The COVID-19 pandemic is a profound health and humanitarian crisis that has brought significant economic hardship for many people around the world, and it will continue to impact our lives for many months to come. At the same time though, we have witnessed an incredible spirit of resiliency with communities and companies coming together to support one another through these uncertain times. In some way, these days remind us of that quote from Charles Dickens, but flipped around: “it was the worst of times, it was the best of times…”.
The financial services sector has been largely at the forefront of the economic response to the crisis by providing liquidity through emergency financing, facilitating fiscal stimulus payments to citizens, and being there for customers’ urgent needs. Wealth managers especially had to play a key role with clients inquiring about their portfolios in the midst of some significant market volatility. Overall, for the wealth management industry, we see three phases of response to these uncertain times: Stabilization, Reconfiguration and Recovery.
STABILIZATION: WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR
In speaking with wealth managers in the first weeks of the crisis, we heard that many were able to function well through this first period of significant market volatility, business continuity protocols and client call volumes. While there might have been some early connectivity challenges in working remotely for front, middle and back office employees, for the most part clients were looked after and advisors stayed busy.
As we learned from prior systemic shocks, the wealth management industry is a highly interconnected ecosystem. Each ecosystem partner will continue to play a critical role as a systemic stabilizer for investors, their advisors and financial wellness overall. Asset managers, banks, regulators, securities exchanges, technology partners—all have been busy working together, sharing knowledge and best practices, and revisiting common processes. We might want to call this “achieving ecosystem resiliency”, and we think it’s been a valuable lesson for today and post-crisis.
What’s happening now is that wealth managers are further stabilizing their businesses by supporting their people and their families, by flexing their digital capabilities and by helping clients make sense of what this crisis might mean for their investments. Also, they are revisiting immediate technology and operational priorities to appropriately support these ongoing business stabilization efforts as they think about reconfiguration and recovery.
RECONFIGURATION: HOW TO ADAPT TO NEW WAYS OF WORKING
What we’re hearing from leaders today is an acknowledgement that the current remote working arrangements are likely to be our “new normal” for quite a while. And this acknowledgement is forcing leaders to mothball some initiatives in favor of doubling down on important areas: digital investments to ensure client-facing activities are as productive as possible and ensuring day-to-day operations are moving as smoothly as possible under these challenging circumstances.
We’re hearing a lot of urgency around all things digital. With the first two months of stabilization behind them, and the most immediate needs of clients and advisors addressed, leaders are taking stock of their digital roadmap and contemplating what must be reconfigured for the future, post-crisis. They are asking questions about client connectivity, paperless signatures, straight through processing, financial planning tools—all aspects of the wealth operating model are being reviewed.
But it is not only about digital and operating models; there are additional aspects that need to be considered while thinking through the reconfiguration phase. Accenture has developed a model with six building blocks that may help guide your thinking in regards to reconfiguration.
Six Building Blocks
➲ Culture and awareness. It’s more essential today than ever for leaders to communicate with their people and their clients in an authentically compassionate, caring and confident way. Take note of the parts of your firm’s culture that stand up to the real, live stress test this crisis has provided. Now is the time to emphasize and reinforce what’s working and what that means for your firm’s purpose.
➲ Elastic collaboration. The versatility of teams and individuals has been a saving grace during the response to this crisis. What changes should be considered in how dynamically your teams can scale up or down, as well as be diverted to adjacent activities? Determine the tools required to make this happen more easily in the future.
➲ Virtual work environment. For wealth managers, the virtual work environment is an important shift for advisors who have traditionally built trusted, long term relationships face-to-face. This crisis is re-shaping the nature of what advice means, and how the same meaningful connections could be maintained while being remote.
➲ Seamless networking. This crisis has revealed many seams that wealth managers and their clients face while navigating the network of resources. Leaders will need to reduce these barriers so that front, middle and back offices could work with common tools and streamlined processes—and engaging partner and community networks needs to be just as simple.
➲ Distributed continuity. The established Business Continuity Plans that many firms relied on were, in some cases, not accounting for a global pandemic that impacted all geographies and all departments at the same time. We learned that reconfiguring continuity means building in an adaptability in how a firm’s capabilities are distributed.
➲ Adaptive security. A dark side of this crisis has been the rise of cybercrime that preys on vulnerabilities exposed by these extraordinary circumstances. All firms need to review the adaptability of their security policies, team members and preventative tools to ensure clients and employees are protected—even as “business as usual” continues to be redefined.
RECOVERY: WHAT DOES FINANCIAL WELLNESS MEAN
As the world emerges from this period of disruption, the wealth management industry will have a critical role to play in redefining what true financial wellness is during the recovery. Does it mean a common level of financial preparedness in all citizens so that a household’s finances can withstand a prolonged interruption in income? As a society and an industry, we need to come to grips with the undeniable linkages between wealth and health. The levels of mental and emotional stress that employees are going through, not to mention the crisis in hospitals and long-term care facilities, point to important changes that likely need to be made at all levels of government, as well as the household level. Wealth managers can play a role engaging households as trusted and empathetic providers of financial advice and goals-based planning.
Advisors must come out of this crisis playing a leadership role in helping individuals make the adjustments necessary to achieve balanced and sustainable financial wellness. Beyond a financial plan that allocates savings across a range of investments, advisors should work with their clients to gain meaningful insights into cash flow and credit use in order to help clients reset their time horizons. Many of us are applying a lot of our mental focus just to getting through this week or this month. Advisors could leverage behavioral economics to help clients once more think about the longer term and what financial goals they need to work towards. Markets will rebound, inflation and interest rates will come back to normal levels and economies around the world will be healthier.
Now, not everyone who needs this kind of advice and handholding can access a dedicated advisor, so the wealth management industry should revisit and redefine the delivery models that will be economically viable while also meeting the objective of providing financial wellness. That may very well mean an enhanced digital advice capability, including some combination of “digital plus advisor”.
We believe recovering from this crisis will likely mean firms will accelerate development of more sophisticated, AI-enabled and analytically driven digital advice capabilities. We call it Digital 3.0 and we think its time has come.
Digital 3.0 – A superior service supported with a comprehensive toolset
We’re committed to this industry by supporting you as you meet the challenges and seize the opportunities the current environment provides. We look forward to discussing these perspectives with you.
For more information, visit: Capital Markets Perspective on COVID-19: Navigating the Human and Business Impact.