Neil Chapman, CEO of Exabel
2021 saw various firsts for alternative data. The $1.6bn flotation of SimilarWeb evidenced the emergence of the first ‘unicorn’ alternative data provider, with Yipit Data’s capital raise subsequently resulting in a second unicorn valuation. On the regulatory side, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued its first fine against an alternative data provider, charging App Annie with securities fraud. Meanwhile alternative data adoption continued apace following its breakout year of 2020, in which investors had found alt data’s often higher frequency to be particularly valuable amidst such unprecedented uncertainty. This year the London Stock Exchange Group published research showing that in 2021, of all the financial services firms that it contacted, only 1% are not using alternative data at all; in 2018 that number was still up at 30%.
Looking ahead into 2022, it is now possible to make some predictions around what awaits the ever-growing community of alternative data stakeholders. 2022 will be the year when barriers to usage of alternative data will truly begin to come down:
Tooling solutions have their moment
Alternative data’s history is rooted in a form of elitism. For much of its early development, only the most sophisticated hedge funds had access to the cutting edge technology and brainpower required to successfully extract value from alternative data. As the sector matures this truth is changing; as the knowledge spreads out of the hedge funds so too do the technical capabilities, increasingly in the shape of external software platforms that allow practitioners to extract value from alternative data. Such platforms can bring an alt data capability to new users of all shapes and sizes, from non-data savvy investment teams at larger long-only investment funds to smaller family offices that have previously had the knowledge and the appetite to make the most of alt data, but had lacked the technological opportunity. This externalization trend could ultimately touch the sophisticated funds that first conceived the use of alternative data, since growing efficiencies could make these external platforms more competitive than that which is possible within a single fund.
The SEC swings into action
As mentioned, the SEC issued its first fine to an alternative data provider in 2021, finding App Annie guilty of securities fraud. This was not the precedent-setting example that the market has long been anticipating however. For several years, legal advisers have been warning hedge funds and alternative data providers that the SEC might wade into the sector and punish a practitioner that was using alternative data in an as-yet unspecified manner deemed by the regulator to be ‘too loose’. In the case of App Annie, the regulator found the app data provider to be guilty of behaviour that would be reprehensible in any sector, not related to alternative data specifically. What the App Annie judgement demonstrates is the fact that alternative data is now firmly embedded on the SEC’s radar, so there may well be further regulatory activity in 2022.
Buyside personnel moving into product
2021 has seen a growing trend for buyside personnel taking their hard-earned skills onto the product side. This could be a sign that strong venture capital flows have finally convinced these asset managers that the time is ripe for a more entrepreneurial project with high growth potential, or it could be a signal that the market is moving towards the externalization trend mentioned above, or both. Either way, it is a trend that looks likely to continue in 2022.
The rise of Synthetic Data
Synthetic data, or data that has been manufactured or created artificially for a specific purpose, is coming increasingly into vogue in data science circles, and alternative data is no different. Hedge funds have long used data pertaining to private individuals, in almost all cases for uses in which personal identifiers are irrelevant to the value. With public and regulatory scrutiny increasing around privacy, the benefits of synthetic data in which personal identifiers are scrambled and obfuscated are becoming increasingly obvious. Other uses of synthetic data, such as for generating a larger dataset for model training, or using tweaked datasets for scenario-planning, might also have potential futures in the alternative data world as the techniques are being perfected more widely.
The march of the retail investor
The Gamestop affair back in January 2021 announced the return to the limelight of an established but sometimes forgotten player – the retail investor. The year turned out to be an influential one for the man on the street, who drove valuations both up and down, meaning an investor not paying attention to the chatter could easily find themselves burned. In 2022 this trend is likely to continue and alternative data offers opportunities both to institutional investors seeking to track what retail investors are investing in in real time, and increasingly opportunities for retail investors themselves to make more informed decisions with platforms tailored for their use.
Expansion into Europe
Alternative data originated in the United States, which is still the sector’s hinterland. In recent years inroads have been made in Asia, but the next push looks likely to be taking place in Europe. Increasing local availability of credit card and other data types, taken along with the developed nature of European markets, has made Europe a geography ripe for alternative data to increase its influence. Language and privacy regulation hurdles still exist though, and the market will need to continue to find solutions that negate these hindrances.
New forms of NLP
Natural language processing has been in use since the earliest forms of alternative data were emerging in this millennium’s first decade. Textual analysis has spread from creating sentiment gauges to track social media such as Twitter, and into the cat-and-mouse contest between hedge funds trying to extract extra meaning from earnings calls and investor relations executives attempting to keep corporate communication as neutral as possible. In 2022 a new battleground is being mapped around audio analysis, with alternative data emerging around the tone and cadence of corporate communicators, with the aim being to mine this data and reveal more than the speaker is intending.
Wealth Managers and the Future of Trust: Insights from CFA Institute’s 2022 Investor Trust Study
Author: Rhodri Preece, CFA, Senior Head of Research, CFA Institute
Corporate responsibility is more important than ever. Today, many investors expect more than just profit from their financial decisions; they want easy access to financial products and to be able to express personal values through their investments. Crucial to meeting these new investor expectations is trust in the financial services providers that enable investors to build wealth and realise personal goals. Trust is the bedrock of client relationships and investor confidence.
The 2022 CFA Institute Investor Trust Study – the fifth in a biennial series – found that trust levels in financial services among retail and institutional investors have reached an all-time high. Reflecting the views of 3,588 retail investors and 976 institutional investors across 15 markets globally, the report is a barometer of sentiment and an encouraging indicator of the trust gains in financial services.
Wealth managers may want to know how this trust can be cultivated, and how they can enhance it within their own organisations. I outline three key trends that will shape the future of client trust.
THE RISE OF ESG
ESG metrics have risen to prominence in recent years, as investors increasingly look at environmental, social and governance factors when assessing risks and opportunities. These metrics have an impact on investor confidence and their propensity to invest; we find that among retail investors, 31% expect ESG investing to result in higher risk-adjusted returns, while 44% are primarily motivated to invest in ESG strategies because they want to express personal values or invest in companies that have a positive impact on society or the environment.
The Trust Study shows us that ESG is stimulating confidence more broadly. Of those surveyed, 78% of institutional investors said the growth of ESG strategies had improved their trust in financial services. 100% of this group expressed an interest in ESG investing strategies, as did 77% of retail investors.
There are also different priorities within ESG strategies, and our study found a clear divide between which issues were top of mind for retail investors compared to institutional investors. Retail investors were more focused on investments that tackled climate change and clean energy use, while institutional investors placed a greater focus on data protection and privacy, and sustainable supply chain management.
What is clear is that the rise of ESG investing is building trust and creating opportunities for new products.
TECHNOLOGY MULTIPLIES TRUST
Technology has the power to democratise finance. In financial services, technological developments have lowered costs and increased access to markets, thereby levelling the playing field. Allowing easy monitoring of investments, digital platforms and apps are empowering more people than ever to engage in investing. For wealth managers, these digital advancements mean an opportunity for improved connection and communication with investors, a strategy that also enhances trust.
The study shows us that the benefits of technology are being felt, with 50% of retail investors and 87% of institutional investors expressing that increased use of technology increases trust in their financial advisers and asset managers, respectively. Technology is also leading to enhanced transparency, with the majority of retail and institutional investors believing that their adviser or investment firms are very transparent.
It’s worth acknowledging here that a taste for technology-based investing varies across age groups. More than 70% of millennials expressed a preference for technology tools to help navigate their investment strategy over a human advisor. Of the over-65s surveyed, however, just 30% expressed the same choice.
THE PULL OF PERSONALISATION
How does an investor’s personal connection to their investments manifest? There are two primary ways. The first is to have an adviser who understands you personally, the second is to have investments that achieve your personal objectives and resonate with what you value.
Among retail investors surveyed for the study, 78% expressed a desire for personalised products or services to help them meet their investing needs. Of these, 68% said they’d pay higher fees for this service.
So, what does personalisation actually look like? The study identifies the top three products of interest among retail investors. They are: direct indexing (investment indexes that are tailored to specific needs); impact funds (those that allow investors to pursue strategies designed to achieve specific real-world outcomes); and personalised research (customised for each investor).
When it comes to this last product, it’s worth noting that choosing advisors with shared values is also becoming more significant. Three-quarters of respondents to the survey said having an adviser that shares one’s values is at least somewhat important to them. Another way a personal connection with clients can be established is through a strong brand, and the proportion of retail investors favouring a brand they can trust over individuals they can count on continues to grow; it reached 55% in the 2022 survey, up from 51% in 2020 and 33% in 2016.
TRUST IN THE FUTURE
As the pressure on corporations to demonstrate their trustworthiness increases, investors will also look to financial services to bolster trust. Wealth managers that embrace ESG issues and preferences, enhanced technology tools, and personalisation, can demonstrate their value and build durable client relationships over market cycles.
The customer expectations driving insurance change
Carl Strempel, CFO and co-founder, Imburse
Customer expectations are continuously evolving, with simplicity and speed a significant priority in the current market. These expectations have been driven primarily by well-executed technology advancements in eCommerce. For example, many eCommerce platforms allow for instant payment and transparent tracking and delivery. Customers also have the option of availing of a chatbot, allowing for problems and issues to be solved quicker than relying on telephone customer support.
The best examples of these customer engagement solutions are integrated across multiple channels so that customers can switch from the chat-bot to a phone call to an email seamlessly, with the context and conversation retained. Companies and providers understand that there is nothing more frustrating for customers than having to explain the issue multiple times to multiple service representatives.
Customer expectations are continuously changing as mobile technology continues to make advancements. The growing prevalence of super apps that can do it all, from booking food deliveries to ordering taxis, is massively impacting customer expectations. These enhanced offerings mean that individuals are now also expecting this level of detail and personalisation from banks and insurers. Whether buying personal insurance for yourself or your family, or a CFO or risk manager purchasing commercial insurance for a business, customer expectations are rising. There is no longer an excuse for insurers to deliver a poor customer experience.
Insurers, especially in the retail and SME business, have scrambled to overhaul their customer experiences to meet modern consumers’ demands. For example, if an insurance company cannot turn around a quote for a comparison website within a few seconds, they won’t win any business. In fact, if they are not in the top three quotes with a competitive price, they are most likely irrelevant.
As a result, insurers need to think about their technology stack and how they can deliver the best possible experiences for their customers, to generate sales and improve retention. In this case, real-time API integrations into comparison websites.
Other areas of innovation are the ongoing migration to the cloud, which allows for the building of scalability and resilience in insurance carriers, as well as enabling technologies such as document ingestion, workflow automation, A.I., and payments technology delivering a better customer experience with a reduced Total Cost of Ownership for the enterprise.
First and foremost, insurance companies need to understand their customers and how they expect insurance interactions to be delivered. Following this, a technology strategy must be formed to enable them to deliver in an agile way. Being agile is significant because customers’ expectations evolve over time, and technology also changes. As a result, insurers need to understand their customers and be able to deploy relevant technologies in an appropriate time frame to meet demands.
Many insurance providers partner with innovative technology companies to deliver solutions that will support the needs of the end customer. By offering relevant payment checkout experiences, similar to those by large eCommerce platforms, insurers can increase their top line and keep more customers satisfied. Insurers can further reduce payment site costs by using external partners to manage integrations with the global payment ecosystem. This makes the configuration of payments more cost-effective and quicker than what existing IT integrations allow for. This technology can deliver a 90 percent saving on payment integration and configuration.
The advantages of technology in the insurance industry are clear. Technology enables insurers to improve coverage for customers, enhance customer experience, reduce costs and improve product-market fit. There are several new insurance business models being deployed, including embedded insurance, parametric insurance, and soon “open insurance,” which are all designed to make the customer experience more seamless and provide the right cover at the right time. When deployed in the right way, technology is a critical enabler for insurers to deliver to their customers and avoid becoming irrelevant capacity providers.
There are numerous opportunities for insurers to embrace innovation in the industry. The challenges with enterprise payments, however, are primarily transforming traditional IT systems, and maintaining multiple IT integrations with different payment technologies and providers. The impact is not only on top-line income and bottom-line costs, but inadequate payment capability also inhibits insurance innovation. Payments need to meet the needs of the modern consumer and the insurance product. These are the barriers preventing insurers from pursuing their digital transformation journeys. It is for these reasons that third-party innovative solutions prove valuable, enabling insurers to completely optimise their payment systems, for a fraction of the cost, resources, and time.
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