By Suman Nambiar, Global Head of Strategy, Offerings & Alliances at Mindtree Digital
The use of AI in Financial Services has been transforming business processes and functions for some time now across areas like Credit Scoring, Risk, Fraud, Trading and Back Office Operations. Front Office applications on the other hand, especially in Wealth and Asset Management, have a lot of untapped potential where the use of AI is concerned, especially to transform the customer experience and how these services are delivered to retail investors. While Algorithmic Trading has been around for many years, and the use of AI, along with other automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation, has been a focus for increasing efficiency, productivity and cost savings across Back Office operations.
Given the relationship-based, ‘High Touch’ model of serving customers in the Wealth Management industry, it has been reluctant to use technologies like AI to mediate interactions with customers as this tends to have a negative perception in customers’ eyes and leaves firms feeling that they would lose the customer intimacy and knowledge that helps them differentiate their offerings and quality of service. However, the traditional model is hard to scale without charging significant premiums for quality of service – in some firms, it is not uncommon for Wealth Managers to manage 200 to 500 small portfolios at the same time, which means templatized investment approaches and strategies are rolled over from one portfolio to the next.
As more and more millennials start to become potential customers for these services, the need to use technology to deliver a personalized experience in line with their expectations is becoming critical for the industry, especially as Fintech startups promise to eliminate wealth managers altogether. However, robo-advisers and the like have by and large failed to deliver on their initial promise – there is hence a clear opportunity for the industry to use AI technologies within their current business models to transform the Front Office experience. Other industries such as Retail, Consumer Packaged Goods and Media are now much more mature in how they collect and integrate data to create a comprehensive profile of the customer to personalize their offerings – while the Wealth Management industry has extremely detailed data on the customer, personalizing offerings using this data at scale has always been expensive.
AI technologies now enable Wealth Managers to deliver highly personalized, ‘White Glove’ services to investors at extremely accessible price points, with the kind of deeply personalized investment recommendations and insights that were otherwise generated by teams of expert analysts for High Net Worth investors, thus democratizing investments and making them more accessible than ever before.
There are 3 key ways in which AI is transforming this space:
- AI now enables the processing of vast amounts of different kinds of data – news, market data, video and audio feeds, company factsheets – along with data on a given investor’s portfolio and their preferences, to create completely personalized feeds relevant to them and their preferences – in real-time.
- Machine Learning algorithms crunch data across markets and asset classes, aligning with investors’ risk propensities and preferred investment styles, to generate investment insights and recommendations tailored to each individual investor. E.g. one sees 5 undervalued equities in European fashion, while another sees 5 recommended Asian Industrials, both generated by the Mean Reversion algorithm. In addition, with the wealth of past data that is available, the investor can back-test these algorithms to see how they would have performed in the past, before they make any decisions.
- Lastly, the entire investor experience is underpinned by the Self-Learning capability that AI enables – information feeds and investment insights are continuously tweaked based on actual user behaviour. For instance, if news items on mobile phone manufacturers and investment recommendations on these companies are not being clicked or viewed, these will be deprioritized and others moved up instead, thus ensuring that all content is always tailored to the users’ explicit and implicit preferences.
Different Wealth & Asset Management firms are approaching these technologies from different perspectives – some are enabling their investors with self-service tools, while others are focused on putting the power of these technologies into the hands of overstretched wealth managers who can now deliver a true one-on-one experience, with personalization of information and insights matched to each investor. While industry business models evolve to make the best use of AI, it is clear that the transformative effects are already being felt across the Front Office and how investors experience these services, which will only accelerate further as more and more possibilities are unlocked.
Investing in workforce intelligence now, leads to an optimised tomorrow
Michael Cupps (Senior VP, Marketing, ActiveOps) discusses four critical ways in which a new world of workforce data improves organisational function.
As governments work rapidly to respond to the Omicron variant, businesses experienced its effects as a timely reminder that flexibility is an essential part of any attempt to open offices again.
Even in a hybrid work environment, the unpredictable nature of the world and people’s lives means that organisations will need workforce management methods and tools that are flexible and intelligent to make the transition a success.
As a result, it’s as important now as ever to look at how data is the key to getting direction during these changing times – and how some of the data requirements that might seem burdensome can be a source of optimisation.
Attitudes on workforce data are continuing to change with the times
The pandemic has already forced a sea-level change in how operations managers understand their workforce and workload and plan their operations. While traditional workforce management data was based on looking around the office to get a sense of things and historical data around skills, schedules, inventory, and so forth, the pandemic left many operations managers in the dark as their teams worked remotely. Many organisations had already adapted to this change, implementing new methods of understanding productivity and performance and managing employees that were effective when working from home.
As hybrid working becomes the norm, the question remains for managers, where are my people most productive? Working from home is the preferred option for many employees, but not all of them – and not all types of work can be adapted to remote working.
More recently, other layers have started to appear that present a challenge to operations managers. One layer is eligibility – as in, who is allowed to work in an office or not.
Of course, US organisations will still be feeling the effects of the government’s attempt to enforce a nationwide vaccine mandate. Still, other countries are facing similar legislation – Western Europe is experiencing what can only be described as a ‘COVID-19 reality check’ when Austria became the first country to enforce a total lockdown since the vaccine rollout. The news of a rising number of cases has led to drastic actions from Schallenberg, with the announcement that Austria will enact compulsory vaccinations in early 2022, which has sparked violence in Vienna as tens of thousands of people protest the measures.
While vaccinations have been the key to the UK’s return to normality, nations that continue to struggle with controlling the virus will have an eye on Austria’s vaccine mandate and consequently fear that it will be a sign of what’s to come. With the ever-changing pandemic situation in Europe, businesses must prepare for the uncertainty.
If other Western European countries follow Austria’s example, vaccination mandates will inevitably add a new and novel challenge for businesses. Across every industry, management teams are already feeling overwhelmed. After two years of new variants, new vaccines, and new restrictions on the workforce, Austria’s mandate, as well as Biden’s Executive Orders in the USA, exemplify a new risk to the growing stability that vaccinations gave us.
Some organisations are implementing their own mandates regardless of national policy – the upshot being that, as a result, operations managers now need to know who is allowed to work in a particular location at any given moment. And of course, as the Omicron variant becomes more widespread and its effects are felt in society, organisations will need to rapidly adjust their plans to keep employees safe and comply with the law.
This can all feel very burdensome for operations managers: more data to gather, more lenses through which to look at workload, resources, and availability. But while there may be some initial pain associated with responding to these new requirements, I believe that they present an opportunity to create a more optimised future of work.
Understanding comprehensive workforce data can make business life more manageable. Thereby, it’s crucial to outline the four ways it contributes to a productive workplace.
1: It creates a well-balanced and engaged workforce
It’s no secret that your employees will have preferences for where they work. Understanding those preferences and factoring that into your planning can help ensure your employees are engaged in their work, improving productivity, well-being, and retention. If you can layer that information with data on employees’ performance in different environments, you have another part of the picture to help you balance your workforce. Of course, that data may need a third layer – who is eligible to work in which locations – and that needs to be handled correctly so that you comply with any local or national laws that are in force or will come into force.
2: It helps to reduce costs
This has already been discussed concerning the pandemic in a few places. As organisations move to hybrid working models, their need for office space reduces the costs associated with it. That could include rent, power, heating, water, insurance, and facilities.
But the cost argument goes beyond the maths of office space. Armed with the correct data, organisations can ensure that their people are working where they are most productive and happiest. That can reduce costs, mainly in decreased absenteeism, costing thousands of pounds per year.
That reduced cost could be used to help balance the books in a tight year – or it could mean that funds are available for training and coaching programmes that improve employee performance or even on rewarding high-performing employees.
3: It broadens the scope for your talent pool
Although gathering and analysing more data might feel burdensome, the truth is that it enables you to implement hybrid working models effectively and with confidence that they will deliver. And that means that you gain all the benefits of a hybrid work environment – including a vastly expanded talent pool. With minor roles a part of the norm, you can hire anyone from any country, allowing you to create more diverse and talented teams than you could before.
4: It can help make a positive contribution to sustainability efforts
Most organisations are considering reducing their carbon footprint and becoming more sustainable. If your organisation uses data to support a hybrid workforce, you should see a reduction in emissions on multiple fronts. You may see reduced emissions as fewer employees commute and those who commute less. You may see a reduced need for office lighting and heating – not to mention a reduction in office waste – as footfall in the office decreases.
The workforce data you gather to enable all this will help demonstrate a contribution to your organisation’s emission reduction programme – or could even form the basis of starting one if you haven’t already.
Availability is the new eligibility
It’s essential to start thinking about gathering data in a different light. Eligibility is arguably the most pressing (and stressing) requirement for organisations right now, and the temptation can be to find a solution that focuses solely on eligibility. But to take a broader view, eligibility data isn’t that different from the other data you’re gathering about employees and where they can work. You’re trying to build a picture of where your workforce is based – and eligibility is just one more layer on top of others, such as where your employees prefer to work and where they are most productive. When you consider the challenge in those terms, the uses for the data, you’re gathering suddenly expand. We’re calling the blanket term for this data “availability.”
Of course, gathering availability data – and indeed all the workforce intelligence that makes the four things I’ve mentioned possible – is the trick. In a hybrid world, that data needs to be gathered automatically, wherever employees are based, in real-time, to give managers as much detail as possible. But at the same time, organisations need to find solutions to prevent managers from drowning in data, which will prevent them from getting on with their jobs.
The future of retail trading
Joe Jowett, CEO of StrikeX
The 2020s look set to be the decade of the retail trader. As the pandemic forced large parts of the globe to turn their bedrooms into offices, a new generation of mostly young traders and investors piled onto online trading platforms hoping to combat the doom and gloom of financial insecurity that hung over many at the time. This trend looks likely to outlast the pandemic itself and the considerable power of retail traders, at times making up over 20% of total worldwide trading volume, continues to disrupt the market.
As new trading platforms vie for users in an increasingly competitive environment, 2022 will pose a number of challenges concerning safety and accountability, while a consolidation of crypto and traditional asset trading looks likely. Tools like StrikeX’s own upcoming platform TradeStrike, due to be released later in the year, will ensure that trading and investing can achieve further democratisation and transparency, while enabling wider market access for both new and experienced investors.
Generation investor is here to stay
The skyrocketing growth of online trading platforms offering commission-free trading has fundamentally altered the demographics of the stock market. Research shows that the median age of new investors since 2020 is around 35, a significant reduction from pre-pandemic traders, whose median age was 48. Similarly, the average age of Robinhood’s 22 million users is 31, highlighting the fact that most online platforms are predominantly catering to millennials and Gen Z traders.
This dramatic shift in demographic, fuelled by easy access to online platforms with mobile apps and extensive social media networks on Twitter and Reddit, means that this new generation of traders and investors has a substantial influence on the market. This was seen at its most extreme in early 2021, when the subreddit WallStreetBets conspired to “short-squeeze” institutional investors who had bet against the ailing GameStop stock, causing headlines around the world.
While making money remains a priority for young traders, the sentiment behind the GameStop saga was one driven by a boisterous confidence that the traditional gatekeepers of the stock market could be swept aside, and a world previously shrouded in secrecy could be democratised and made accessible to the amateur investor. This same sentiment is shared by large swathes of crypto traders and investors, who believe in the transformative potential of decentralisation inherent in blockchain technology.
While online trading platforms like Robinhood enabled the GameStop rally, the decision to momentarily suspend trading of a number of so-called “meme stocks” caused millions of traders to lose their money and cast aspersions on the platform’s credentials of democratising the trading world. Hundreds of lawsuits concerning the episode are still pending and many users took to crypto and NFTs instead, where the blockchain-enabled peer-to-peer trading mechanics eliminate the need for intermediaries.
The GameStop saga has highlighted that trading platforms must prioritise accountability and transparency as part of their mission to benefit the retail investor. A trading platform with the unilateral right to restrict the trading of its users without prior warning will find it hard to win over a generation of investors and traders which values transparency and access above all else.
Further factors can play a part in providing broader access to new investors, including a clear breakdown of costs, such as withdrawal and order fees. As many online platforms have cluttered and complex user interfaces, these aspects are easily missed by beginners and can inhibit the accessibility to new users more generally.
Tokenisation is the future
One way to significantly democratise retail trading is the tokenisation of assets. Blockchain technology is seeing a wave of adoption across multiple sectors, from digital art and the metaverse to asset finance and real estate. As is demonstrated by the world of NFTs, any asset can be tokenised to establish an immutable and transparent record of ownership on a blockchain. Tokenising shares in stocks, bonds or commodities can completely transform the way we trade and offers the transparency and security lacking in many existing platforms.
One of the benefits of tokenisation is the possibility to trade 24/7, regardless of stock exchange cycles. As transactions can be recorded on the blockchain even when markets are closed, users can trade irrespective of their time zone, opening the market up to a wider base of traders and investors across borders. Further, blockchain automation allows for maximised transaction speeds with minimal transaction fees, while any information stored on the blockchain is accessible and verifiable by all, taking data ownership out of centralised control.
One of the most transformative benefits of tokenisation is the possibility to trade all assets, from stocks and commodities to crypto and NFTs, on one single platform. Juggling multiple portfolios on various exchanges is a significant entry barrier, as traders can lose sight of their investments. Tokenisation removes this barrier and opens the market to new users wishing to invest in both crypto and traditional shares. Finally, tokenisation allows for fractionalised shares, making diversification possible at lower costs.
A future-proof platform
At StrikeX, we are developing a solution which delivers on the benefits of tokenisation, while offering a transparent and user-friendly product to its users. Our flagship platform TradeStrike, due to launch later in 2022, is developed by retail investors for retail investors and offers tokenised assets, including stocks, NFTs and real estate, as well as cryptocurrencies, all in one unified interface.
TradeStrike will enable users to access the widest possible range of assets and 24/7 trading across borders will open up the market to a whole range of new traders who had previously been restricted from investing. Complete with a clean and intuitive interface and a range of educational tools, TradeStrike is designed to empower retail traders to make the best decisions based on clear and transparent information.
Online trading platforms have seen a monumental growth in recent years and have enabled a new wave of investors to access a previously safeguarded market. The year ahead will show whether these platforms are equipped to deal with challenges such as transparency and accessibility. One thing is clear: Generation Investor has changed trading for years to come.
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