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Lego’s modular approach can teach financial services a thing or two
At the turn of the century the Lego brand was in trouble, posting big deficits and flirting with bankruptcy.
Since then it has become the world’s most powerful brand and the biggest toy company in Europe and Asia, with sales also booming in North America, while The Lego Movie 2 recently hit cinemas.
It’s a story of revival and reinvention to inspire any business. But there’s another aspect of the Lego brand that other sectors and businesses can learn from - the effectiveness of the modular approach to building products and services.
One of the big trends in the world of architecture is the rise of lego-style construction, in which buildings are made up of independent units (i.e. kitchens, bedrooms) that fit together like lego blocks. The companies that specialise in designing and building the independent modular boxes present architects with different options to choose from, allowing them to develop properties to specification.
It’s not a new idea - modular forms of architecture have been around for decades (the prefab buildings of the post-Second World War period being an obvious example). But what has changed is the technological advances that have opened up new possibilities around modular approaches, particularly in a world in which flexibility and choice are increasingly valued.
The modular principle applies in financial services as much as any industry, with wealth management a classic example. The traditional one-size-fits-all approach to client services propositions retains a hold over many in the sector. We still see too many service providers forcing square pegs into round holes by making the client’s proposition fit their own.
But it is an increasingly outdated model in a world when technology enables services to be moulded to the needs of clients and not to the limitations of the business.
People have higher expectations of service, communication and delivery than they used to, yet elements of the wealth management sector are taking too long to adapt. More and more clients value flexibility and tailored services and are less likely to tolerate the ‘factory settings’ approach.
A company outsourcing operations to a service provider invariably seeks flexibility, expertise and a relationship that is dictated by their needs and not by the preferences or limitations of the partner.
Every company has its own way of doing things, its own priorities, its own needs and objectives. It is entirely logical that service propositions are built with those characteristics to the forefront and not as an afterthought. Above all, they are making the investment and their name is on the proposition - they want to retain a high degree of control, because they know their business better than anyone else.
This is one reason why an open architecture philosophy is becoming far more popular to wealth management firms who are looking to revamp or build new platform services. Open-architecture support services for wealth managers, private banks, family offices and advisory businesses might include: investment administration, tailored technology, custodian services and client reporting. When firms work with platform service providers that offer open architecture, they will naturally look to suppliers that are able to demonstrate a deep understanding of the sector and experience of working with a huge range of firms through project managing transformational change.
Returning to our Lego theme briefly. You can easily buy a kit from any toy store that will allow your children to build something simple with an easy to follow instruction book. But what you’ll end up with will be the same as everyone else who has bought the same box. Your imagination is limited to the types of bricks you’re supplied with and the end result will probably look nice, but it won’t be personal. So, if you want to build something special and unique, you’re going to want to employ a Lego master builder (yes, they do exist) who has the necessary expertise and access to all those ‘special’ bricks that you can’t just buy off the shelf. In wealth management terms, this translates to a project management team that has the necessary skills and know-how to help you construct something truly special. That project manager must be able to evidence their ability to deliver to your exacting specifications. That means they’ll need to be able to integrate suitable technology solutions through APIs and demonstrate they have access to specialist tools and services required for the job.
The ability to customise your build is also important. A wealth manager might require custody services, compliance support and investment administration, but not technology support or reporting services. In which case, that’s exactly what they should get. It’s a modular and flexible approach that delivers compelling propositions allowing firms to differentiate themselves in what will invariably be a competitive and crowded field.
Staying on the same theme. If you’re paying an architect to design your dream house you would expect to work with them to create your vision, not theirs. You might make modifications based on their expert recommendations, but ultimately you would stay in control so that what you end up with, through the project management of an expert in your corner, is what you set out to achieve.
Businesses are entitled to the same expectations in our industry. They are often working with very complex needs, not least in a wealth management sector caught in what can feel like a regulatory whirlwind. They need support that makes life easier for them and for their clients.
They appreciate it too when the pricing structure is transparent, the plan is clear and the process is efficient.
In working with businesses to build our services around their needs, we place a premium on honesty, transparency and collaboration. In other words, we aim to ‘play well’ - which also happens to be the Danish mantra that translates into the ‘Lego’ name.
Big single tech platforms dominate our lives but they’re not necessary
It’s not even 9am and I’ve already browsed digital versions of newspapers, emailed from my google account, checked social media and downloaded some music onto my phone during my morning commute.
You might assume, therefore, that I am in thrall to the global technology giants and their products. You would be right, to a point - but it doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it.
I’m far from alone in being frustrated at feeling so tied to their way of doing things. Google and Facebook in particular have suffered a backlash over the past couple of years, not least for their role in data privacy, user experience standardisation and fake news controversies. Yet they remain dominant in their markets and many of us continue to depend on them to a frightening degree, despite their one size fits all strategies.
That’s because, as platform businesses, they meet a need - but it comes at a cost, as many of us continue to discover. When it comes to technology providers, big single platform tech isn’t necessarily best. That applies as much in the financial services industry as anywhere.
I started my journey in the wealth management sector during the pre-mobile phone era and when email was still only widely used in the academic sector. Interestingly however this was probably the very period when wealth management was delivered through the most bespoke and personalised service. The technological changes we’ve seen since then are simply staggering, from the evolution of the internet and the emergence of social media to smartphones and the rapidly increasing sophistication of AI, and have rendered that old wealth management model unwieldy and unscalable.
Client expectations over use of technology have evolved and grown accordingly, however their desire for a high quality personalised service has not changed at all. This makes it surprising to see the dominance of large single technology platforms focused on scale and simplicity.
The Multrees investment platform cut its teeth in 2011 servicing businesses advising HNW, UHNW and institutional clients, probably the most demanding in terms of the way buying power can dictate service quality and customisation. And the challenge was to deliver this level of quality and customisation at scale, so we developed a multi component, open architecture, technology strategy that allows us to tailor a service to each adviser firm and its clients, while retaining core processing scalability.
One of the great paradoxes of the technological revolution is that the companies which have become household names, are also the problem. Big technology has become too big, and that goes for the wealth management sector too. Despite rapid technological advances, flexibility and the tailored experience is somehow still secondary to the one-size-fits-all culture of the traditional service and technology providers.
I can see how we got here. With the industry maturing rapidly, firms feel pressure to adopt technology that meets every need. The value of being able to really excel in any one area – and differentiate yourself in the process – is too often overlooked or forgotten.
The traditional service and technology providers have so far succeeded in convincing the wealth management sector that their technology, their methodology and their processes are the only way forward. But firms and their clients are paying a price for this – even if you ignore the disruption, the costs of implementing and then aborting projects which ultimately damage reputation, the ability for users of single large platform tech to differentiate their proposition in a crowded market is extremely limited.
In the early days of Multrees, our alternative strategy nearly killed us as we underestimated the complexity our architecture brought. However, driven by the near-constant shift of investor expectations, regulatory developments and technological innovation, we believe the emerging success of this approach offers a viable alternative to the one-size-fits-all culture. As an adviser, you can use one platform, multi-platforms, or now you can actually have your own private platform that will allow your business to scale whilst retaining all of your important differentiators.
Digital capabilities allow for a much more bespoke and nuanced approach. Firms partnering with a services provider want to retain a sense of control rather than lose it; after all, it’s their company’s reputation on the line. They want flexibility, expertise and a relationship dictated by their needs and not by the restrictions imposed by the provider’s culture and structure.
We know that different firms have different priorities, needs, strategies and styles, so it should be equally clear that service propositions must be individually configured. Big technology is becoming an anomaly at a time when companies need to be nimble and capable of evolving in line with their clients.
One size certainly does not fit all and shoehorning your proposition into our own isn’t going to serve either of us. In 2019 it’s increasingly apparent that being beholden to the traditional service and technology providers, and their insistence that their way is the only way, is both constraining and disruptive.
Big tech doesn’t empower you - it controls you. I realise that my daily technology consumption is dictated far too much by the preferences and capabilities of a small handful of very large firms.
Financial businesses in thrall to the technology they use and the traditional providers to whom they cede control are taking a similar risk - and one they cannot afford.
Multrees Investor Services appoints Ed Carey as Head of Sales and Marketing
Multrees, a provider of outsourced investment services to wealth managers, private banks, family offices and advisory businesses, is pleased to announce the appointment of Ed Carey as Head of Sales and Marketing.
Ed has significant experience in financial services, having joined Multrees from Alliance Trust Savings where he was Sales Director and, latterly, Commercial Director. He also spent 12 years at Cofunds, where he went on to become Head of Distribution Development, and held a senior level position at Mattioli Woods.
Multrees is also making a number of additional changes as its team gears up for further growth. Farzana Khalil, previously Client Solutions Manager, is moving into a newly created role overseeing the development of the Multrees platform. Farzana will drive the development roadmap and agenda for Multrees, informed at all times by the evolving requirements of clients.
Meanwhile, Peter O’Donnell is taking on management of the Multrees Client Relationship Team, to ensure consistency and ongoing development of the service received by the clients of Multrees.
Chris Fisher, Chief Executive Officer of Multrees Investor Services, comments: “We are excited about the prospects which both Ed’s appointment and the developments to our existing team will bring to our clients, by further enhancing the service they get from us. Each of these appointments will ensure that we have the level of oversight and flexibility built into our services which is necessary to meet client needs as exactly as possible.”
Ed Carey added: “Multrees’ clients are always looking for ways to improve their business processes and services and so they should, and do, expect nothing less from us. The Multrees team are constantly striving to better tailor our services to what clients really want, rather than expecting them to fit around our offering, and that’s something I’m very pleased to be part of.”