Who owns digital customer experience in wealth management?

There is no avoiding the fact that a competitive, modern wealth management service must now have an excellent digital customer experience at the heart of the proposition. But who owns this?

One of the most common situations we see in established financial institutions is that any initiatives around digital services will automatically be understood as technology topics per se, and therefore the responsibility of people who are expert in these matters. However, if the question is left there, it can severely limit the digital ambitions and rate of modernisation for firms which ought to be further ahead in the market.

The reason is that technical experts in software and IT are not often focused on customer experience or empowered to develop it, apart from in certain well-known areas where it relates to process efficiencies and the core business systems. Some wealth management firms have a CTO or IT director sitting in the senior leadership team, but if their role has been “behind the scenes” for many years, providing services within the firm in often narrowly scoped areas, they may not have the mandate to launch new customer-facing services.

Even if they want to help, the technical experts are, frankly, probably too busy for something with such a broad new scope. Although software and IT specialists within the firm undoubtedly are some of the best people to understand what’s involved in setting up, maintaining, and developing new digital services for customers, the strict limitations on their resources and pressures from existing business operations will provide strong discouragement from actively driving experimental digital projects.

What about customer-facing roles driving digital?

Roles where the focus is more directly on external communications and services for wealth clients will be able to contribute a different, and equally essential, perspective on digital innovation, to complement an IT or software technician’s view. In marketing and front office teams, we find that many firms already have advocates for innovation, but again, however vocal, these key digital optimists probably lack the complete overview of how to invent complete new digital services, and are just as unlikely as the back office IT team to control the right kind of budgets to act on their ideas and launch substantial digital initiatives independently.

It is definitely a good idea for firms to join up digital conversations between technical IT and software specialists and people like the CMO, operations or commercial directors, and wealth client service managers. That said, it is not easy to create a productive collaboration if these connections have not previously been well-established.

Front office and client-facing management will have accurate views about what kind of digital services will add value for customers, but in most firms these managers are not automatically able to commission significant digital projects from internal technology teams. When they talk to internal software and IT experts, they will find these colleagues are more motivated by stability and cost control, and not easily persuaded to support experimental and hard-to-scope ventures into uncharted digital waters. If, as a result, proactive teams start to look outside for help, internal technology owners can act to restrict their ability to take independent action on sourcing external solutions and partnerships.

Structurally, this means that established firms are actually frustrating their own ambitions and potential, because the very people who wish to drive digital service innovations and improvements are not easily aligned, and even if people agree what to work on, no single manager or team is likely to be sufficiently empowered to take action.

Customer experience leadership must start at the very top

Ultimately the answer to the question we have posed has to be that ownership of customer experience, including digital, has to come from the very top of the firm. Getting digital right is too significant an area to be achieved bottom-up from any one particular area of the business. It requires a fundamental expansion of the business model, with the end goal not being any one specific tool or project, but an overall aim to transform the business into something competitive and innovative in the digital space. Top leadership – the Board and CEO – must seize the initiative on digital, establishing a high priority and clear vision for its place in the firm’s current and future strategy.

With this vision and mandate established, business leaders can exploit the energies and complementary expertise of the people in their teams who are likely already advocating for innovation. At the same time, the firm should be open to exploiting external expertise and technology. Firms with lots of stakeholders sharing good ideas about digital will need discipline to maintain focus and avoid “reinventing the wheel”. Leadership can help drive digital progress by encouraging the firm to partner with external providers, taking advantage of existing good practices and established technologies in the market, accelerating the rollout of digital services as much as possible.

Agile means: start small but keep moving fast

Finally, leadership in firms should focus on digital service innovations and improvements which create value and build differentiation from the clients’ point of view. Not all technology investments deliver that, and it is all too easy to sink valuable time and resources into technical projects which simply fail to produce any visible effect for customers. Prioritising what we term the “system of engagement” means that digital investments start from a requirement to improve the customer experience.

By working with a provider such as CREALOGIX, wealth management firms can take advantage of proven software and bring new benefits to clients rapidly. But it’s not just the availability of readymade software that matters, it’s what you do with it: our advice for firms is to think big and think long term about digital opportunities, but start small, implement quickly, and keep moving fast from there.

Many firms are still attempting to work with external technology providers in an old-fashioned procurement approach, with large fixed-scope projects requiring enormous amounts of complex advance planning before any software building begins, let alone working features seeing the light of day. This “waterfall” approach limits the firm’s technology cadence to a finite, stop-start approach. If digital is accepted as a permanent, expansive journey for the firm, led from the top, then it’s possible to change this paradigm into something more agile and more focused on adding value.

Firms which are able to roll out regular, tangible improvements to digital customer convenience are the ones which will succeed in keeping existing customers loyal, and attract growth from new generation clients who are more and more likely to see the entire value proposition of wealth management through a digital lens.

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