Steve Young, Managing Partner, Citisoft

For some time now, the growing importance of digital services has been touted within the institutional asset management industry. My concern has been that asset managers and vendors are creating the lion’s share of this ‘noise’, with a limited amount of detail concerning tangible business needs emerging from the client side.

My challenge to the industry is that institutional clients are not just interested in any digital service – it has to be the right one. Digital services are not just new distribution channels to clients; they are a key element of a new way of doing business. In the age of the ‘empowered investor’, digital should be seen as an integral part of a value-add business, not the latest technology fad. And in my view, most asset managers are being too slow in responding to this need.

The digital revolution is at the heart of the move by the early adopters to truly focus on the customer experience. So what do we mean by this oft-used term? To my mind, the Customer Experience – increasingly abbreviated to CX – is the product of an interaction between an investment manager and a client over the duration and breadth of their engagement. This includes all of a customer’s interaction, from the initial attraction, through cultivation and purchase, to full usage of a service. It is measured by the individual’s experience during all points of contact against the individual’s expectations. It also requires the manager to provide services from a customer’s perspective, precisely fitting their needs, not merely a menu of options for selection.

Many firms are driving their digital strategy from a technology viewpoint and not a customer one. Often demands and discussions are predominantly based around technologies. Whilst selecting the best IT infrastructure to support a more agile and digital future is key, it will be a wasted investment if the strategy is not led by the current and future needs of the customer. Implementing a true digital strategy will ultimately change many aspects of the business model. Firms must consider the CX, operating model, data strategy and more, alongside the supporting technology.

The ‘portal’ is a good example of this confused position. In common with many of the somewhat nebulous terms that the asset management industry is very adept at embracing, such as ‘Big Data’, clients and vendors alike seem to have varying interpretations of the concept. Firms that demand a ‘portal’ concern me, especially as often they are unable to articulate the detailed functions and customer benefits they are seeking to provide. There is often a perception that it is a well defined and understood term within the asset management sector, and some firms seem to believe they need one because peer firms provide one. Whatever the final definition a firm settles on, merely providing ‘a portal’ does not make a firm ‘digital’ and will not ultimately satisfy the customer.

Many people talk about the digital future of the industry. It is inconceivable that the digital world will not increasingly influence and affect the business models of the asset and wealth management industries. This change, though, encompasses far more than technological considerations. To deliver a truly digital business model, either holistically or alongside more traditional models, firms will need to invest in far more than technology. It is as much about culture and behavior, and will have a significant impact upon most areas of the asset manager’s operations. It will also require an ability to adjust and change at a speed most firms are not currently capable of embracing.

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