Miles Donohoe

ALFI Conference Report: Asset management ripe for disruption

The disruption that technology has wrought on a number of industries has been well documented but so far the asset management industry has been relatively sheltered from the storm; however that may all be set to change over the next few years.

Attending the ALFI (Association of the Luxembourg Fund Industry) London 2017 conference last week in Westminster, regulation and technology were two key themes to emerge. Asset managers have already prepared for the introduction of MiFID II and PRIIPs in January 2018.

Yet a piece of regulation that has received little attention is PSD2 (Revised Payment Service Directive). In essence, the directive will enable bank customers to use providers other than their banks to manage their finances – eroding the loyalty that banks have held with their customers.

Apple already has Apple Pay and firms such as WhatsApp, Amazon and Facebook already have huge brand loyalty with customers utilising their services daily, so any easy-to-use payment platform launched by them would almost certainly be well received.

Enabling payments may be more of a concern for the banks rather than asset managers; but as a number of Chinese tech firms have shown over the last few years, once brand loyalty has been built, more disruption can follow.

Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba now has the largest money market fund in the world, overtaking JP Morgan, with $165.6 billion under management after it launched the Yu'e Bao fund (“leftover treasure”) that pooled spare money left in users’ accounts.

We Chat, China’s most popular social media platform, is already eying up European expansion – ostensibly to enable its Chinese customers to use payments methods they are familiar with whilst abroad; and enable European firms to sell into China. With a strong foothold in Europe, other services will surely follow.

These tech firms have innovated their business models to stay relevant to their customers and entrench themselves in their lives in a way that is seamless. While there is much talk about what can be done to encourage people to save more, particularly for their retirement, it is often centred on what consumers must do, rather than the provider.

Education is generally cited as the tool to drive change but as CEO of the Luxembourg House of Fintech, Nasir Zubairi, pointed out at ALFI, rather than financial services firms trying to bring customers around to their way of thinking, a different approach may be needed.

In fact, what may truly disrupt the market are those firms that adapt their business models to the way people live by bringing easy-to-understand and easy-to-access financial services products to their client base – thereby cutting out other providers.

As we have witnessed with a number of other industries, disruptors that truly succeed are those that communicate simply and make life easier for the customer. As sheltered as asset management has been from tech disruption so far, it is feasible that services such as Amazon Invest or FaceBook Money could start to eat away at their business.

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