Noel Butwell, Distribution Director at Standard Life, discusses the ways in which businesses can optimise their processes to help meet future challenges
Change is constant in the financial services industry. Over the past couple of years alone we’ve seen fundamental shifts in the regulatory, political and economic landscapes within the UK. Client demographics have changed too, with pension freedoms creating new opportunities and risks for advisers and clients alike. Meanwhile, technology has taken huge leaps with robo-advice now a reality. Having to constantly change and adapt can leave even the most positive amongst us suffering from a sense of change fatigue.
While many advice firms have adapted well to this shift, others may find themselves so focused on reacting to external pressures, they fail to spend enough time ensuring their internal business processes are fit for purpose. And although this is perfectly understandable under the circumstances, I believe making the time to tackle this now could save advisers a lot of pain in the long term.
The demand for advice is higher than ever, yet many advisers are still relying on the same processes they have used for decades to service their clients. Often such processes are manual and time-consuming, which not only means more work, but it also leaves firms open to conduct risk issues as there is no centralised process to ensure consistency when dealing with similar clients.
Ensuring your business model is robust and backed up by scalable, repeatable frameworks not only helps to mitigate this risk, but leaves you free to focus on the area you add the most value – giving advice.
The range of people looking for tailored advice is much broader than it used to be following pension freedoms. As such, it can be tempting to try to create a client proposition that’s broad enough to service each type of client. However, the opposite is actually a more effective approach. By determining where your expertise lies and which segments will be best served by that expertise, you can align your business to the needs of your ideal demographic. Whilst it might initially feel risky to focus on certain segments to the detriment of others, a well-defined proposition can help to differentiate your firm and carve you a place in a highly populated market.
Measuring any intangible service is difficult, and advice is no exception. As a result, advisers may find themselves providing lists of transactions in an attempt to demonstrate the ways in which they add value for their clients. The problem with this is you might be providing a logical response to an emotional issue.
While it’s true your clients will need you to action transactions on their behalves, it’s actually the trust, relationship and overall confidence in your ability to keep their assets safe that they really value. Your success is dependent on this trust, so it’s imperative that you demonstrate that you are a safe pair of hands.
A useful exercise to help you do this might be to try to describe your value proposition as if you have never actioned a single transaction. Remember, in a robo-enabled future, clients will be able to access basic transactional-based advice easily and at a fraction of the cost, but the value of your expertise and intellectual property will persist regardless of technological advancements.
Once you’ve finalised your value proposition, you need to find the right providers to help you deliver your business strategy. To do this, I’d recommend you first think about your destination – where would you like your business to get to in the next five, ten, twenty years?
Transforming a business can be a long process, so it’s important to align yourself with the best collaborators to help you reach your goals. Determining where you want your business to be will allow you to choose a company you can trust and which aligns with your own views, values and principles.
I’d also recommend you look for providers that can demonstrate a strong track record of reacting to change. We already know that change is a constant consideration within the Financial Services industry, so it makes sense to choose providers that have proven their ability to not only react quickly and efficiently to change, but also help you to interpret and implement such changes within your own business.
And finally, I recommend that you look for providers that can add additional value to your business. As opposed to the traditional provider/consumer style relationship that is typically prevalent in the Financial Service industry, true collaborators will support both parties’ commercial models and add value to both businesses. The scope for new opportunities is broad, and a quality ally for an adviser firm could help with market/customer insight; data analysis; project management; automation; networking; asset migration to name just a few.
The only word of warning is to beware of false economies – relying on a variety of cheaper processes can add unnecessary complexity and cost to your business while increasing risk.
Achieving real change requires grit and determination. Generally people don’t like change, but successful people know that if they want to make a difference they have to embrace it.
Noel Butwell, Distribution Director, Standard Life