The Global Financial Crisis

The 2008 financial crisis was the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, leaving firms and economies in shambles.

The main cause was the housing market bubble. People were borrowing more than they could afford to purchase bigger houses, which drove house prices through the roof.

While that was happening, banks were paving the way to their inevitable fall. More loans were being applied, causing banks to be overwhelmed and, and to start making moves based on impulse and speculations. As a result, many financial innovations were introduced, but it was moving way too fast and way ahead of regulations. Even the banks themselves were unable to keep up with the risks.

And that is when the bubble popped.

Financial institutions and banks alike did not have enough capital to combat the losses. And the global financial system wasn’t ready to absorb the shock. The aftermath rippled to all financial institutions across the globe.

New Regulations in the Regions

To prevent such an event from recurring, regulators and governments around the world have tightened their measures on financial regulations with emphasis on transparency and accountability.

Here are some regulations that have been implemented according to region:

Europe – MiFID II

The MiFID II was implemented by the European Union (EU) in 2018 to regulate financial practices and improve protections for investors. The main purpose of the framework is to standardize financial practices across the EU and regain the trust of investors, all through increased transparency.

The US – Department of Labour Fiduciary Rule 

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is re-evaluating the Department of Labour Fiduciary Rule with the main aim of developing a uniform fiduciary standard. The newly updated Fiduciary Rule will ensure that high commissions do not have any influence on advice provided to investors- following the initiative started by the UK Retail Distribution Review in 2012.

The Asia Pacific

Within the Asia Pacific region, individual countries have implemented stringent regulations built on four pillars: board effectiveness, risk and compliance, financial integrity, and disclosure and transparency.

Compared to the US and Europe, such regulations actually opened up new opportunities for investors and firms in the Asia-Pacific region.

How do the Regulations Affect Financial Institutions?

These new regulations are definitely putting pressure on financial institutions especially in terms of cost and profit margins.

Disclosure of Costs and Fees

As part of the aim to increase transparency, the regulations implemented require financial institutions to disclose all costs and fees. The MiFID II bans asset managers from paying retrocession– usually seen as non-transparent fees. Similarly, the US Fiduciary Rule requires firms to increase disclosures and voluntarily make statements more self-explanatory.

With such rules implemented, it has massive implications on customer acquisition capabilities. Under the new regulations, financial institutions will need to charge an explicit advisory fee and/or increase the brokerage fee to make up for the lost revenue from retrocessions. However, this also means that it is easier for clients to pick and choose. Thus, there is a higher chance of losing clients who are unwilling to pay such fees.

To counteract this problem, financial institutions need to adopt new cost-efficient advice models, such as Robo-advisor, so affluent clients can still obtain the same guidance even if the fees structure changes.

Higher Costs 

The disclosure of costs and fees bears another problem — higher costs for firms. There has been a rising cost-to-income ratio across the industry as financial institutions are incurring more costs than they did before. But where do all these costs come from?

Well, after the implementation of regulations, operating and compliance costs have skyrocketed. Mainly due to the competitive pressure from peers.

Additionally, investors are demanding for more. More customization, complex products, and different reports, all these add to the cost in servicing assets. Based on a study of firms in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific, the average cost of managing each dollar of AUM has increased by 4% since 2014. The cost of salaries also rose by 5% and non-compensation costs (regulatory expenses, technology, and office space) now account forof a firm’s budget compared to just 26% in 2014.

Ultimately, this will definitely impact the revenue margin and it did. It has been decreasing since 2014 and is continuing on a downward trend.

Source: Bloomberg

Slow Growth

The stringent regulations have definitely played its part in slowing the growth of the financial industry. Now coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, the growth does not seem so rosy anymore.

PwC forecasted AUM to grow from US$84.9 trillion in 2016 to US$145 trillion by 2025– a growth rate of approximately 6%. Unfortunately, in 2020, Covid-19 sent the world into a downward spiral, and with it the financial industry. Hence, forcing a downward revision of the earlier predictions to within the 1% – 3% range instead.

What Can Firms Do?

It is hard enough to thrive in a competitive environment and now with even more uncertainty, the tough just got tougher. However, this is no time to lose hope. According to McKinsey, firms can overcome the pandemic and the ever-changing environment through three horizons.

Horizon 1 – Short Term

Business continuity is the first priority.

  • Taking clear and well-communicated steps to protect the health and well-being of all stakeholders
  • Educate investors on holding on through these volatile times
  • Be transparent with clients through frequent communications, as this will strengthen the relationship between firms and clients
  • And more importantly, ensure that the firm’s infrastructure is able to offer omnichannel communications- consistent and on-brand communications across multiple customer touchpoints (variety of offline and online channels)

Horizon 2 – Medium Term 

The market is slowly stabilizing so:

  • Focus on upgrading digital and analytics infrastructure across the value chain
  • Upskill employees to ensure they are prepared for the increasing reliance on digital engagement platforms
  • Develop new approaches to meet client’s needs such as through digital advisory platforms

Horizon 3 – Long Term 

Both incumbents and newcomers must reinvent the wealth management scene through:

  • Striking a balance between physical and online channels
  • Shifting from a product-centric approach to client-centric advisory methods

No matter the horizon or the cause of the volatility, firms need to remain agile and transparent. Financial institutions that manage to navigate through the turbulence will emerge above others- transformed and well-positioned for the new challenges ahead.

It has only become more evident the importance of digital platforms as part of a firm’s offerings. Let us help you make that move towards digitalization.

At Bambu, we specialize in developing Robo-advisory solutions for the financial services industry, from smaller RIAs and wealth advisors to some of the largest banks in the world. We help our clients work through the above key considerations to implement solutions that truly benefit their wealth management business.

To find out more, check out our product here or contact us at sales@bambu.co for more information.

From smartphones to driverless cars, doors to endless possibilities have been opened through technology. It is no surprise then, why this era quipped as the ‘Technological Era.’ But of course, being in the Technological Era presents its fair share of challenges and fears.

One big fear is that we would end up in an Automation versus Humans situation. For instance, many believe that with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) development, human labour will be entirely replaced soon. Unemployment rates will shoot up and disaster ensues. This was reflected in a Pew Research Center survey conducted across 10 countries (both emerging and advanced economies) in 2015.

Source: Pew Research Center

Amongst the 10 countries surveyed, most agreed that automation would transform our workplace by 2065.

Whether it was an emerging or advanced economy, more than half of the respondents expressed fears of getting displaced. This sentiment was more vigorous in countries like Greece (52%), South Africa (45%), and Argentina (40%). Workers in those countries strongly believed that they would get displaced due to automation sooner or later.

Meanwhile, an even higher proportion of respondents were convinced that automation would bring about more pitfalls than workers’ opportunities. Examples of some pitfalls are as follows:

  • Ordinary people will have an increasingly more challenging time finding jobs.
  • There will be an expansion of the inequality gap between the rich and poor.
  • Very few better-paying jobs will be created.

Yet as society only seeks to progress and grow, the move to automation seems almost inevitable.

Fast-forward to 2030

How long do you think we will work in 2030?

McKinsey’s research revealed that we might be working just 70% of the time. They found that 30% of the global work hours can be automated by 2030 (depending on adoption rates). Even at this point in 2020, half of all paid social work can be automated using currently available technologies.

Even so, all these are just predictions. Many factors affect a person’s decision to automate. It varies according to the country and sector — some are more susceptible to displacement than others.

I would be lying to say that people will not get ousted at all. Estimates have predicted that robots could replace 400 million to 800 million people by 2030. Of the total number supplanted, 75 million to 375 million individuals would need to learn new skills or switch occupational categories.

Although the threat of automation is real on the brighter side, it can only eliminate a limited number of occupations. It is more of a case where work will be transformed, depending on the role’s nature.

Technical Feasibility

Technical feasibility is also known as the % of time spent on activities that can be automated by adapting currently available technology.

Source: McKinsey

Looking at the graph above, we see that not all occupations are susceptible to automation. It boils down to the scope of work. Even if tasks are being automated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the demand for that occupation will decline. Instead, workers will just need to learn new skills and perform new tasks that can’t be automated.

There are several cases where automation was integrated into tasks, yet overall demand for that occupation continued to grow. This was seen in the case of the supermarket or retail barcode scanner. Introduced in the 1980s, it reduced labour costs by approximately 4.5% per store. However, supermarkets’ employment rates continued to climb at a constant of 2% or more between 1980 – 2013. Why? Because cashiers were still needed. Scanners were just an additional tool to improve efficiency, which translated into more sales.

What Kind of Work is Most Susceptible to be Automated?

What work would the most (and least) susceptible to automation then? The answer is that jobs in predictable environments would be most vulnerable, and vice versa (i.e. works in unpredictable environments the least).

The reasons are presented in the table below:

Works in Predictable Environments Works in Unpredictable Environments
Involves little to no complex skills Involves complex and high-value skills
Technical feasibility: 78% Technical feasibility: 25%
Automation susceptibility: High Automation susceptibility: Low
Examples: manufacturing, data collection and processing, etc. Example: people management, child care, plumbers, etc.

We can expect to see many workers in say, the manufacturing industry, being displaced. This is because 59% of all manufacturing activities have the technical potential for automation.

Additionally, automation has evolved beyond just machines in manufacturing. Payroll processing, calculating material-resource, and administering procurement are more examples of what has been automated too.

Through machine learning and AI, technology now possesses the capability to transform the healthcare and finance sectors.

Even though you might argue that financial service firms rely mainly on professional expertise and knowledge, studies tell us that 50 percent of overall work hours are spent on repetitive tasks such as collecting and processing data. Activities like these definitely can and will be, automated to make sure that financial advisors can focus on higher-value skills.

A Shift in Skills Demand

The acceleration of automation is correlated to the demand for workforce skills according to a few factors. McKinsey launched a study projecting the need for these skills by 2030.

The skills were split into five categories:

  1. Physical and Manual Skills
  2. Basic Cognitive Skills
  3. Higher Cognitive Skills
  4. Social and Emotional Skills
  5. Technological Skills
Source: McKinsey

The most demanded skills are:

  1. Higher cognitive skills
  2. Social and emotional skills
  3. Technological skills.

Despite being the smallest category today, technological skills are expected to grow by 55% by 2030 and makeup 17% of the working hours. Moreover, demand for social and emotional skills such as managing people and leadership will rise by 24% and makeup 22% of working hours. Finally, the demand for higher cognitive skills will grow moderately at 8% over the next 10 years.

On the contrary, we will observe a decline in basic cognitive, physical and manual skills. As repetitive tasks, they can be easily automated and thus, considered as lower-value tasks. Even so, they will remain the largest category of workforce skills as the rate of adoption varies between countries and sectors.

The shift in skills is nothing new — the skills requirement has continuously changed since the first industrial revolution. As technologies transform the nature of work across industries, job scopes will adjust accordingly. It opens up doors to a vast array of opportunities for people to explore.

“This journey of transformation can also be a journey of growth for our businesses and people alike.” 

Mrs. Josephine Teo (Singapore’s Minister of Manpower)

Zoom into the Financial Sector

The financial service industry is one where transformation brings about many opportunities. Many industry players have invested enormous amounts into new technologies. As a result, it enhances their competitiveness and operating capabilities.

Financial advisors are still spending the majority of their time collecting and processing data. These low-value tasks can easily be automated with the help of AI and technology. With this, financial advisors can shift their focus to higher-value work and ensure the highest quality service delivery.

Some firms have already moved to transformation, resulting in a shift in demand for workforce skills specific to the financial sector. As of 2018, the 5 most in-demand skills in the fintech industry are:

  1. Blockchain & Distributed Ledger Experts
  2. Programming Skills
  3. Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning
  4. Cybersecurity Expertise
  5. Soft Skills

Now, if we categorize based on the general five workforce skills:

1. Blockchain & Distributed Ledger Experts Technological Skills
2. Programming Skills Technological Skills
3. Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence & Deep Learning Technological Skills
4. Cybersecurity Expertise Higher Cognitive Skills
5. Soft Skills Social and Emotional Skills

As expected, the demand correlates with McKinsey’s predictions. 3 out of 5 of the most in-demand skills are technology-oriented, while the other two require higher cognitive and social, and emotional skills. This proves that the demand for lower value skills is becoming obsolete.

Although some may perceive this as a warning light, others see potential. This highlights an opportunity to automate low-value tasks and focus on higher-value activities.

Digital Transformation: Now or Never?

It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation: automation AND humans can work together, in harmony, to deliver the best of both worlds. For example, you could consider implementing a wealth tech solution that will enable your financial advisors to be more efficient. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is one technology that allows you to streamline operational processes with Robo-advisors that will help better financial advisory for your clients. Therefore, the time for digitalization is now.

Leveraging technology to allow your advisors to focus on higher-value tasks will lead to an improvement in their skill sets, further setting your organization and staff up for long-term success.

Don’t know where to start? Well look no further, Bambu has just the solution for you.

At Bambu, we specialize in developing Robo-advisory solutions for the financial services industry, from smaller RIAs and wealth advisors to some of the largest banks in the world. We help our clients work through the above key considerations to implement solutions that truly benefit their wealth management business.

To find out more, check out our product here or contact us at sales@bambu.co for more information.

The Financial Advisory Market

Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) are not in danger of extinction. Period.

As a matter of fact, they are growing bigger than ever. 2019 was the year RIAs hit a record high of 12,993 firms, serving 43 million clients and $83.7 trillion of assets under management. With the number of RIAs consistently growing each year, it now stands on a cusp of its next growth phase as global income levels rise.

During the ‘80s and ’90s, baby boomers helped fuel the nascent development of the advisory industry. Hardworking and excellent collaborators, they are a generation that uses technologies as productivity tools rather than connectivity.  However as this generation nears retirement, RIAs now seek a new generation of clients.

Who are they?

Millennials. The generation that grew into the digital age. They are a generation that lives and breathes technology – it is their connectivity to the world.

But who are they really? According to Pew Research Center, millennials are anyone born between 1981 and 1996.

Current Demographic of Millennials

Millennials make up ¼ of the US population in 2020, the second-largest generational cohort in the US.

 

Source: Knoema

Now if we look at other parts of the world, millennials still make up a large bulk of the population

  • Asia 36.6% of the population are millennials
  • Africa 29.2% of the population are millennials
  • Latin America 36.2% of the population are millennials
  • Europe 34.1% of the population are millennials
  • North America 33% of the population are millennials
  • Oceania 33.6% of the population are millennials
Source: Statista

What can we gather from these statistics?

It is evident that millennials are one of the largest generations in the world. In more developed regions, we can see that the percentage of baby boomers may be slightly higher, all due to aging populations in those areas. Whereas, in developing regions, the Gen Zs are not far behind and will soon overtake all previous generations.

Financial Habits 

This group of individuals are the drivers of the future. As they come of age, enter into the workforce and mature financially, this is the group that advisors do not want to miss out on.

Often labeled as materialistic and spoiled, but the truth is they’re more than what society perceives them to be. Millennials’ generational attitudes differ greatly from generations of yore, especially the baby boomers.

There are many things that we don’t know about this generation, but one thing we know for sure is that they are anxious.

Millennials are constantly worrying about their financial future asking questions like:

  • Will I meet my financial goals?
  • Will I be able to buy a house in the future?
  • Will I pay off my student loans?
  • Will I be able to save for retirements?

As a result, millennials became experts at saving money. According to research conducted by the Bank of America, 73% of millennials are saving in 2020- 15% increase from 2018. 24% of those have $100,000 or more in their savings.

Source: Bank of America

These habits emerged in the aftermath of the great recession, where 15% of millennials were left unemployed, and many are still struggling. For those who managed to land a job, it hasn’t been easy either being thrown into a tough job market with wage stagnation.

Hence, despite saving early and saving well, millennials are behind in wealth accumulation:

  • Average net worth of American millennials is less than $8,000
  • Average net worth of Americans aged 18 – 35 has decreased by 34% since 1996
  • Millennials earn 20% less than baby boomers

The outcome?

Student loans are piling up and living costs are outweighing the wages, making it near impossible to save.

For younger millennials who watched the great recession unfold and the struggles of their seniors, they developed better saving habits. They became more practical in terms of having rainy day funds for their future.

From the same survey, the results showed just exactly that – 75% of respondents are saving for retirement and 51% are saving for emergency funds.

Source: Bank of America

Not only did they start saving early for retirement than previous generations- at the age of 24- millennials hold their future as the utmost priority with:

  • 67% are utilizing employer sponsored retirement plans
  • 52% would rather work harder today and retire early, instead of working longer and having more free time now
  • 48% put money into savings each month
  • 28% who have savings are investing in the market

Millennials are not what they’re usually stereotyped as. They’re more forward-looking and are willing to forego short-term pleasures for long-term rewards.

What are the Implications for RIAs?

Traditionally, RIAs require a minimum AUM ranging from US$250,000 to US$1,000,000. However, this filters out a large portion of the market, specifically the millennials.

Millennials have the heart and burning desire to start their investment journey, but that’s not enough. Limited by their asset size, they’re unable to overcome the traditional barrier of entry. Ironically, this same barrier prevents RIAs from engaging with them too.

Even if they are able to, it’ll be much later in the millennial’s financial journey, which may be too late by then.

With the help of Robo-advisory solutions, RIAs no longer have to be handicapped.

The low initial investment amount and the user-friendly digital interface structure allows any millennial to kick start their investment journey early on. Coupled with being digital natives, the provision of such services will enable millennials to connect with RIAs easily.

In this new digital era, this represents a win-win situation for both clients and RIAs.

Future of Financial Advisory

What happens when baby boomers’ kids who want nothing to do with their parents’ financial advisor inherit their wealth? Will consumers pay advisory fees when they can easily build a personalized investment portfolio online for a fraction of the cost? Where is the future of Financial Advisory headed? These are just some of the worries that are plaguing the financial advisory industry.

Automation has always been seen as a threat to the job security of advisors, but that may not be the case after all. The demand for personal financial advice is growing and will continue to grow stronger as income levels and savings rates rise. The demand for financial assets is also increasing at the same time.

With recent news of the US personal savings rate hitting its highest level in 39 years, the wealth management industry is poised for skyrocket growth.

Financial Advisor’s Ally 

According to a survey conducted by Capgemini, financial advisors spend 67% of their time engaging with clients. While 29% of their time is used to perform administrative tasks. Leaving only 4% to perform productive tasks such as monitoring and rebalancing client’s portfolios.

piechart-article-3-time-allocation
Source: Capgemini, 2010

However, all these mundane and repetitive tasks can go away with the help of a Robo-advisor. Automation can help wealth management firms:

  1. Increase the advisor’s productivity
  2. Improve operational efficiency
  3. Improve advisor-client relationship
  4. Increase market share and improve reach
  5. Assist in the delivery of simple and complex financial services

A shift in Consumer’s Expectations 

Now that financial advisors are relieved of the repetitive mundane tasks, they can focus more on enhancing client experiences. Research by Salesforce found that 84% of respondents expect very highly of customer experience, to the extent that it holds the same importance as the products or services.

Just as how technology has evolved, the client’s expectations have done so as well. It is no longer enough to just deliver an extraordinary product, a customer’s experience is just as important. Therefore, the integration of automation in financial services will enable financial advisors to deliver the finest customer experience while retaining high productivity.

Digital Consumers 

Even though technological advancements have been going on for years, companies are still having trouble keeping up with the digital change – including wealth management firms. Unfortunately for the firms, these changes are inevitable and will not stop, especially with digital consumers as the driving force behind it all.

In 2019, Ernst & Young surveyed 2,000 investors across 26 countries on various topics surrounding the wealth management scene. This is what they found.

Source: Ernst & Young 2019 Global Wealth Management Report

So what does this tell us about consumers’ behavior? First of all consumer’s behavior is definitely evolving and it’s evolving fast.

In 2016, 18% of clients used mobile applications as their primary channel with a projected 6% increase by 2018. And once again, as consumers, we underestimated the rate of change. The actual percentage of clients who use mobile applications doubled from the amount in 2016. Coupled with those who prefer website access, ⅔ of clients prefer digital platforms as their primary channel.

Smartphones have only become smarter. Everything can be done at the touch of a button, from grocery shopping to finding jobs. Convenience and efficiency are the main drivers behind increasing preference from clients.

As clients drift towards mobile, first-generation channels such as websites are becoming obsolete. Projected to stay constant at 38%, the actual numbers would beg to differ. In less than three years, the preference for websites as a primary channel dropped by a third.

These numbers are the average across all wealth management activities. Hence, will the number differ when we dive into specific activities?

The answer is no.

Source: Ernst & Young 2019 Global Wealth Management Report

The gap is even wider. Although a large portion of the clients uses mobile applications for basic tasks, there has been increasing popularity in using apps for advanced activities as well- such as portfolio management, and advice-related tasks.

These percentages are expected to increase over the coming years with advancement in wealth management tech and ease of use for clients of all ages.

Another compelling observation found that in correlation with the complexity of tasks, the client’s preference for digital assistant or chatbot increases as well.

A survey conducted in 2018 found that only 1.4% of respondents are currently using digital assistants. However, it is projected to increase eight times the amount in the future. The demand for digital assistants is not restricted to only simple tasks. Clients are actually more inclined to use digital assistants for complex tasks such as advice-related activities.

High Touch Engagement

Nonetheless, the need for traditional advisors is still prevalent. High touch engagement is even more important during a volatile time and major life milestones. Looking at the results from the survey below, we can see that for all major life stages, more than half of the clients are looking to use advisory services.

Why is this so?

As human beings, we fear uncertainty, and major life changes are full of it. When faced with such changes, clients search for trustworthy advisors to help them navigate through the murky waters of life. However, the demand for human interaction can vary depending on the types of clients. Clients with more complex financial strategies or situations request more human interaction.

To many people’s surprise, the demand for face-to-face meetings actually decreases with wealth. The rate of mass affluent demand for such services is nearly double the rate of the ultra-high net worth clients- 11.7% and 6.5% respectively. This counters the general perception that automated services are for the mass affluent.

Source: Ernst & Young 2019 Global Wealth Management Report

What’s Next?

Integrating automation does not mean eliminating human advisors. Yes, consumers are shifting more towards digital as a primary channel. However, some clients require the help of a traditional financial advisor.

It is said that the absence of emotions is one of Robo-advisors biggest strengths. But in times of uncertainty, clients need someone who can empathize with them and reassure them by providing that human touch.

So what does this mean for firms? Do they move to digital or remain the same? Well, both. It is all about balancing high tech and high touch services. Through harnessing state of the art technology, firms can improve productivity and automate repetitive tasks. As a result, advisors can focus on delivering high-quality engagement to clients who desire the human touch.

According to a Deloitte survey, 66% of consumers seek a self-directed journey. Providing omnichannel delivery will enable consumers to lead their own journey and choose how they want to interact with wealth management firms. Those who prefer little to no human interaction can opt for the full digital experience. Whereas, clients who seek to consult a financial advisor still have the option to do so; providing the best of both world experience for modern clients.

This is truly the financial advisor of the future.

Be a financial advisor of the future with Bambu

Bambu can help you and your company prepare for the future. Our products have an easy-to-use and well-designed interface, helping to facilitate the smooth journey that you seek to deliver to your clients. Our features are powered by proprietary algorithms, allowing us to automate things like portfolio rebalancing, pull financial insights, visualize data and value add to financial advisors in many ways.

Find out more about Intelligent Advisor, built to help investment advisors here.

The Robo-advisor industry grew out of the market collapse in 2008-2009. With Wealthfront and Betterment leading the way, over US$4 trillion has since been invested in ETFs – the main underlying asset of Robo-advisors – as of September 2019; a 190% increase from 2015.

Designed to provide an experience that enables trust and empowerment, the Robo advisor curates portfolios that appeals to investors of all ages. Using algorithms to automate portfolio allocation, investors were able to access diverse asset classes and market sectors tailored according to their financial goals.

In a report by Charles Schwab, the number of users using robo-advisory services is expected to grow from an estimated 2 million in 2018 to 17 million by 2025. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Customer-centric Wealth Management

Boston Consulting Group’s report highlighted how retail banks traditionally focused on a product-first sales approach, rather than letting the specific needs of individuals dictate their commercial offerings and outreach. This has since created a gap where the mass affluent (AuM <$1M) segment has been neglected and underserved (Figure 1). This presents a potential for revenues and the number of clients to grow as robo-advisors step in to fill this gap.

Figure 1 (Source: Boston Consulting Group, 2019)

“Winners in the wealth management arena will accelerate product innovation and develop offerings that address the specific needs and preferences of affluent subsegments,” – Boston Consulting Group

It is no surprise then that over the years, a number of big players have jumped onto the Robo-advisor party by launching digital advisory services through in-house offerings, acquisitions and partnerships.

The Financial Giants

Charles Schwab

Schwab Intelligent Portfolio, introduced in 2015, was Charles Schwab’s very own Robo advisor.

The Schwab Intelligent Portfolio is a pure Robo-advisory service. 53 ETFs for investors to choose from- each one hand-picked by the experts at Charles Scwab. Just like any Robo-advisor, the platform will monitor and periodically rebalance the portfolios. If situations deem to be risky, then the Robo-advisor has the power to halt the trade.

Additionally, Charles Schwab introduced Intelligent Portfolio Premium, a hybrid Robo-advisor model. Complimentary with the above-mentioned services, Intelligent Portfolio Premium offers free consultation with their experts for guidance and planning. It acts more as an add-on to the existing Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolio with a monthly subscription fee.

BlackRock 

BlackRock, a global wealth management corporation, acquired FutureAdvisor in 2015. Unlike other players in the industry, BlackRock did not plan to target individual investors.

Instead, the company aims to enable other banks, brokerage firms, and insurers to use their platform to serve clients. It hopes to position FutureAdvisor as a Robo-advisor solution for advisors.

With FutureAdvisor, financial institutions have the option to either offer a pure advisory service or a hybrid Robo-advisor model, whichever fits best. BlackRock is giving smaller wealth managers and RIA a solution to stay afloat in the competitive marketplace- giving them access to the same technology that big players are offering to clients.

“Everyone talks about how robo-advisors can’t connect with clients, I actually believe that those kinds of tools are like ATM machines. We are all going to have to have it” – Larry Fink (BlackRock’s CEO)

Vanguard 

Within that same year- 2015 – Vanguard also joined the Robo-advisory scene. The company launched ‘Personal Advisor’, a hybrid Robo-advisory service, prides itself on ‘lower than industry’ service fees.

Consultation with a financial advisor is readily available to clients on an ongoing basis. Even from the very first touchpoint. In comparison to other Robo-advisory services, a financial advisor will facilitate the onboarding process of clients and assist in the development of their financial plan. It doesn’t stop there. Together with the Robo-advisor, the financial advisor will monitor the client’s portfolio and rebalance if necessary.

Seeing the success of their hybrid Robo-advisor service, in 2017 Vanguard rolled out another one- The Digital Advisor. For clients who prefer to make their own investment decisions, this one’s for you. Digital Advisor is a pure Robo-advisory service at your fingertips- no human intervention- just you and the technology.

Capital One

Advisors Managed Portfolio, a “digital portfolio with a human touch”, was one of the later editions to the Robo-advisory industry. The service offers client access to a financial advisor throughout the investing process, meanwhile, the Robo-advisor will take the baton and bring your portfolio to the finish line.

Just 3 years later, Capital One Acquired United Income. A pure Robo-advisory service specializing in retirement plans. Nearing retirement or already in retirement? Then this service is the one for you. The service will assist investors in finding the best ways to manage their wealth. All this at the comfort of your home.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch 

Merrill Guided Investing is a hybrid Robo-advisory service offered by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. First introduced in 2017 and later modified in 2019. Like any other hybrid Robo-advisor model, clients get to experience the best of both worlds- the combined power of technology and expertise from the financial advisors.

With Merrill Guided Investing, clients will receive guidance from the chief investment office (CIO) of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. The CIO will monitor the client’s portfolio to ensure that they stay on course even during the most volatile time. Markets are assessed on a regular basis using a disciplined approach and adjust strategies accordingly.

“In that whole continuum, there was one piece our clients pointed to that was missing: The mass affluent client who enjoys technology, who leverages digital, but who wanted some guidance and advice in terms of holistic financial planning. This allows clients to leverage that platform but still access a financial advisor.”– Aron Levine (Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s Head of Consumer Banking and Investment)

Wells Fargo 

The Intuitive Investor Program, a Wells Fargo Advisors offering for consumers who prefer to manage their finances themselves. A combination of algorithm-driven technology and financial expertise.

Wells Fargo Investment Institute has built nine portfolios for the Intuitive Advisor Program- each seeking to provide an optimal return at every risk level. Based on the client’s profile, the Robo-advisor will invest in one of the nine portfolios. Missing the human touch? Rest assured, Wells Fargo’s team of financial advisors is available through the phone to assist clients with any inquiries. Truly a Robo-advisor experience with a human touch.

Morgan Stanley 

Morgan Stanley was one of the later corporations to join the Robo-advisory industry as compared to its competitors. Launched at the end of 2017, Access Investing added their own twist to the typical Robo-advisory framework.

The Robo-advisors perform their function as per normal, but here is where the twist comes in. Morgan Stanley has created a set of themes and portfolios for investors to choose from. Investors get to pick and choose the theme or portfolio that best suits their interests. Some themes or portfolios are but not limited to climate action, defense and cybersecurity, data and AI, gender diversity, and emerging consumer. With this you can invest in what you love.

JPMorgan

JP Morgan Chase is one of the largest banks in America, known for serving the ultra-high net worth clients. However, in 2018 the company decided to launch “You Invest” a Robo-advisory service for the mass affluent.

You Invest positions itself as a people-centric investment platform. Just as the name may have suggested. Everything is about you and you make all the choices. To fully support this stance, the company has decided to offer it as a pure Robo-advisory service with little to no human intervention.

So What’s Next?

Over the last 12 years, the Robo-advisory industry has grown significantly.

However, with 80% of mass affluent Americans lacking a financial advisor – holding approximately US$7 trillion of wealth – the race is on for wealth managers.

The importance of digital transformation has never been more critical.  – it has gone from ‘we’ll go digital someday’ to ‘we have to go digital today’.
Robo-advisors have since evened out the playing field. Solutions like Bambu Build, a fully customizable wealth tech platform, allow anyone now to have a seat at the table with these big players.

The Rainbow After The Storm

From the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis, came Robo-advisors pioneered by Betterment and Wealthfront. The future seemed promising. For instance, in 2016, KPMG projected Robo-advisor’s assets under management (AUM) to reach US$2.2 trillion by 2020. On the other hand, Deloitte projected it to reach US$16 trillion by 2025. Some have also argued that the projections are too optimistic – predicting instead that AUM will be less than US$1 trillion AUM as of 2019. Nonetheless, Robo-advisors are on the cusp of a revolution in wealth management.

As with any new product market adoption, there’s always a gestation period. This begs the question – when will exponential growth kick in? Our answer is that era is now – with a new wave of tech-savvy, digitally dependent investors, Robo-advisors are set to grow in numbers and scale.

Upcoming Digital Investors

Born into the digital age, Millennials and Gen Z make up 63.5% of the world’s population as of 2019. As a generation that grew up with smartphones and social media, they possess an inseparable relationship with all things digital. Their tech-savvy nature and comfort with (and trust in) technology make Robo-investing a natural and preferred choice.

Source: Deloitte

A study on affluent millennials investing behavior showed the stark difference in the adoption rate of Robo-advisors across the generations. Firstly, Millennials and Gen Z had a significantly higher adoption rate than the Baby Boomers.

Source: Spectrum Group

Secondly, within different groups of investors – the same pattern was observed.

  • Amongst UHNW investors, 56% of the Millennial and Gen X respondents use Robo-advisors, compared to only 13% of Baby Boomers.
  • Among Millionaires, the gap is much wider, with 62% of Millennials, 24% of Gen X, versus a low of 10% Baby Boomers using Robo-advisors.

Therefore, proving how Robo-investing is the preferred and go-to option for young, tech-savvy investors.

The Untapped Investors

A Snapshot of Investor Households in America report by Finra showcased demographic information of the uninvested. It found that more than 50% of households earned an income of more than US$50,000, but had no investment accounts at all. This is stark considering the assumption that people will start investing when they have “enough”. Why is this so?

In 2018, according to a Gallup Economy and Personal Finance Poll, the lack of knowledge and prohibitive management fees were two key reasons why many are deterred from the stock market. According to the same poll, only 37% of adults aged 35 and below owned any stocks. Conversely, the poll reminded us that a huge potential addressable audience of 63% of the population exists and is waiting for wealth managers to engage.

However, with Robo-advisors, this will no longer be the case. The lower barriers of entry and automation of portfolio management have democratized the investment arena for all. With easier access to investment opportunities, everyone is now able to participate in the game of wealth via institutional bonds, emerging market equities, and even exotic rare minerals ETFs.

Source: US Securities and Exchange Commission

New Wave of Emerging Investors

With these new waves of investors reaching financial adolescence, Robo-advisor offers them an easy path onto their investment journey. Experts predict that the industry is poised to reach US$1.4 trillion in assets this year. This equates to a 47% growth in AUM and 70.5 million new users.

With the proliferation of Robo-advisors (especially in the US), Robo-advisors have become popular around the globe. In 2020, UK is forecast to hit US$24 billion market value. Meanwhile, in Singapore and Hong Kong, strong growth figures (AUM increasing by 400%) over the past five years have been witnessed.

Source: Deloitte

The low-cost advantage of Robo-advisors has allowed wealth management services to expand beyond traditional clients. Advisors are now able to engage younger, tech-savvy clients with a click of a button.

Adding further fuel to the growth of Robos, a survey found that over 50% of investors prefer making their investment decisions in the absence of a financial advisor.

Source: Deloitte

Digital Wealth in 2023

According to Statista, the Robo-advisory industry will reach US$2.55 trillion with 147 million users by 2023 – 11 times the number in 2017. These figures are on the conservative side, as it only reflects active users of Robo-advisors and excludes wealth managers who manage their clients’ portfolios.

With the new generation of digital-native investors, the move to digitalization is inevitable. Robo-advisors have gone from a nice to have to a must-have for financial institutions worldwide.

With Bambu GO, a ready-to-go Robo-advisor solution, anyone can now have a seat at the wealth tech table.

At Bambu, we deploy white-labeled Robo-advisors that enable financial institutions at scale. With our smart portfolios algorithms and machine learning capabilities, your users can achieve their financial goals through a user-centric wealth journey with you. Schedule a demo to find out more.

In Q1:

  • We won Fintech of the Year award by The Asset Asian Award Trip A Digital Asset event.
  • Started working with 4 new clients based in Asia Pacific Region

In Q2:

  • Raised US$3M for Series A round that was majorly led by Franklin Templeton. Franklin Templeton has been investing in our company since the beginning of our business.
  • Continued working with 3 more clients who are interested in our white-label robo platform.

In Q3:

  • Our co-founder and COO Aki Ranin is one of the authors of The New DNA of Financial Services. He wrote a chapter covering Machine Learning. The book is about the merger of finance and technology, and covers various aspects and how they impact each disciplline within the fintech industry.
  • Bambu opens an office in United Kingdom, London! The office is located at Level39, a co-working space in the heart of London. Drop by our office for a chat.

In Q4:

  • Proudly launched 4 of our client’s white-label platforms!
  • Took home the Best of Show award at Finovate Africa. This would be our 2nd win in Finovate competitions.
  • Before ending the year, we moved out of Lattice 80, a co-working space, and into our own Bambu office on Shenton Way. A perfect space that we can call our own and cater to the growing numbers in our company.

Numbers

  • Working with 13 global clients on delivering a robo-advisory platform for the end-customers
  • Current have offices in Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom and Hong Kong
  • A strong and growing team of 42 individuals covering across all teams

Video credit to: Bangkok Bank

An interview with Bangkok Bank Innohub
Bangkok Bank (BB): Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ned Phillips (NP): I’m Ned Phillips, CEO and founder of Bambu. I came out to Asia about 30 years ago. Grew up in Scotland and came to Asia with a one way ticket with a one month plan. I lived in Hong Kong for 14 and Singapore for 15 years where I worked in finance and technology industry.

Bangkok Bank (BB): So what started Bambu?
Ned Phillips (NP):I was a consultant to various Fintech companies, one was a robo advisor in Hong Kong. They were B2C selling directly to customers – In that one year, we must have had 20-30 calls from banks asking if they would sell software to them (banks). We said no. and when you say no 20-30 times when people are calling you up asking you for something. I said to my wife one time, I think I should do this.

Bangkok Bank (BB): What does Bambu do?
Ned Phillips (NP): In the next generation, everyone would save and invest in a digital format. And we build that software. We build the actual design of it, do the analytics of it – based on who you are and how much you save and invest then we automate that process. The reality of it is, saving and investment is today, a fairly poor experience in the digital world and our innovation is making saving and investing an awesome experience in the digital world. So that is the innovation and also building a profitable company.

Bangkok Bank (BB): Can you tell us about getting the Series A?
Ned Phillips (NP): Creating ideas, execution, developing a platform and getting revenue from it and building a development and building a relationship with your investors. We have done three rounds of investing – 2 seed rounds and one series A funding. We are incredibly thankful for the people who have believed in us.

Bangkok Bank (BB): What do you see as a milestone for Bambu?
Ned Phillips (NP): In 12 months, we will be cash flow positive, and in 3-5 years we want to be the global leader in building robo – these digital saving and investing tools. Leaders are defined as having the most clients and most revenue. I’ll be 55 by then, if someone want to purchase my company, I can slowly retire. At the moment it’s too much fun so I wouldn’t leave it.

Bangkok Bank (BB): Why did you choose to apply for Bangkok Bank Innohub?
Ned Phillips (NP): We believe that Thailand would be a great market and the best way to get into a market is to build relationships with the leaders in the market. We knew Bangkok Bank is the leading bank and Nest has a great reputation. As a Singapore company coming to Thailand and being a new company, we knew this would be a really good platform for us.

Bangkok Bank (BB): What is the difference for Bambu before and after joining Innohub?
Ned Phillips (NP): The challenge for b2b companies would be finding the right person to speak to in a bank. There are tens of thousands of people selling robo advisors , blockchain or artificial intelligence. How do you find the right person or how do you know that Bank works? I think the Innohub taught us how to deal with such challenges. A lot of has changed in our company – the number of people and our products. After Innohub , we have learnt how to adapt to some of our potential clients and we have changed a lot of the way we do stuff.

Bangkok Bank (BB): What would you recommend to startups that will be joining Innohub?
Ned Phillips (NP): If you’re thinking about joining, join the program. Be open with everything that you have. Often startups would try to show you part of their product however come here and be willing to show everything you have. Be completely open, interact with the other startups and flexible as well. Overall, it was a great program and enjoyed it.

Interested to know more about our products? Reach out to us today at sales@bambu.co

Over the weekend Bambu employees Rohith, Xavier, Albert and Yi Fan came in 2nd runner-up at SG100-Nation-Hackathon which was held at Tanjong Pagar CC by SG100 Foundation. During the 2-day hackathon, the team created a CPF financial planner app to help working adult Singaporeans plan towards their retirement, children’s education, health, and housing goals. The platform is aimed to ensure Singaporeans are thinking ahead for their future, during every stage of life.

The problem statement was “Singaporeans do not know what, when and how to conduct financial planning for their retirement. How can we educate them to manage their finance and achieve financial security during their retirement”.

They took this opportunity to leverage on a common problem Singaporeans face – planning for their retirement. In fact, 47% of active CPF members do not meet their Full Retirement Sum by age 55. Our prototype app, RetireWise, aims to alleviate Singapore’s retirement planning problem by allowing users to visualise and plan their entire life journey up until their retirement.

Screenshots of RetireWise app (Prototype by the team)

RetireWise Highlights

  • Visualise your retirement journey: Have your financial journey planned out for you? Now you can instantly visualise your retirement goal, among others, and be able to work towards it.
  • Goal-based investing: Set your housing, education, health and housing goals, then let us plan how you can achieve those goals. Receive prompts to top-up your monthly contribution if your current contribution is insufficient.
  • Spare change feature: Let’s say you buy chicken rice for $3.50. We round it up to $4 and save the 50 cents change into your CPF account. Saving all the spare change that you don’t really think about can really add up and make a sizeable contribution to your CPF account.

Our Experience

The hackathon was held over a span of 2 days where they spent Day 1 brainstorming and Day 2 working on the prototype. Unlike other teams who spent time ideating on product details, they were able to come to a consensus fairly quickly. They knew from their experience at Bambu that their financial planning app had to be easy to use and intuitive to the user with robust capabilities behind-the-scenes.

On the last day, they completed their prototype and started building the pitch deck for the final presentation. The style of present was inspired from a particular pitch which CEO and founder of Bambu Ned Phillips presented at Finovate. With only 3 minutes to present their idea, they knew that clarity was key.

The hackathon was a rare opportunity to seek feedback on our solution from industry professionals and government representatives. With the opinions gathered, they are now even more keen to see our solution implemented in the near future. Overall, they thoroughly enjoyed the hackathon experience with employees/friends from Bambu.

If you want to find out more about the project or have other questions, get in touch with us at info@bambu.co

Bambu’s First Year Milestones – 2017

Today marks a significant milestone in our company as we celebrate our first year anniversary.  During our first year, we have been progressively growing by wining our first award, expanding the team, gaining development from an accelerator program and launching our first product in Asia.

Achievements

  • Winner of The Best Early Stage Startup Award at Next Money FinTech Finals 2017
  • Grown to a team of 12 members with expertise in Finance, Technology Engineering, Design Thinking and Business Development
  • Top 8 in SuperCharger 2.0 Accelerator Program in Hong Kong
  • Opened our first overseas office in Hong Kong
  • First B2B White Label product launched in Singapore on CONNECT by Crossbridge Capital
  • Raised USD$400K in seed funding
  • Sealed 2 contracts within first 4 months of establishment

“It’s the beginning of the journey for Bambu and I am so thankful to the people who have believed in me; the team members of Bambu who have joined me, the investors who have backed us and the clients who gave their trust and money to a start-up business. We won’t let any of them down and will continue to push as hard as we can to make this an increasingly successful business”, Ned Phillips, CEO and Founder of Bambu, comments.

Bambu’s founding team members – 2017
Bambu’s founding team members – 2017

L-R: (Top) Pierre Valentin, Shabber Abbas, Jerson John, Alex Conrad, Matius Hariman & Aki Ranin (Bottom): Laura Pereira, Violy Purnamasari , Ned Phillips & Madeline Pranatio

Missing: Qi Yu & Rohith Thatchan

Recently, Bambu announced a collaborative research programme into applications of Deep Learning and Neural Networks in Finance. These tools have an incredible potential in simplifying and automating financial processes, that are currently complicated and cost-prohibitive. Bambu’s dedicated research and development team offers over 50 years of experienced and are based across Australia, United Kingdom and Singapore.

Bambu is in a fortunate position to be an early leader in the field of digital wealth as finance is being reshaped all around us. “With our range of skills across finance, tech, wealth, and neural networks, we plan to lead the change in Asia by providing our customers with the best technology and products that we can offer”, said Ned.