of data sharing, in order to better understand what their customers want. A company like Amazon knows what books people like, what music they listen to and what they purchase. By combining such data with wider financial data, remarkably predictive Big Data models could be created. Some banks might increasingly pursue opportunities to monetise data, while others might make privacy their unique selling point.

The banking sector fundamentally deals with money. Yet, the very nature of money is set to change, as it becomes digitised. Banks are no longer merely competing with each other, but they are both competing and collaborating with tech companies and social networks. Looking ahead, the only certainty we have is that we are in for a period of remarkable change.

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