Technological disruption in wealth management requires that firms and advisors be proactive. Those falling behind received tough love at CFA Society Toronto’s annual investment dinner in Toronto on Thursday.
“Decide today whether you want to be Netflix or Blockbuster,” said Mark Wiseman, senior managing director and global head of active equities at BlackRock, who was one of the event’s keynote speakers.
Innovation is important because your firm’s competition isn’t other asset managers, he said; it’s Google, Amazon and Alibaba. Clients want to interact and purchase products when and how they want, and wealth management must respond.
About such industry disruption, Wiseman was unequivocal: “If we don’t change the way we think about investing, we are dead.”
Yet, instead of seeing technology as a threat, industry participants were encouraged to seize tech’s opportunities.
“The future of wealth management is a combination of highly trained, trusted advisors […] supported by powerful technology,” said Shelley O’Connor, managing director and co-head of wealth at Morgan Stanley. She was the other keynote speaker at the event.
For example, advisors can provide better care by leveraging client data to customize meaningful interactions, O’Connor said. Tech also frees advisors from routine tasks to focus on relationships, which remain the industry’s foundation.
“Wealth management will always be a relationship business,” said O’Connor, adding that human touch is more valuable in a digital world. Research shows that many clients, including younger ones, want to work with a trusted advisor, she said, “and they will pay for value.”
For managers, part of that value is achieving the best risk-adjusted returns net of costs—something Wiseman put in a context beyond the debate between active and passive investing.
“Today, the prudent investor has to think about diversification across strategies and how they’re going to utilize those strategies together to achieve outcomes,” he said.
With downward pricing pressure, scale will continue to matter, he added.
Medium-sized firms are expected to be most squeezed by scale. While there are currently more than 800 asset management firms in the U.S., “ten years from now, that number will be a lot smaller,” said Wiseman.
O’Connor forecasted that clients will increasingly consolidate assets as firms and advisors decline in number. That means bigger books for those remaining. Further, advisory teams will be bigger, comprising subject matter experts and virtual team members, she said.
Wiseman and O’Connor also highlighted the potential power of proprietary data. In insurance, for example, clients can get a discount when they allow data-tracking of their driving.
Though the offering originated as a way to improve underwriting, the proprietary data’s value could prove greater than the profit from selling insurance products. Similarly, much value will likely be harnessed as wealth management firms apply predictive analytics and machine learning to client data.
What bear market?
When asked how to prepare clients for the inevitable next bear market, O’Connor said clients must be reoriented toward their north star—their financial plans and long-term goals. Thoughtful tactical rebalancing of portfolios is also required based on market cycles, she added.
Wiseman said the biggest risk for most clients isn’t from a bear market; it’s from having too little equity exposure in their portfolios. Referring to maintaining a long view, he said, “Make sure you have appropriate risk in your portfolio to achieve your long-term objectives and […] continue to rebalance to your optimal risk level.”
Advisors were likewise encouraged to see beyond the market.
The most successful advisors take a goals-based approach, said O’Connor, where performance is measured against client financial life goals, not simply a benchmark. “This includes aligning investments with personal and social priorities,” she said.
Further, many advisors have evolved into family wealth managers, she said, addressing current and future financial needs across generations.