Asset & Wealth Management needs to up its game on innovation and technology
PwC’s recent Assets & Wealth Management report revealed that global assets under management are set to rise to US$145.4 trillion by 2025 and to €7 trillion in Ireland writes Jens Gladikowski. The burgeoning wealth of high-net worth individuals and the mass affluent, as well as a pronounced shift to defined contribution retirement saving is fueling this growth. But asset managers need a keen eye for the technological developments that will be driving exponential change, particularly machine learning and artificial intelligence. They must design new products and services that meet changing needs, he says.
While the Asset and Wealth Management industry has seen high tech spending, this is typically in response to regulatory requirements rather to achieve true innovation. As a result, AWM companies are often lagging other industries, such as technology, media and banking, in terms of introducing technology driven innovation. This was a key conclusion at the recent PwC Asset & Wealth Management Business Forum ‘Man and Machine’. The majority of AWM companies are not technology-led and to date innovation has focused on operational efficiencies (e.g through straight-through processing), to address heavily manual tasks in the back offices. The AWM industry is only now beginning to focus on Robotics Process Automation (RPA), where companies are often still at proof of concept stage and are focussing on ‘low-hanging fruit’ such as highly manual, rules-based tasks, often addressing isolated pressure points. The danger with an isolated point solution approach is that the end-to-end process is not considered, which can lead to suboptimal outcomes, in particular when dealing with third parties and outsourcers that are integral to the process. To address this, taking a holistic end-to-end process view, that is part of the overall operating model, is essential.
Jens Gladikowski
Jens Gladikowski

Moving forward, AWM firms should leverage data analytics to implement activity-based costing across the organisation. This will help them to understand cost-profiles and to identify where to introduce technology innovation. The short-term focus should continue to be on the automation of manual tasks. Looking further ahead, according to the meeting, blockchain is likely to be the biggest disruptor to the AWM industry over the next 5 years, but itself will not remove the need for services around blockchain. For example, in reconciliations or Anti-Money Laundering (AML), other back office tasks will remain part of the AWM value chain. Future goals for AWM will be to use analytics in conjunction with RPA and Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) and to use the digital insights they create to drive learning and innovation. These can be integrated with improvements to existing processes, creating positive feedback loops.

The meeting also heard that AWM digitisation also needs to be aligned with data analytics to accurately segment the customer base, understand their needs and to align the product offerings accordingly. Other industries have demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach, for example, Amazon in the online retail market. It uses innovation in the front office to drive innovation within the back office, in order to get closer to their customers. To achieve similar outcomes, the case for digitisation in AWM is clear.

Innovation and robotics will have a profound impact on the workforce in the industry, both through the short-term impact of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) programmes, and through the longer term changes in the make-up of the workforce. Managing the immediate people impact of robotics programmes is essential for success: buy-in can be achieved by focusing on quick-wins and those projects that remove mundane tasks from staff. According to the meeting partnerships are a successful approach for AWM firms to successfully embed automation principles throughout the organisation. Such a joint approach can enable existing staff with process/business analyst skills and intellectual curiosity to work alongside a partner with the requisite technical skills, creating a virtuous learning cycle. The existing staff are also key to spotting innovation opportunities. Several methods have been used in other industry and a promising approach is to focus on the concept of 'crowdsourcing' innovation - multi-disciplinary teams focusing on business as usual tasks are often the best source of innovation opportunities. It is evident already that banks and AWM firms will have to compete with start-ups and tech companies for the best and brightest. The meeting concluded that ‘to build their workforce of the future, AWM firms will have to convince graduates that 'AWM firms are at the cutting edge of technology and innovation.'
Jens Gladikowski is a director at PwC Consulting.
This article appeared in the December 2017 edition.