MyPrivateBanking Blog
Daily Comments on the World of Wealth Management

Technology giants, start-ups and retailers like Google, PayPal, Starbucks, Square, and Stripe have moved on from just threatening and competing against the traditional banks to dominating the mobile payments arena.

Starbucks is the new model of success in mobile payments with an impressive comeback after the unsuccessful partnership with Square in 2014. The Seattle-based coffee giant has made mobile payment strategy a top priority and continued to invest in its own in-house mobile payment systems. The result is remarkable: over 8 million mobile transactions per week, 16 million active users of its mobile app, which translates into nearly 19% of all mobile transactions in US stores.

The brilliant idea behind Starbucks’ “Mobile Order & Pay” system combines the convenience of a simple payment tool, which works on the majority of smartphones, with the benefit of a well-thought loyalty program. The app’s success is not only driven by the ease of payment (“shake to pay” and give a digital tip to the barista) but also by the remarkable set of supplementary features (loyalty program, manage Starbucks card, send Starbucks gifts to friends etc.).

There is yet no confirmation about a possible white-labelling solution of the mobile payment app. However, ‘Mobile order& pay’ will surely trigger a wave of similar solutions either brought up by tech giants or by other consumer companies willing to pay the price for a bespoke solution. Either way, given the rapid acceleration in mobile device purchases and millennials’ hunger for convenient mobile payment solutions like digital wallets, credit card companies and banks are vulnerable to lose a substantial number of mobile customers.

At MyPrivateBanking we believe that customers will choose a non-bank mobile app over a bank’s mobile solution if it offers more convenience and interesting add-on features. It is not enough for banks to launch their own mobile wallets. To gain market share and penetration banks need to think hard about the smart add-ons for their payment solutions: Loyalty programs, preferential treatment when ordering or buying things in high-profile store chains, and many other innovative features will require banks to think like FMCGs (fast moving consumer good companies) rather than old fashioned retail banks. This will be the hardest challenge.

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The launch of Apple’s new smartwatch undoubtedly provokes completely new strategic considerations for banks and wealth managers. While the Android Wear admittedly did not cause a disruptive change in the digital device landscape, the omen with regard to the Apple Watch looks completely different.

While Android shipped only 720,000 of its smartwatches in 2014, Apple Watch pre-orders alone add up to 1 million already now in the U.S. It will well be worth keeping an eye on these numbers until launching date at April 24, 2015.

The continuous developments in the fields of wearable devices should start ringing a bell for banking and wealth management app developers. Having started with this year’s evaluation of the mobile apps of the top 30 wealth managers worldwide, we are excited to see who the early adopters are. Given the extremely cautious attitude, the financial sector usually shows towards new technological developments, exceptions like BNP Paribas are particularly noteworthy. Among the early adopters, the French bank offers a smartwatch application to their customers, which allows them to check their accounts when on the go or contact their personal advisors.

We are convinced that this will only be the beginning as the penetration of smartwatches is likely to increase substantially. We expect that wearable devices will be a game changer for mobile banking, adding numerous useful features for clients.

Check out our new Research Briefing, which will be published next week, to learn about how the Apple Watch might actually add value to banking customers and which considerations banks should keep in mind when entering this new digital field.

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We’ve seen it before: sooner or later, cross-industry trends like customer service via video chat have strong potential to conquer the banking space, as well. While video chat features are slowly becoming standard among the more elaborate mobile apps, mobile and desktop websites, new add-ons are already on their way.

As Facebook recently jumped on the train of P2P payment with their Messenger app, it is more than likely that the use of such features will skyrocket given the masses of Facebook users worldwide. P2P payments are defined as an online technology that allows customers to transfer funds from their bank account or credit card to another individual’s account via the Internet or a mobile phone using a simple and quick process.

Hence, it is just a matter of time that financial institutions – be that retail banking or wealth management – face the need of implementing P2P payment features for their mobile touchpoints. Starting the research on mobile apps for wealth management for our new report (see last year’s edition here), we already see some frontrunners among the 30 top players in this respect; one example is the great DBS PayLah! app, which allows customers to split bills, send money to or request money from friends, and even donate money to selected charities in an easy way.

Considering these and other ground-breaking technological developments, we are particularly curious to see, how the top wealth managers worldwide perform this year.

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/by Francis Groves, Senior Analyst/

MyPrivateBanking was very pleased to include a profile of Schwab Intelligent Portfolios in our latest report on robo-advisors, published last week, AFTER the launch of the new Schwab service and to be able to make a full assessment of it. Inevitably in such a fast changing area, fresh developments in the robo-advisor sector keep coming and this week we have seen the announcement of the acquisition of LearnVest by Northwestern Mutual. We cover LearnVest in our report, even though we don’t see LearnVest as a full robo-advisor (and neither do LearnVest). However, we do think that LearnVest has some important robo characteristics and its pricing and range of services make it a disruptive force in the industry in a very similar way to robo-advisors. The company’s acquisition by a major financial institution is another example of the way in which corporate strategy is now becoming a major motor of the robo-advisory revolution, a topic that we cover in detail in our latest robo report, which we sub-titled ‘How Automated Investing is Infiltrating the Weath Management Industry’.

John Bogle, the highly respected founder of Vanguard, recently repeated his skeptical views about exchange traded funds (ETFs), saying to FTfm that they were an encouragement for investors to use index tracking in a counter-productive manner. Bogle has been a committed opponent of market timing tactics either by private investors or mutual fund managers and at Vanguard he was a pioneer of index investing. Although many would consider ETFs to be index tracking instrument ‘par excellence’, he’s convinced that investors will be tempted to trade too frequently for their own good. Vanguard’s  own current CEO has come out against Bogle’s criticism in favor of ETFs as a healthy innovation that have lowered the costs of investing for millions of people.

In the light of this debate about the dangers of ETFs, the robo-advisor trend could be a godsend to the ETF industry. Not only are robo-advisors an effective way to encourage people to start investing, they are almost all proponents of planned investing as opposed to impulsive investment decisions. With the robo-advisors around, ETF sponsors can say ‘look, these new robo platforms depend on our products and demonstrate that it’s perfectly possible to use ETFs prudently for investors’ long-term gain.’

Of course, robo-advisors have yet to prove their index tracking commitment in a number of ways. Individual robo-advisors could stray off the path of passive or mainly passive investing and become too smart for their clients’ good. Also, as has often been said, we’ve yet to see how robo-advisor clients behave in a real panic in the financial markets. Finally, we don’t yet have data on how consistently robo-advisor clients are behaving. Are clients sticking with the plan or do they sign up with a robo in a burst of enthusiasm and then lose interest, leaving a perfectly proportioned ‘bonsai ‘ portfolio in their account rather than a full grown tree to provide shelter in retirement or adversity.

On this last point, our view is that some investors will be committed enough to enjoy real benefits and some won’t, but enough people will use their accounts in the way the robo-advisors intend for the robo model to count as a success and to be held up as an example to be followed in the retail investment market.

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One major finding of our report on Digital and Mobile Solutions for Financial Advisors 2015 is that vendors are increasingly targeting the end customer. For instance, while only half of the vendors we covered in the 2014 report offered apps that could be used simultaneously by advisors and end clients, this rate has increased to 88% in 2015. While, for example, eMoney Advisor’s client tool is actually a mobile compatible website, it offers interactive workshops to HNW clients for self-education, an electronic vault to store multimedia content, and screen sharing capabilities to enhance client-advisor communication.

The implication is that the market leaders have recognized that high-net-worth clients are becoming increasingly self-directed and demanding when it comes to tools for handling their financial matters. We are convinced that such tools will be an obligatory part of wealth managers’ digital offerings in the near future and, according to our latest findings, the leading solutions already excel today through extraordinary features like elaborate document management or screen sharing capabilities to collaborate with their financial advisors.

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Well publicized, recent security breaches at giant retailers (Home Depot) and financial institutions (JP Morgan Chase and the European Central Bank (ECB)), have caused waves of panic about the security and privacy of sensitive (financial) data. As this threat seems to be ever expanding and detection of security attacks gets more and more problematic, the Canadian startup Bionym has developed a biometric alternative to passwords, PINs, or other time-consuming security details. The Nymi wristband leaves other biometric authentication methods like Apple Pay’s touch ID fingerprint technology for contactless payment behind. It could be used for numerous applications like unlocking devices, remembering passwords, authorizing transactions, or controlling connected devices. The bracelet has an integrated electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor that enables measuring a user’s heartbeats (the electrical activity one’s heart generates), which is unique to every person. Nymi uses the heartbeat signature to authenticate and confirm the user’s identity. There are three levels of security involved: the heart ID, the armband itself and an authorized authentication device like a smartphone (via Bluetooth and a matching app for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android). The user must wear the bracelet on the wrist and touch its top sensor with the opposite hand for it to work.

UK’s Halifax bank’s decision to test Bionym’s technology to allow its clients to make online banking operations in an easy and secure manner is an exemplary initiative. It shows that biometric identification is the future for online banking security. Over the next three years, we expect many innovations in this space – just like Nymi.

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MyPrivateBanking Research released a new report on ‘Digital and Mobile Solutions for Financial Advisors 2015‘ this week. Unlike the first two editions, which focused exclusively on mobile apps for financial advisors offered by technology vendors like Avaloq or Temenos, the new edition has a much broader perspective. Besides evaluating the developments the established vendors implemented in their mobile apps over the course of 2014, in-depth research has taken place in the fields of communication solutions (particularly video tools), recommendation and analytical solutions, as well as social media management tools.

In addition to the interviews our analysts conducted with the technology vendors themselves, they did several interviews with representatives of the leading wealth management companies, private banks and bank consultants in order to derive a deeper understanding of the actual level of digitization in wealth advisory business.

The three most disruptive trends according to our analysis are:

Remote meetings increasingly gain importance. Contributing to an omni-channel client experience, advisors are shifting more and more towards alternative digital channels like video conferencing and screen sharing tools.

Advisors are under great pressure. Shrinking margins force wealth managers to serve more clients per advisor who therefore need to be more efficient to operate feasibly. Solutions, which partly automate certain processes as well as social media management tools, are the response to these needs for an increasing number of advisors.

Clients are becoming more self-directed. With the booming app supply for retail banking clients, the high-net-worth clientele are demanding digital tools for their financial matters, as well. Hence, matching client tools empowering them to do their financial planning or even trading and portfolio rebalancing by themselves, are already standard. What has yet to be covered more extensively is the provision of advisor contacting options. Many advisory apps still lack basic communication features like video and text chat.

The report combines all the thought-provoking findings from these interviews, detailed company profiles of the vendors included with thorough descriptions of the solutions and products, and comprehensive conclusions on all these results.

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With the unexpected level of success of the iPhone 6 generating record profits, Apple is said to be already ‘cooking’ up the next big tech sensation: the iCar. Apple’s shift into the auto sector would not mean the end of the iPhone business. On the contrary, Apple fans have come to devour anyiThing related to iPhones - apps, music, films and more. And that’s exactly the main idea behind the tech giant’s strategy: to captivate more prospects and clients with every new product into the Apple universe.

With Tesla already leading the electric car market one may wonder how is Apple going to compete against that given the company’s lack of experience in the strictly regulated automobile industry. Have the iBeetle and Google’s self-driving car not stolen the thunder away already? What new revolutionizing design or functionalities could the iCar bring? First of all, Apple has never played the race to first game, the iPhone was not the first smartphone ever seen and the iPad was not the first tablet on the market. Secondly, Apple’s strategy is strongly brand- focused on Apple being a product company and not a technology company like Samsung. The aim is not to come up with completely new products on the market but to make sure the products Apple brings to the market are well-designed and have cutting edge technology integrated. Therefore, the iCar project is going to take a few more years to be finalized. In the meantime, suggestions and rumors are unstoppable: the Apple car would connect to all its existing products thus creating an exciting Internet of Things (IoT) experience or it would enable unimagined ways of interacting through digital channels while driving. Imagine your car morphs into a full-fledged office. It will be another step to make clients and employees more independent of their physical surroundings. It will have implications for advisors and their clients, for the ways they work, meet, communicate and interact.

Electric cars and Apple definitely make an interesting combination but to take on the car industry will be a different kind of fight than everything Apple has done so far.

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Exploring the digital world of financial advice for our upcoming report, we had to take a deeper look at cognitive computing, analysing the role of tools like IBM Watson and others. The technology certainly sounds promising: enabling advisors to make better and faster recommendations to serve a higher number of wealthy clients with higher quality recommendations through cognitive computing. This way, IBM Watson is likely to play a substantial role in easing the pressure for wealth managers, which results from shrinking margins as well as from rapid digitization in private banking.

While the use of Watson in financial advice is still in an early phase, the technology shows already promising results in healthcare. Moreover, IBM Watson plans to launch their first intelligent toy for children this year – CogniToys are supposed to develop with the children side by side, learning together with them through continuous interaction.

The need to educate Watson prior to using it effectively is the critical step for wealth managers who consider implementing the technology. Although there are some use cases already, for example at Singapore-based DBS, most banks are not yet rolling out AI platforms – such as Watson – as they are waiting for a clear proof their economic viability and ability to deliver RoI.

It is out of question that intelligent, learning software platforms with cognitive abilities will find their way into the wealth management industry. Early adopters may face some uncertainties but will certainly gain a competitive advantage being a step ahead of the pack.

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/by Francis Groves , Senior Analyst/

I saw numerous presentations at FinovateEurope that have implications for wealth management, especially in the wide variety of security features and applications designed to help people with their financial goals were demonstrated. However, there were just three presentations that looked at supporting the work of wealth managers/client relationship managers specifically.

The first of these presentations was from Crealogix, the digital banking software providers based in Zurich, whose CLX.AdviceManager financial advisory mobile app we covered in MyPrivateBanking’s ‘Mobile Apps for Financial Advisors 2014′report. Now Crealogix are adding a new product to their overall offering for financial advisors called ‘BankClip’. This an easy to use video clip assembly module that enables the advisor to create a customized video including components such as an update on the client’s portfolio, excerpts from the latest market commentary by the private bank’s analysts together with, for example, the advisor themselves making the argument in favour of a change to the client’s portfolio. It’s a good way to make service more personalized and more immediate and it really was straightforward to implement.

The next item that was specifically relevant to wealth management was by newcomer Mydesq, also based in Zurich. The company’s CEO, Milan Vora, demonstrated their just launched advisor application. The most impressive aspect of Mydesq is how much the application assists advisors with its continuously updated compliance content. This not only enables advisors to keep up-to-date with regulations in multiple jurisdictions but it seamlessly introduces all necessary compliance-related changes to the advisor’s work processes. As an advisor application, Mydesq includes features to support account and portfolio analysis and portfolio recommendations to the client. A client app is planned for Q2, 2015.

Lastly, Vienna-based CPB Software introduce some of the features of its PROFOS software, launched in September 2014. The three aspects of PROFOS that particularly stand out are presentation in relation to risk, the financial crises feature and the client profiling. PROFOS has introduced an extra degree of flexibility in portraying investment risk so that in addition to text explanations or charts projecting risk, the advisor can employ other graphical tools to explain risk in relation to the client’s portfolio. The financial crises feature of PROFOS allows the advisor to demonstrate how the client’s portfolio would have performed during specific crisis events such as the Russian default in 1998, the dotcom bust or the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Lastly, PROFOS allows the advisor to create a (confidential ) profile of each client on the basis of client meetings that will enable them to prepare for future meetings in the most effective way. The client profile focuses on the client’s negotiating style and communication style in particular and gives the advisor extra resources for achieving mutually satisfactory outcomes from client meetings.

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