In my last blog, I looked at two Accenture Tech Vision 2021 trends that I believe will shape the future technology foundations of the asset management industry. Today, I investigate two additional trends that could have profound implications for the asset management workforce: “I, Technologist” and “Anywhere, Everywhere.”

‘I, Technologist’—The democratization of technology

Powerful technology capabilities are being put into people’s hands, challenging what skills could be in greater demand in the future. This democratization of technology is unprecedented in its speed and scope—and it’s opening a way for asset management firms to empower their people to become drivers of change.

This prospect of a workforce of individuals empowered by technology may trigger varying reactions in our industry. History demonstrates that asset managers have been relatively slow to infuse innovation into their business-as-usual. Why? Partly because it’s highly regulated and risk averse by nature.

We are an industry that can’t afford to make mistakes—not just because of regulatory pressures, but also because of potential reputational and financial impacts. For all these reasons, we see the industry continuing to struggle with balancing speed of change with the need to meet regulatory and other requirements.

So, as asset managers face up to the democratization of technology that’s already sweeping through other industries, the key question is: what areas of the business are appropriate for some of these innovative technologies and ready for the disruption they may bring?

Getting the answer right is not just about giving people access to new tools. Asset managers should actively provide training to enable their workforce to carry out self-help in various ways. In this era of the “citizen developer” where every business is a technology business, innovation is everybody’s job. And part of the CIO’s job becomes to empower others with technology.

At many of our clients, we’re seeing ‘non technologists’ becoming more empowered to assume greater ownership of tools and platforms as they are being rolled out. A great example of why citizen developers are taking off is the emergence of easy-to-use enterprise tools that are tailored to core processes such as compliance and risk.

Another example of this concept from a very different industry—energy—is the digital tools now used by well drillers to analyze when a drill bit might break. Our industry has the same needs for predictive analytics. In each case, people get the right tools and experience to make the right decisions—and both the business and talent benefit as a result.

Some questions to consider about ‘I, Technologist’:

  • What functional areas of your asset management business are ready for this type of disruption, and what do you need to ensure it will take hold?
  • How are you training your workforce to think like technologists?
  • How ready are you to roll out technology tools that put a lot more power in the hands of your people?

‘Anywhere Everywhere’—Bring your own environment

The single biggest workforce shift in living memory is now underway, as businesses explore the benefits of a virtualized workforce. By equipping the workforce to ‘bring their own environment’ (BYOE), the enterprise can change anywhere and everywhere. This is not just about devices: it involves reinventing the whole environment within which people work. Put simply, it’s a new way of thinking about human experience.

What does this mean for asset managers? During the pandemic, firms made drastic moves to keep business going and employees safe, sending swaths of their people to work from home and doubling-down on technology to keep them productive. All of this was achieved with minimal disruption. The resulting changes in workflows, ways of working, tech innovation, etc. have long-term staying power.

So, what started as an attempt to solve immediate problems has quickly become an opportunity to rapidly reimagine the future—one that creates a more desirable experience for people and drives greater economic value for our firms. The same is happening in other industries: witness how Ford created 10 interactive augmented reality videos to help customers experience the new electric Mustang Mach-E without going for a test-drive. In the same vein, perhaps our industry can reimagine how financial products are manufactured and distributed?

In terms of ‘Anywhere Everywhere’ and BYOE, I foresee asset managers settling on a hybrid. From a skillset standpoint, the greater portability of firms’ work and workforce is allowing companies to be less constrained with where they’re located. It also means that if asset managers need certain skills that aren’t available, they can collaborate remotely with people from diverse locations that they previously wouldn’t have considered. Collaboration tools are now available to support this, and more asset managers are beginning to realize the benefits.

Some questions to consider about ‘Anywhere Everywhere’: 

  • How can you pinpoint and create those serendipitous touchpoints that inspire and empower your people to re-imagine ways of working?
  • Some people will return to the office full time, some might never come back, and some will find a hybrid. How will you manage the implications in areas like data sharing?
  • How do you ensure you have the right level of governance and oversight when your employees are working in a hybrid office/remote environment?

The next five years are make-or-break

As our Tech Vision 2021 report highlights, the already exponential change in technology is accelerating—and will continue to do so. Given this, I believe the next five years could be a make-or-break period for asset management firms to establish new technology foundations, and to begin using technology tools in very different ways across their business. But the reality is that the tech will most likely not be the hardest part. Governance and culture may pose some of the biggest challenges to deriving optimal value from the tech—making it vital for asset managers to focus on those aspects just as much as the technology itself.