The year 2016 proved a watershed for Fintech. It saw Fintech move from discussion and concept to implementation in the real world. Below are four key global trends in wealth management, the central theme of this post.
- Fragmentation of retail services: There has been increasing diversification among purveyors of asset management services including major securities firms, discount brokers, and independent asset management companies. These include a rich variety of services and technologies that span online and self-service services as well as technology-based advisory services.
- Emergence of next-generation investors: So-called Generation X individuals (those born between 1961 and 1981) are comfortable with technology and have adopted an investment style that accommodates schedules with steep time constraints. Meanwhile, millennials (people entering the workforce in 2000 or later, in the US, primarily those born from 1980 to 2000) are gradually becoming the core investment demographic, with more than 80 million individuals of the so-called digital native generation emerging as next-generation investors.
- A shift to passive investing: There is a broad market shift afoot to index-driven investing from active asset management, which has peaked and is declining. Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are emerging as the next stage of passive investing.
- Digitalization: Investors, brokers, and asset management companies are demanding applications with greater mobility and automated processes. Key issues here include investor-broker communication, social media, social trading, and crowdsourcing.
In addition, fragmentation is occurring in the asset management sectors of mature markets. Robo-advisor-driven services are gathering greater attention as a technologically advanced, low-cost means of automated asset management in a market that is increasingly crowded with players including traditional brokers (such as banks with domestic and international networks and comprehensive securities firms), independent investment advisory firms, and online securities companies.
The definition of a robo-advisor can be slippery, differing by service provider and analyst. For the purposes of this report, Celent defines robo-advisors as new services from financial institutions that possess the following characteristics.
- Key features seen in 2015: The three primary features are automation of onboarding and analysis, portfolio management, and reporting. Gradually, in addition to online assistance, human customer response initiatives, such as call centers, are beginning to appear. While in principle a non-face-to-face approach, automated initiatives are increasingly being expanded and coupled with manned support and full-line support a la those conducted by traditional operators.
- Non-human advisors: Algorithms are used to support investment and portfolio-building based on the risk appetite of customers including tax optimization, all based on a customer profile developed from an online questionnaire.
- Easy to understand: The process is streamlined to reduce customer anxiety and give customers peace of mind by using simple, typically three-stage processes that support investors from application stage to portfolio creation.
- Small-value, low-cost options: Caters to small-value amounts in the range of $5,000 to $25,000 with investment (automated robo-advisor) fees in the neighborhood of 0.3%. These small-value, low-cost investments are customized services but automated and do not involve any manual (human) attention.
Robo-advisor services are evolving at a rapid clip, particularly at the cutting-edge of the industry, and much of the effort in this area is being concentrated in the three areas below.
- Easy-to-use non-face-to-face channels: Eliminate the tradeoff between price and convenience, offering services that are both low in price and highly convenient.
- Full service investment support from onboarding to reports: Automating services will enable greater processing efficiency that allows industry players to break through existing limits in their capacity to handle small value investments.
- Hybrid operation support catering to diverse needs and levels of literacy: Online self-help services combined seamlessly with existing contact centers and face-to-face channels.
Segment Targeted by Robo-advisors
Initially, the demographic segment targeted by robo-advisors was a fragmented portion of the retail investor market, but this has changed. As noted above, in North America robo-advisor services are most embraced by traditional and active retail investors (individuals around age 50 located somewhere in the mass to low-mass affluent demographic).
However, this demographic is not static. With age, experience, and increases in investable assets, the need for investment advice rises. In addition, advancements in technology and investment literacy are blazing a trail to undeveloped market areas for robo-advisor services. Indeed, investor segments such as seniors and the affluent, which have until now been largely untouched by robo-advisor developments, can be expected to increasingly hop on the robo-advisory services bandwagon.
FIG 1: Automation of Advice Market Segmentation (US)
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