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Are share buybacks a key factor in the continued rise in US equities?

Are share buybacks a key factor in the continued rise in US equities?

Share buybacks are one of this year’s red-hot topics in the US and regularly hit the headlines, amid claims that the bullish equity market is underpinned solely by this factor, or that it increases social inequalities. Without wishing to enter into this sterile debate, it transpires that the dominant belief on Wall Street is that US companies are buying-back their own shares in droves and thus contributing to the market advance. When a company buys back its own shares, it reduces the total number of shares in circulation and therefore increases earnings per share, thus remunerating remaining shareholders and theoretically triggering an increase in the share price. Given that three quarters of the S&P 500 component companies are currently implementing share buybacks, it would not be a great leap to conclude that these programmes have a major impact. Is this really the case?

Since the beginning of the current equity market cycle, share buyback programmes have been a recurrent theme in the US, chiefly on account of earnings growth, increased financial leverage and, more recently, tax reform. Over the past few years, the main source of equity demand in the US has stemmed from companies themselves, via share buyback programmes, which has exceeded demand from ETFs. According to JP Morgan[i], since 2008 share buybacks implemented in the US have totalled USD 4.5 trillion, i.e. the equivalent of 30% of the increase in market cap during this period, which provides a clear illustration of the scale of share buyback programmes. Over the past 12 months, we estimate the value of share buybacks to be USD 640 billion, 30% higher than that of the previous 12 months[ii]. For the full year 2018, buybacks could even increase by over 40% compared to 2017 and exceed USD 800 billion. For 2019, Goldman Sachs estimates that buybacks should increase by over 20% to a new all-time high of almost USD 1 trillion[iii]. These colossal amounts are all the more significant as companies are expected to deploy the greatest proportion of their cash this year and in 2019 for share buybacks (more than for capex) for the first time since 2007. With cash-to-asset ratios close to their all-time highs of 12%, US companies have ample means to launch ambitious share buyback programmes.

The US tax reform introduced by the Trump administration in December 2017, which was one of the most significant in US history, has played a key role by reducing corporate tax from 35% to 21% and enabling multinational companies to repatriate an estimated USD 2.5 trillion of cash held abroad at a preferential tax rate. After nine months, it would appear that half of the total amount effectively repatriated has been used to either step-up or launch share buyback programmes, hence their spectacular increase during 2018 and 2019. As evidence, less than 15% of buybacks carried out in 2018 were financed by debt, compared to over 30% in 2017.

We do not share the prevailing enthusiasm for share buybacks, however. Firstly, over the past 12 months, almost 45% of the total amount have been repurchased by 20 companies, led by Apple, Oracle and JP Morgan. Such a high level of concentration cannot benefit the whole market. Secondly, although buyback totals are at an all-time high, it is also important to highlight that market value is also at record levels and that the market cap of the S&P 500 index breached USD 25 trillion for the first time just before the October correction. The value of equities bought back over the past 12 months, despite appearing to be an exorbitant amount, represents just 2.7% of the current market cap of the S&P 500, far below the peaks reached in 2007 and 2013 of over 5%. Lastly, a strategy focusing on shares with a generous buyback yield (trailing 12-month buyback amount / market cap) incurs high risks. Many of these companies have capitalised on the post-crisis low interest rate environment to finance ambitious share buyback programmes and are therefore now more heavily leveraged than average, as demonstrated by the net debt / EBITDA ratio of the S&P 500 Buyback index[iv]. In the current increasing interest rate context, these companies are beginning to lose favour with investors.

In theory, if share buybacks strongly support the markets, then the stocks with the highest buyback yields should outperform. Our tests have effectively demonstrated that a stock-picking strategy based on the 100 S&P 500 components with the highest buyback yield[v] has been highly profitable since the beginning of the bull market cycle in March 2009. This strategy, in an equally-weighted version, outperformed the market by 11% annually, whereas a market-cap weighted version outperformed by 4%. However, these portfolios have a high tracking error to the S&P 500 index[vi] and their relative performance results chiefly from sector deviations[vii]. In order to better assess the intrinsic pertinence of share buybacks as a risk factor, we have divided the investment universe into quintiles based on buyback yield and neutralised sector weightings. This approach does not enable us to conclude that share buybacks add value. Only one of the four versions tested[viii] proved convincing in terms of its outperformance profile. Large-scale share buyback programmes alone no longer suffice for companies to beat the market.

Share buybacks are a technical factor, which although certainly positive, is currently only a small cog in the mechanism driving equities higher. Although their value in 2018 and 2019 has reached all-time highs and has also hit the headlines, they are concentrated among a few giant companies and remain moderate compared to the overall scale of the US equity market. The added value delivered by stock-picking strategies based on share buybacks is very probably attributable more to sector exposure than to the intrinsic value of this particular risk factor. Lastly, we believe that the continued rise in the market is based primarily on growth in sales and earnings and therefore on the strength of the economic cycle at a time when margins are already very high.

[i]Source: JP Morgan, US Equity Strategy, 18 October 2018

[ii]Sources: Reyl & Cie, Bloomberg

[iii]Source: Goldman Sachs, Portfolio Strategy Research, 4 October 2018

[iv]The 100 S&P 500 stocks with the highest buyback yield delayed by one quarter, rebalanced quarterly, equally-weighted

[v]The 100 S&P 500 stocks with the highest buyback yield delayed by one quarter, rebalanced monthly, equally-weighted

[vi]2.9% for the market-cap weighted portfolio and 4.2% for the equally-weighted portfolio

[vii]As of 26.10.2018 the 5 sharpest sector fluctuations are discretionary consumer (+9.5%), financials (+9.2%), industrials (+6.2%), communication services (-6.8%), tech stocks (-5.7%)

[viii]Monthly and bi-annual rebalancing, equally-weighted and market-cap weighted

Investing

The Business Case for Sustainable Wealth Creation: A Conscious Mindset Approach

The Business Case for Sustainable Wealth Creation: A Conscious Mindset Approach 1

By Mirjana Boznovska

The scale of the planetary crisis is so big that a fundamental shift is needed from business leaders and all stakeholders including investors, human resources as well as consumers. There is a new way of thinking emerging, one that is shaping the future of sustainable wealth creation with a focus on conscious mindset.

Humanity’s prosperity is linked to expanding our definition of wealth to include a respect for the environment and empathy for others. All of these come together and are the source of true innovation. Our future depends on learning to create wealth in sustainable ways.

Money and wealth are tools which help create opportunities. Opportunities for those who have it to do “good” in their environment, their community and globally. Serving society is the most inspiring and never-ending source for economic activities, creating value for humanity.

Sustainable Wealth

Sustainable wealth is future benefit that sustains future life. Sustainable wealth means consumption or the using up of benefits must equal additional investments that increase wealth, so wealth is maintained and sustained. When the spiritual dimension of wealth is interjected in the economic equation, physical wealth expands on two counts: a) there would be a lowered desire to consume materialism and b) the spirit of service would inevitably lead to increased wealth. Balancing ecological and economic consideration is an acceptable short-term goal of co-creating sustainable wealth, but in fact ecological restoration must be the long-term goal.

This would be possible only when unsuspected sources of clean energy are tapped and scientific research in ecological restoration is pursued. This is one way of looking at co-creating wealth that can help humanity pay back its ecological deficit. It’s about creating value without destroying value. The systems we create need to serve all individuals and the system itself.

Today our systems are increasingly feeding only the super-wealthy, and everything we understand about the human psyche is that we are creating a class of super selfish, super greedy people who take at the expense of individuals, society and our ecological systems. The depletion of social and environmental capital weakens our social systems. The world is interconnected, and different parameters are having an impact on our lives, our profession and on the worldwide economy.

The question that arises is how can we as an individual and as part of the global economy create sustainable wealth, balancing economic and ecological priorities?

The question is closely depending on how we start and manage a sustainable economy based on strong and long-term industry. The global economy remains market-centred, even though the evidence has been mounting that these markets are failing us and the planet. Tweaking this model isn’t good enough We need a new paradigm which will provide a new theory that fits our unfolding reality, a new environment-centred economics that can maximize not profit alone but the well-being of living things – it’s about conscious business which requires conscious leadership.

The Three P’s

Conscious business supports the idea of the three P’s: People, Profit, Planet. The authentic motives behind such choices are self-mastery, love, care and the desire to serve.

What is Business Sustainability? Business sustainability is often defined as managing the triple bottom line, a process by which businesses manage their financial, social and environment risks, obligations, and opportunities. We can extend this definition to capture more than just accounting for environmental and social impacts. Sustainable businesses are resilient, and they create economic value, healthy ecosystems, and strong communities. These businesses survive external crisis because they are intimately connected to healthy economic, social, and environmental systems. They require conscious leadership with a conscious culture and conscious service. A paradigm is a set of interconnected ideas that have a logical cohesion.

The Business Model for the 21st Century

In most discussions about the business case for sustainability, the emphasis has been on the bottom line. The value of sustainability has been analysed from every direction—revenues, profits, and share prices. However, sustainability is more than just about firm-level benefits. Businesses, business schools, and society recognize that the current course of production and consumption cannot be sustained within our natural resource limits.

Businesses develop the products and services consumed by individuals around the world. The vast resources extracted by business for society’s use have created waste streams that find their way into our land, air and water and compromise human health. New businesses are being built on an understanding of the problems that have emerged through the 20th century. Increasingly, old businesses are evolving to use fewer resources, intensify the resources they do use, and renew and reuse the products they sell. New relationships are forming between businesses as firms realize synergies from interdependence; one firm can profit from another’s waste, or several firms can benefit through flexible supply chain relationships built on common interest.

The 21st century is revealing a new paradigm in which business is no longer separate from society. Realizing the new “business-as-society” paradigm will require the efforts and ingenuity of organizations across sectors and industries. It will challenge the current generation of business leaders to apply their hard-won knowledge to novel problems, and the next generation to evolve into conscious leadership and address issues of unprecedented importance and complexity. Those businesses that identified the hurdles and challenges described in this article, along with those businesses that aim to overcome them, will help to shape this new business landscape. The concept of sustainability is undeniably compelling.

Let’s consider for a moment the move towards a paradigm whereby the business decisions were aligned with the best ecological decisions, ie conscious business and conscious service. The business case for sustainability draws on several core arguments. Pro-environmental practices create positive brand associations among consumers, politicians, and regulators. They also anticipate regulatory trends and position the company favorably when such policies become law. The mindset shift required that seeks to further efficiency in materials and waste carries over into other realms of conscious leadership. Similarly, the innovation required to overcome environmental challenges promotes innovation generally. And employees have high morale when they believe in what their company is doing.

However, there are still many barriers to sustainable wealth creation as it would appear. When we take a step deeper into the definition of service, fear usually comes up, uncertainty, and a moment of self-definition. Who am I and what do I serve? Whether inside or outside the business world, the same questions arise.

“It doesn’t fit the business model” or “How are we supposed to measure the impact” are common examples of why it requires a mindset shift to start building sustainability from supply chain activities to HR practices.

Mirjana Boznovska

Mirjana Boznovska

Ordinarily such principles fall into the realm of self-awareness, self-mastery, and spirituality, separate from, and opposed to the world of commerce. Essentially a desire that comes from within, to have a positive impact and make a difference in the world which comes from the highest calling to serve. Leaders seem conflicted. It is time for this separation to end. Everyone, even the most jaded corporate executive, yearns for it on some level, yearns to align his/her productive life with his deepest care and highest values. Essentially it is the human condition, that we each want to know that we have made a positive difference in the world. This does not mean to ignore business realities and throw caution to the wind. It means to take the next, slightly scary, slightly outrageous, next step. It is the step for which there is no credible “business case.” It comes from a different motive – it comes from within.

In fact, the “business case for sustainability” does hint at something true. When we take a step into service, the world eventually reciprocates our generosity, albeit in a form and timing that is impossible to predict. A business “case” involves numbers and predictions, but the general principle that it is trying to convey is that the gift moves in a circle. As you do unto the world, so, in some form, will be done unto you.

To take this next step always requires at least a little courage, because it goes against familiar practice and predictable financial self-interest. Someday, hopefully soon, we must change the business environment to end the opposition between profit and ecological well-being and promote the alignment of ecology and money.

Herein lies a vastly different sort of “business case” for sustainability. It comes from questions like, “Who are you, really?” “What do you care about?” and “What do you serve?” “What are your values and belief systems?” “What is your unique self-expression you bring to the world to serve others?” From a deep consideration of such questions, courage is born to overcome the hurdles.

Hurdles to Overcome for Business Sustainability

  1. Measurement of sustainability.

Sustainability initiatives can be particularly difficult to measure because they often affect people and society at a macro level, and their organizational implications are unclear. Further, their impacts are not immediately obvious, and they depend on who implements them and how. Many suites of metrics and measurement systems—such as the Global Reporting Initiative, ecological footprint, and life-cycle assessment—currently exist to help managers measure their sustainability. Government policies need to incentivise outcomes and be more clearly connected to sustainability. Governments have several tools at their disposal, such as taxes, regulations, and markets, to encourage businesses to steward environmental resources.

  1. Consumer choices do not consistently factor sustainability into their purchase decisions.

Understanding how consumers value sustainability in the context of other product attributes would help businesses develop products that meet their needs. Further, there may be a role for business in educating consumers on issues and product attributes, resulting in more informed purchasing decisions. It also applies to investors. Shareholders and lenders must decide where to invest their money. How do they choose between different companies, which requires trading off one set of corporate attributes for another? Understanding how people make trade-offs will help businesses make sustainable choices.  

  1. Sustainability still does not fit neatly into the business case.

Companies have difficulty discriminating between the most important opportunities and threats on the horizon. Better guidelines are needed for engaging key stakeholders,

  1. Research shows employees would rather work for sustainable firms—and some would even forego higher earnings to do so.

Firms must better leverage this knowledge to attract and retain the best employees. These mechanisms should allow firms to leverage their sustainability initiatives and values, building the right capacity internally and ensuring progress is made towards sustainability goals.

  1. Current financial decision-making does not fully capture the value of sustainability-related investments.

These investments are often based on long-term and intangible rewards, whereas many investments made are based on the short-term impact on the bottom line. Sustainability managers need to be well informed exactly how returns on sustainability investments can be measured and seen. What are the short-term and long-term ways to assess and justify these investments? How can sustainability executives demonstrate the value of sustainability within the decision-making language and framework of finance executives? Until sustainability becomes accepted as a legitimate—and value-creating—activity, it may lose out to projects that are more easily understood and evaluated.

  1. Businesses need guidance on how to evaluate the materiality of an issue, both for disclosure purposes and for strategic planning.

Equipped with an understanding of which risks and opportunities are most material to their organization, managers can then prioritize material issues, translate them into internal strategies, and communicate them to stakeholders. There is no common set of rules for sourcing sustainably.

  1. Businesses want to purchase products and services that are environmentally and socially responsible. But the process of identifying sustainable suppliers is not always straightforward, and the means for comparing products is not always obvious. Sustainable sourcing decisions may also require industry-specific knowledge and practices, or data that just may not be available. Identifying a set of best practices for sustainable sourcing would provide organizations with targets for benchmarking as well as guidance on managing their supply chains. It would also yield an opportunity for leading businesses to showcase their good practices.

The Old Money Paradigm and Why It’s Not Sustainable

While conventional investing only focuses on the traditional risk and returns considerations in making investment decisions, socially responsible investing considers other ethical factors .The world needs to focus on mutually beneficial partnerships, fostering sustainable development across the continent, targeting the continent’s inhabitants as its primary consumers. Reports such as one published recently by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, show that sustainable business is an untapped $12 trillion opportunity, making sustainability the most lucrative business sector there is.

What Is Money? Why Was It Created?

Money, in some way, shape or form, has been part of human history for at least the last 3,000 years. Before that time, historians generally agree that a system of bartering likely used. Money derives its value by virtue of its functions: as a medium of exchange, a unit of measurement, and a storehouse for wealth. It is merely an exchange of energy.

A New Paradigm Shift in Wealth Creation

Creating and amassing wealth is more than just a necessity. For centuries, the practice of climbing the ladder to richness has led to wars, influenced literature, and shaped cultures. Whether wealth comes in the form of money or food, all civilizations have pursued it.

The system of wealth creation is based on the current worldview, which in turn is based on the way science is studied and perceived. Most people will not be aware of existing paradigms of wealth creation. They will be too busy accumulating and creating wealth rather than being concerned with the process which they and their wealth underwent.

The paradigm is all about teamwork – to create wealth, everyone must help each other succeed. No longer are the lesser indebted to make the greater richer. Everyone has to run the race, but everyone must hold hands to reach the finish line together.

Sustainable Wealth Creation addresses three very important questions:

  • Do financial statements accurately reflect a company’s position?
  • Do shareholders have protections and adequate controls?
  • Can company leadership make decisions confidently?

Sustainable Wealth Creation principles help answer these important questions by investigating the accounting, legal, regulatory, adjudicative, and economic structures of a country.

Economic systems change at a surprisingly fast pace. Since the information varies over time, the information needs to be monitored and refreshed to gain important insights when making investment decisions involving international equities.

An iceberg is a metaphor for traditional investment analysis regarding international equities. Most international analyses parallel domestic analyses by focusing on the traditional metrics that are akin to the visible part of an iceberg. The hidden information is like the submerged portion of an iceberg. It is key to success (or even survival) but not readily discovered.

What Lessons Are You Teaching Your Children About Money?

Modelling a way of being to our children.

If you don’t take the opportunity to educate your child how to manage money, the value of money and sustainable wealth creation, somebody else will. They will fall within the collective way of thinking. Conscious parenting involves sharing with our children the awareness of our environment, our power of choice, personal responsibility and self-mastery.

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Investing

The latest rise in gold is just a function of the recent weakness in the dollar

The latest rise in gold is just a function of the recent weakness in the dollar 2

By Rupert Thompson, Chief Investment Officer at Kingswood

Last week was really a week of two halves as far as equity markets were concerned, with initial gains subsequently reversed, leaving markets down a little over the week as a whole.

A further escalation of tensions between China and the US, with the tit-for-tat embassy closure, was the most obvious reason for the change in market tone. But the continuing uncertainties over the prospects for the economic recovery may also have contributed.

Last week’s economic data on the face of it looked encouraging but in reality was rather less so. Business confidence recovered further in July and is now back above pre-Covid levels in the UK and Europe. However, these surveys basically just ask businesses whether conditions are improving or not. Given how dire the position was a couple of months ago, the fact that most businesses are now saying things are getting better is hardly a sign that the economy is back to normal.

Retail sales have also shown a sharp V-shaped recovery and in June, in both the UK and US, they had regained almost all their collapse in March/April. But again this is not as reassuring as it first looks. It is far from clear how much of this bounce just reflects one-off pent-up demand and will not be sustained going forward. Retail sales also only account for around 30% of total consumer spending. The recovery in spending on services etc. is likely to have been much more subdued.

In short, the debate over the strength of the recovery from here is alive and kicking, not least because the outlook is so dependent on how soon a vaccine is developed and rolled out and whether there is a major secondary spike in infections. Recent news has been encouraging on the former but discouraging on the latter, with infections still not under control in the US and also now picking up again in Europe.

The outlook hinges not only on the virus but also on the government’s policy response. For Europe at least, there was good news last week. At the eleventh hour after a marathon summit, EU leaders finally managed to overcome resistance from their more frugal members and agree an economic recovery package totalling €750bn or 5% of EU GDP. For the first time ever, the EU itself – rather than just individual countries – will issue debt to finance a mixture of grants and loans to EU states.

This week, it will be the turn of the US to try to agree a new fiscal stimulus package to replace the current support measures which expire at the end of July. As with the EU, the terms of the new package are being fought over tooth and nail, this time by the Democrats and Republicans.

One asset which has performed very well this year has been gold and its price rose a further 5% last week, breaking above $1900 and its previous high in 2011. The gold price is now up over 25% so far this year. Gold is the archetypal safe haven risk-off asset and one would expect it to do well in a time such as now of heightened economic uncertainty and geo-political tension.

However, the scale of its gains are down in good part to the super low level of interest rates. Government bonds used to be an obvious source of protection for portfolios in the event of a major sell-off in risky assets. Now, by contrast, the scope for further declines in yields is minimal with rates already so low, and the ability for bonds to provide such protection is much reduced. In addition, with government bonds now yielding virtually nothing, the fact that gold pays no income is no longer a particular disadvantage.

These various factors mean gold should remain well supported for the time being and could well rise further. But one shouldn’t forget that gold is volatile. If and when we do eventually see a return towards normality, gold could well retreat significantly. After all, the gold price more than doubled in the three years following the global financial crisis, only then to unwind half of those gains over the following couple of years. Finally, for UK investors, there is also currency risk associated with investing in gold with part of the latest rise in gold just a function of the recent weakness in the dollar. Gold may be a risk-off asset but it is a risky one.

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Investing

Digital adoption and wealth management in 2020

Digital adoption and wealth management in 2020 3

By Will Bailey, Chief Strategy Officer at InvestCloud.

Finance has slowly been “going digital” for over a decade. Now it has been forced to rapidly accelerate in light of current needs.

Different aspects of finance are at different stages of the adoption curve. Retail banking, for example, is one area where digital is very much a necessity in order to fulfil today’s consumer requirements. Wealth management is perhaps a good example of an area that is in flux – the pace of digital adoption has been increasing but there is still tremendous opportunity to innovate and differentiate with digital offerings that can provide managers with a competitive advantage.

A recent report on client experiences found that 46 percent of wealth managers were either partly or not at all satisfied with their digital offerings. Yet there remains reluctance by some wealth managers to undertake further digital transformation to deliver truly innovative client experiences. This is because of concerns around cost, time to deliver and the incorrect assumption that in order to innovate digitally, one must re-architect or replace existing legacy processing engines.

The current climate has demonstrated a rift within the industry, causing firms to be split into two camps. The first are those who embraced a “digital or die” culture in recent years and are completing – or have completed – development of digital offerings. The other is now realising the imperative for urgent adoption of digital.

Historical adoption

In the past, many firms saw digital as a means to solve specific business pain points. This included point solutions for client onboarding, portfolio management, and report generation. Driven by the desire to grow and retain clients or find operational efficiency, managers made these changes to keep with the times or to offer specific add-on functionality to remain relevant to clients. But those that get it right are firms that recognise digital as a core component of their client engagement and servicing strategy. Managers that have proven successful, view digital as an extension of their brand and as such eschew point solutions for a holistic and consistent dialogue with clients.

Demonstrated by the successful growth and impressive valuation of fintechs like Plaid, sold for over 5 billion USD to Visa; Personal Capital, sold for a reported 1 billion USD to Empower Retirement; and Galileo, sold for over 1 billion USD to Sofi. As well as the strong performance of incumbents that launched products that embrace digital like Goldman Sachs’ whose Marcus offering now has over 72 billion USD in deposits, the performance of financial institutions with strong digital products drives success even with the challenges of today’s market.

This highlights the shift in attitudes amongst clients. They now require instant access to information and the ability to take action; accessible at any time, anywhere and on any device of their choosing. Firms who make the effort to improve their digital offerings will continue to earn their place to compete in the market — whilst those who do not will be rendered obsolete.

From important to essential

Attitudes prior to the pandemic were that digital was an important means of supplementing pre-existing business practices, but not as the essential channel for client communication and management. These attitudes have changed.

We know that wealth managers pride themselves on delivering great client experiences, historically through face to face interaction. But lockdowns and social distancing have meant managers must find new avenues to offer the same empathetic environment for their clients through digital channels. This is a common theme that has emerged in many conversations, which is now leading to the notion of delivering holistic wellness advice.

Digital tools allow managers to take a holistic view of a client’s financial life and beyond. It does this by capturing information about their clients’ that goes far beyond simply finances. This includes health, wellness, and life goals. Holistic advice demands that the manager have a complete view of the client. This can only be achieved by deploying digital tools that allow the clients to share information in their own time over the course of their relationship with an advisor. I have seen that clients who successfully take this holistic approach do so with an integrated end to end experience. This will include dedicated pre-client portals that facilitate engaged prospects to seamlessly become clients and provide advisors and clients with digital tools to provide a holistic view of the future. This combined with behavioural science, machine learning and amplified intelligence tools that allow the adviser to quickly and intuitively foster deep relationships with clients rather than taking months to build up acquired knowledge via traditional means.

Ultimately, this empowers the client with community, knowledge, and a sense of relief — which is crucial at a time of unstable financial markets and where advisers cannot build physical face time with clients.

Recreating the workplace at home

In the current climate, digital is essential in the client communication space but also as a means to drive internal operational efficiency. Office closures have reshaped the way wealth managers work. For some, this is a simple transition – either they were remote by design, such as virtual family offices, or they had robust systems in place to manage the transition.

But one area that has come under renewed focus is the back and middle office. For many firms today, back and middle office operations are still manual-heavy processes; from client onboarding to regulatory reporting. If the goal is to ensure managers are increasing the number of clients they serve and only focus on adding value and profitability, then these tasks are ripe for automation.

But even more valuable than pure automation, is augmented intelligence – where automated processes include the lessons of the past and learn for the future thus delivering value across the wealth management value chain. A great example of how augmented intelligence has delivered major value across the value chain is Westwood – who not only automated their back office processes, but improved reconciliation accuracy by 98%, saved 80% of time in reconciliation and reduced cost by 50% by utilising the combination of process automation and augmented intelligence (Westwood Holdings Group, Q2 2019 Earnings Report).

Will Bailey

Will Bailey

The aim here is to not just to make lives easier during a time of remote working and into the future, but to redefine how managers work for the long haul – serving more clients, better.

Overcoming the common misconceptions

From discussions with several firms, there is a common consensus that wealth firms need to provide internal users with a digital experience that reinvigorates excitement about their brand. But many erroneously embark on multi-year digital transformation projects before seeing a return on investment.

This approach is one that we like to call “old think”, where one starts their digital transformation by changing processing engines, making embracing new technologies feel like a pipe dream.

Managers must challenge this orthodoxy. They must embrace “new think.”

This manifests in a simple principle: that digital transformation must start with the user. Whether your target user is engaging with a Client Center or Advisor Center, a successful digital journey must start with your digital user. Getting advisers and their IT departments to embrace “new think” can be a challenge, but when the penny drops, the increase in client engagement, retention, growth and operational efficiency creates new believers and new opportunities.

Future gazing at the ‘new normal’

The digitisation of the wealth management industry must continue on course – it is an inevitability for any firm that wants to attract the next generation of investors.

But how they do this will change. Today, we are seeing a large number of firms using digital to protect revenue streams. Successful firms must look at how they can create new revenue streams and unlock efficiencies via digital enablement. This naturally leads on to full digital transformation.

This also ties into another significant and global trend: the need to provide holistic wellness. To resist the dual threats of fee compression and commoditisation in the client’s mind, wealth managers will be looking to grow in this area to ensure they keep close to clients and create “sticky” experiences that yield brand entanglement and translate seamlessly across online and offline environments.

Increasingly, wealth managers will integrate gamification, decision theory and behavioural science dynamics to achieve this. With these integrated into a hybrid, human and digital offering, wealth firms are in a good place to demonstrate competitive differentiation – ensuring a greater degree of loyalty and profitability from clients long into the future.

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How banks can build digital transformation into business continuity 20 How banks can build digital transformation into business continuity 21
Business3 days ago

How banks can build digital transformation into business continuity

By Andrew Warren, Head of Banking & Financial Services, UK&I, Cognizant Businesses around the world are falling victim to the...

Akerton Partners 22 Akerton Partners 23
Finance3 days ago

Akerton Partners

Akerton Partners S.L. is a Spanish independent mid-market corporate finance advisor founded over a decade ago, in 2008, amid a...