1 The New World of Wealth Management: STRUCTURING FOR SUSTAINABLE DIFFERENTIATION One of the questions we hear most frequently from clients in the wealth management industry is How are we going to differentiate our business? They understand that the old rules don t apply anymore, with fundamental changes in technology, demographics and client expectations reshaping the business from one end of the wealth management value chain to the other. But if everyone is chasing the same solutions the High Net Worth (HNW) segment or the Unified Managed Household (UMH) platform, for example how can you really differentiate your business? COLLABORATIVE WHITEPAPER SERIES One in a series of white papers from Collaborative Consulting Financial Services, addressing the challenges and emerging opportunities in today s financial services industry.
2 2 In our recent White Paper The New World of Wealth Management: Structuring Your Business For Competitive Advantage, we reviewed the emerging dynamics of the industry. The underlying force is a major sea change in the behavior and demands of the ultimate client. Increasingly sophisticated, with online access to information and resources that rival those available to industry professionals, they are assuming a growing role in building and managing their wealth. They are also changing the subject, from investable assets and beating the S&P 500 to how can my total wealth help me achieve my life goals? Today s wealth management firms must meet the needs of this generation, as well as those of more traditional clients. How Do We Differentiate Ourselves? Before going more deeply into the wealth management business, it will be helpful to look briefly at the general concept of competitive advantage. In his classic text Competitive Advantage, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter identified two core strategies for achieving business advantage: cost advantage and differentiation. Porter also noted that either could complement a focused strategy on particular market segments, as opposed to competing across a broader, industry-wide front. Cost advantage relies on being the low cost producer within a given quality level, enabling a company to achieve higher margins or provide added features at competitive prices, or increase market share by undercutting pricing from other market participants. In the wealth management space, cost advantage may be a viable strategy for companies large enough to achieve economies of scale and support ongoing technology leadership. However, it can be difficult to sustain long-term, and may not be seen as consistent with the perceptions of quality, expertise and service that individuals and businesses expect from a wealth management advisor. For most industry participants, a differentiation strategy offers greater promise. Businesses generally differentiate themselves on dimensions such as quality, service, or specialized expertise or focus, and these dimensions are relevant in wealth management. However, successful differentiation is much more complex than it was even a decade ago. Access to investment products and market information, along with personal relationships, used to be the foundation stones of the successful wealth management business, and some firms tried to position technology as a differentiator. But the internet has drastically eroded the power of access as a competitive factor, and technology provides a short-term advantage at best. Products, information and technology are critical, but they have become price of entry. Knowing what to do with them is the key to building durable client relationships and to successful differentiation. Not Just Differentiation Sustainable Differentiation It is always tempting to think of differentiation in terms of the grand slam the UMH or the new investment product that leapfrogs the competition. The reality of sustainable differentiation is far more prosaic. It is unrealistic to build a business plan around hitting one home run after another. Sustainable differentiation is far more likely to be achieved by doing everything just a little bit better than your competitors, day-in and day-out, and by enabling your business to focus on what it does best. You have to embed differentiation into the structure and culture of your business, with the tools, processes and policies that make better the natural outcome at the end of every day. Client Outcomes and the Client Experience Most companies in the wealth management industry still think in terms of products and services, investable assets, and performance relative to traditional industry benchmarks. These are what they are structured to deal with and deliver. However, end clients have a different perspective. They think in terms of what they can do with their wealth the personal and business goals they can achieve. They are concerned with a broader range of outcomes progress toward their goals is just as important as performance against the S&P 500 and with the service, communication and collaboration that make up the client experience.
3 3 A Common Set of Inputs, but Customized Results While access to investment products is increasingly seen as a commodity, emerging information technology and analytics make it possible for advisory firms to leverage their unique expertise by finding and packaging investment products into innovative, customized solutions to help clients achieve their individual goals. Investment products don t differentiate knowing how to integrate them into customized solutions for each client or segment does. Effective differentiation, depends on delivering the right outcomes and a consistently positive client experience. This, in turn, requires effective integration on multiple levels: An integrated view of each client s wealth: Clients generally don t silo investable assets, real estate, insurance, and the value of a business they own; they think in terms of total household wealth or net worth (including credit, which may be of particular concern to younger segments). Wealth management providers, wherever they are on the value chain, have to align their approach with the end client s perspective. Integrated information: Information must be gathered from a growing range of sources onto a single platform, and integrated into a unified view for staff and clients. Inbound or outbound, the ability to efficiently manage data and integrate data is a threshold requirement. Integrated analytics and solutions: Advisory service providers have to develop solutions that effectively leverage all of the client s wealth resources to deliver outcomes that support the client s life goals. Product and service providers further up the value chain must ensure that their offerings can be efficiently integrated into this holistic approach to the end client s wealth. Integrated technology, people and processes: Technology and business processes must be integrated into seamless, end-to-end flows that provide advisors and other employees with the information and tools they need to deliver a superior client experience. Integrated communications: Advisory services providers promoting comprehensive, goals-driven wealth management must provide internal and external communications that deliver on that promise multi-account, multi-asset and multi-media (especially mobile applications) tailored to the client s needs. The Building Blocks of a Differentiating Client Experience Let us return to the client relationship. In an era of increasingly commoditized investment products and services, building strong client relationships is essential, and differentiating outcomes and the client experience are the keys to attracting and sustaining those relationships. What are the building blocks of strong client relationships, ones that, if done right, will be difficult for competitors to match?
4 4 Understanding the client. We mean really understanding the client not just the usual input from a few meetings and the typical client questionnaire. Learning more about the client s lifestyle and life goals is just the beginning. Advisors, and the product and service providers that support them, have to learn more about the actual behavior of wealth management clients, which can reveal far more about true objectives, needs, attitudes toward risk, and other important variables. Delivering the right solutions. Of course a no brainer. But the definition of the right solution is changing. It is highly customized, drawn from a much wider range of asset classes, markets and opportunities, and it probably includes more than securities and the client s investable assets. Real estate, insurance, ownership of a business, and credit may all factor into a successful wealth management plan. The right solution is also dynamic and fluid. It changes with time, economic and market conditions, and changes in the client s personal or business circumstances. Wealth managers, and their suppliers, have to be able to offer solutions targeted at achieving a client s individual goals, not just a particular rate of return. And those solutions have to be flexible and scalable. The right solution also aligns the wealth manager s interests with those of the client, which is primarily a function of the compensation structure for advisors, their firms, and vendors on up the value chain. A critical element is making sure that clients understand the alignment of interest that is structured into compensation, placing a premium on effective communications. Communicating with the client. The new wealth management client demands transparency and wants to be better informed and more involved in decision-making. This requires taking client communications to new levels clear, household- or business-wide, proactive, real time, and in the medium of the client s choice. Good communications are essential in making sure clients understand the value added by the advisor and the solutions he or she brings to the table. You can create a differentiated offering, but unless clients and prospects understand the unique benefits of their relationship with you, you ve lost the battle perception is reality. The challenges of effectively communicating with clients are placing unprecedented demands on technology, people, business processes and compliance, at every stage of the value chain. The ability to communicate quickly, clearly and easily both internally and with clients must be structured into every aspect of your business. Trust. This has never been more important, and probably never more difficult to earn. The good news is, if you get the first three building blocks right, trust will follow. Your Differentiation Toolkit Next, let s look at the tools you need to build a differentiated offering, and examine the potential role of each in helping you effectively develop the building blocks for stable, successful client relationships. Information. As we have noted, in the emerging world of wealth management, clients may have access to almost as much information as you do, and they even have access to tools that will help them analyze it. So how can you turn information into part of your unique value proposition? While clients have access to more information, most will still want someone to help them make sense of it and connect the dots between that information and their individual goals. An advisor who understands his or her clients, enabled with powerful data management, analytical and communications tools, can still do that better than online wealth management applications. Information can be a powerful tool for advisors, their firms, and other participants in the industry on multiple levels: Data mining for information can help you better understand the wealth management client. The explosion of social media and other applications has made it possible to learn much more about actual behavior in every market segment. The right data management and analytical tools enable companies in the wealth management industry to achieve a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the needs and goals of target segments. Better connectivity and increasingly sophisticated analytical tools can help advisors and their suppliers develop and manage products, portfolios, and services tailored for a client s needs, and to anticipate and respond rapidly to market and other changes that can affect the client s wealth. With more powerful communications applications and a full range of communications channels e.g., social media, mobile apps, , voice you can easily get information to clients more quickly, more frequently, and in the formats each client prefers. Real-time, accessible information empowers advisors to anticipate and respond to clients needs.
5 5 Information Solutions Business Processes Understanding Achieving a differentiating position in the wealth management industry depends on using the right tools in just the right way. The resources at your disposal may not differ dramatically from those of your competitors. How you deploy and integrate them makes the difference. Technology Strong Client Relationships Products and Services Trust Communications People Experience & Expertise Experience and expertise. Your company s collective experience and expertise embedded in human capital, institutional memory, and your technology enable you to leverage information to differentiate your business. Whatever is distinctive about your expertise can be empowered by advanced data mining, analytical and communications technologies to bring unique perspectives and solutions to clients and prospects. Assembling multi-member, multi-functional teams of experts within your company can enable you to deliver integrated expertise that addresses the full spectrum of your clients wealth and goals on a holistic basis. Effectively communicating your expertise to target market segments is critical. Differentiation is in the mind of the client. Products and services. Unless you have the requisite economies of scale, or have highly specialized expertise, you are unlikely to be able to differentiate your business through proprietary products and services, at least over the longer term. What can provide opportunities for differentiation are: Having access to a broad range of products and sources and ability to package them into customized, goals-driven solutions. The source-neutrality that enables you to clearly align your interests with those of your clients. People. Your people and your corporate culture are essential to effective differentiation. Indeed, over the long term, people and culture may be the single most important element of competitive advantage, and the one competitors will find it most difficult to duplicate.
6 6 As more functions are automated and products and services become more commoditized, relationship management skills will loom larger in the success of a wealth management business. You can build a client-centric culture, through selective hiring, training, incentive, support and, most important, setting the right example from the top down. In addition to innate people skills, great relationship managers are empowered by flexible, real time information management, analytical, and CRM applications. You have to invest not only in people, but in the tools that enable them to do what they do best. Your technology and business processes should be structured to maximize the productivity of your people, by enabling them to accomplish more and focus on activities where they add real value. Business processes. Great people and new technology will not produce the results you want in the absence of efficient, end-to-end business processes that seamlessly integrate people and technology. Automate business processes wherever possible, to increase throughput, control costs, and minimize errors. Analyze every business process from the client s point of view. Does it clearly support desired outcomes or help to improve the client experience, either directly or indirectly? If you can t answer the question affirmatively, rethink the process. Are your business processes as efficient as they can be? Look for duplication, within and across functions, particularly client-facing functions. For example, do multiple departments contact the same client? Is the same or similar information entered into your systems twice? You have probably found candidates for streamlining and coordination. Technology. We ve approached technology last, not because it is least important, but because it underlies every other tool available to help you achieve sustainable differentiation. Technology can help you find new clients, expand existing relationships, operate more efficiently, help clients achieve better outcomes, and significantly improve client service and communications. Let s look at how technology can help with the building blocks of strong, stable client relationships. Technology, specifically Big Data (finding and analyzing data from a broad range of social media and other sources) can help you understand what clients really want, and where they see the real value in wealth management providers. This technology can help you prospect more effectively, in terms of who to contact, how to reach them, and what to say to them. Data mining can also enable you to serve existing clients more effectively. You know more about them, which enables you to do a better job of building solutions for their individual needs. Sophisticated analytics can help you develop more effective, customized solutions. Technology not only facilitates portfolio construction for HNW and UHNW clients, including more in-depth what if scenarios, but also permits creation of model portfolios for narrower and narrower market segments, enabling you to take customized solutions further downmarket on a profitable basis. Technology can also make your business more efficient and productive, enabling you to be more fee-competitive high on the list of positive outcomes for almost every client. Analytics, automated, flexible reporting and communications applications, and mobile applications can significantly improve the speed, frequency and clarity of communications with clients. More frequent contact, with higher-value content, can strengthen relationships. The transparency and responsiveness permitted by today s technology strengthen clients trust in their advisors and other wealth management providers. Beyond helping you build and sustain strong client relationships, technology can help you improve your margins by enabling you to operate a leaner, more efficient organization. Automation of non-core activities also reduces errors and improves compliance. It also enables your people to spend more time serving more clients. However, technology by itself is not a long-term differentiator. This is particularly true in the wealth management industry, which is outsourcing more functions, and purchasing proven technology from third-party vendors rather than developing proprietary applications in-house. As one client asked, if everyone is using the same platform, how can we be different? Technology can help you differentiate, but only if it effectively leverages your firm s strengths, and only if it is effectively integrated into your strategy and business processes. That is why selecting the right technology flexible, configurable and scalable is so critical. It can give you the power to configure your business to your opportunities.
7 7 How Can We Build Sustainable Differentiation Into Our Business? 1. What client segments do we want to serve? 8 Great, now how do I get there 2. Do we really know what the problem is? 3. How do our capabilities align with the needs of our target market segments? There is no simple answer, but the key to effective differentiation lies in successfully addressing these questions. 8. How do we implement the solution? 4. What products and services do we need to offer? 7. Where do we source what we need? 6. What technology do we need, and how should we structure our business? 5. Do we have the right people? Where Do We Go From Here? You re probably thinking, This all makes sense, but how do we go about it? What s the process for building sustainable differentiation, for embedding it in the structure and culture of our business? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, no single 10-step process guaranteed to produce results. However, there are some commonalities in the approaches of companies we have worked with that are successfully differentiating themselves. They have all asked, and effectively answered, eight key questions? 1. What client segments do we want to serve? This is a threshold question. Traditionally, wealth management has concentrated on High Net Worth and Ultra High Net Worth clients, but efficiencies from emerging technologies are opening opportunities in the mass affluent segment. Some wealth managers have built successful businesses around demographic, life-stage, or specific business segments, such as retiring baby boomers or younger entrepreneurs. Answering this question successfully requires in-depth knowledge of existing and emerging wealth management market segments and trends, a broad, deep understanding of wealth management products and technology, and imagination. 2. Do we really know what the problem is? All too often, wealth management firms think they know what their problem is, or they think the answer is to chase the same new products and services as dozens of their competitors. But they may be too close to the problem, with a narrow peer-driven focus that does not let them see the forest for the trees. The result is too much time and money invested in the wrong solution for the wrong problem. An objective second opinion, from an independent source that knows wealth management, technology and business strategy, can often provide a more realistic perspective, better solutions, and identify overlooked opportunities.
8 8 3. How do our capabilities align with the needs of our target market segments? An objective, realistic assessment of your current capabilities is required, followed by an equally realistic evaluation of the costs, resources and time required to add new capabilities and realign existing ones. For example, if you have decided to push into the mass affluent market, what analytical, CRM and reporting tools do you need to be able to serve that segment profitably? Are your current relationship managers capable of making the business process, time management and relationship style shifts that will be needed? 4. What products and services do we need to offer? The right answer to this question depends not only on the segments you are targeting, but on emerging trends in client behavior and the wealth management product, service and technology supply chain. You have to understand not only what the client needs today, but be able to foresee what the client will need tomorrow. Determining and accessing the right product, service and delivery mix for your target wealth management segments requires experience-based understanding of existing and emerging client segmentation and the wealth management supply chain. 5. Do we have the right people? As wealth management shifts from transaction-based to relationship-based service models, the skill sets and culture needed are also shifting. Building a team with the expertise and relationship capabilities needed to add real value is critical. Compensation, business strategy, culture and the image of your company are crucial components. 6. What technology do we need, and how should we structure our business? Successfully leveraging technology in the wealth management markets depends on understanding the solutions and service levels your target segments demand, and knowing what capabilities are available from the thousands of technology vendors serving the wealth management industry. Applications must be effectively integrated into your workflow and with your people, a challenge that requires a deep understanding of both technology and business processes. 7. Where do we source what we need? Build or buy, in-house or outsource, onshore or offshore, purpose-built or off-the-shelf? These are just some of the questions facing wealth management firms as they adapt to the industry s rapidly changing client, market and regulatory forces. Addressing them effectively requires in-depth knowledge of wealth management market segments, operations and reporting technologies and vendors, and best-practice wealth management and business processes. As technology assumes an increasingly important role in the industry, one potential challenge for wealth managers is the entry into the supply chain of tech firms that know technology, but do not understand wealth management. 8. How do we implement the solution? Identifying the right solution is critical, but implementing it cost-effectively, with minimal disruption, is a make-or-break issue. Wealth management clients are demanding, with little patience for poor service and mistakes. Developing a realistic, cost-effective implementation plan, one that includes what-if scenarios and alternatives, requires implementation experience in the wealth management business, deep knowledge of the technology existing and new and an understanding of your company s objectives, resources and culture. The Bottom Line Sustainable differentiation in the wealth management industry, no matter where your business is on the value chain, requires close attention to the needs and goals of the end client, and a focus on building a strong, stable relationship between the client and the advisor. Even if your company is not in the front lines facing the client, your success in the industry will ultimately be determined by how well you help the advisor build and sustain those relationships. The possibilities for sustainable differentiation can be found in disciplined focus on the advisor-client relationship, and in a realistic assessment of your company s strengths, limitations and opportunities. Long-term competitive advantage rarely come from the home run of a new product or technology. It does come from integrating strategy, products, technology, people and processes to do a little more, every day and in every aspect of your business, to help clients achieve their life and business goals.
9 9 About Collaborative Collaborative Consulting s dedicated Financial Services practice helps clients in capital markets, banking and insurance gain competitive advantage and build brand value. Our customized, multidisciplinary solutions address product innovation, revenue optimization, risk and compliance. Collaborative Consulting is a leading information technology services firm dedicated to helping our clients achieve business advantage through the use of strategy and technology. We deliver a comprehensive set of solutions to our clients, focusing on business process and program management, information management, software solutions and software performance and quality. Our unique model offers both onsite management and IT consulting as well as U.S.-based remote solution delivery. To learn more on how we can help you align your people, business process and technology to achieve your business objectives, visit us at or contact us at Copyright 2014 Collaborative Consulting, LLC. All rights reserved. This product is protected by U.S. and international copyright and intellectual property laws. WP.FS.126
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