Compared to other walks of life, how much do you think investing will be affected by the increasingly digital world?
To borrow from Bill Gates I suspect we may overestimate the impact of digital on investing in the short term and underestimate the impact in the long term. And the length of the 'term' is probably 5-10yrs. In the shorter term digital's impact on investing is most likely around improved customer experience and services; in the longer term digital will have a much greater impact with disruptive new brands and propositions likely to emerge.
What can investing learn from other industries?
You may remember the "3 Cs" of the dot com boom days: content, community and commerce. They’re still useful as broad areas of competency in digital. So the sector most others look to for excellence in commerce is retail; for content and community it’s media and technology. And for cutting edge tech we mustn't forget porn and gambling of course! In terms of what can be learnt it is about excellence in a number of key areas: data, analytics and optimisation, content marketing, social, mobile, video.
More generally it is about being agile, being innovative, being able to change and adapt.
The theme for the conference is ‘keeping up with the customer’ – do you see areas where consumer behaviour is moving away from what companies are offering?
The customer is invariably ahead of organisations. Our expectations are set, and raised, by the last best experience we had. So we're all competing with Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and so on. So that's hard.
There are two areas in particular where I think consumer behaviour is way ahead of what companies are offering.
Firstly, mobile. Most companies have mobile-optimised their websites and email templates. But that is it. Meanwhile customers are massively adopting messaging apps, buying via their phones, managing their lives via various dedicated apps.
Secondly, around expectations of speed, including 'realtime'. Consumers want things now. We want to see the taxi driving towards us in realtime now thanks to Uber, we expect to know how busy a venue is right now thanks to Google, we expect things to be delivered near instantaneously thanks to Amazon, we expect to be able to chat with our bank straight away rather than get stuck in some call centre queue.
Financial services companies are generally in a place where they recognise the importance of ‘digital’ but feel they don’t know how to become more digital. How can they?
Fundamentally I believe being 'digital' is about being customer-centric. Look at the likes of Amazon or Google and you'll see an absolute obsession with the customer experience through their DNA.
Most large organisations, including financial services, have paid lip service to 'customer-centricity' for a long time. But it feels now like things are changing.
This takes some true acceptance, at the level of the board and shareholders, that focusing on the customer really is the route to profits and success, or at least survival.
If you achieve this real conviction then the next big battle is talent - attracting and empowering the right people. Those with a 'digital' mindset who embrace agility, data, and customer experience obsession.
The rest is 'just' execution. If most people are honest it doesn't take much to look at your own products or services and immediately see ways they can be dramatically improved, and not just digitally. So do it.
To what extent are marketing companies, like P&G or Amazon, on a digital journey of discovery or have they already cracked it? Do financial services companies deserve their digital insecurity complex?
I think there is an inverse correlation between digital maturity and media spend actually. The biggest advertisers in the world are, not surprisingly, pretty smart about digital media and advertising. But that is only part of digital marketing which is only part of 'digital transformation'. Most FMCG brands are very early in their journey for, say, ecommerce or direct-to-consumer digital models.
Should financial services companies feel particularly digitally insecure? Yes and no. Yes because we should all stay paranoid and insecure that we're not keeping up; no, because levels of maturity and excellence vary enormously across all sectors.
We’ve seen entire industries disintermediated by online technology. That hasn’t happened to retail investing but what can we learn from sectors where end consumers are now served more directly?
I think everyone in the value chain can, and should, up their game in digital. I have investments that are mediated by an IFA, then by an online platform, and then the underlying fund or shares. They do a variously okay job at each stage. But only okay. Each could be so much better.
That doesn't necessarily mean I'll cut out the intermediaries as they can still add value, digitally and physically, but I might.
New propositions could compete on lower prices through improved efficiency (in the same way as e-tailers are out-competing many multichannel retailers) and/or through better experiences and convenience.
Will the impact of digitalisation be most profound on the services offered to consumers or the marketing of those services?
Definitely the services themselves in the long term. Right now digital is being felt perhaps most immediately in the marketing. But I believe that marketing itself is changing so that there is a much greater emphasis on product/service design and optimising the customer experience. So increasingly the service IS marketing.
Some of the forward looking tech is great to see demonstrated but it’s hard to pick out the profoundly important trends. What do you see coming down the track that you think will be particularly significant to a range of different industries?
I'm not as excited about AR (Augmented Reality) or VR (Virtual Reality) as some. And I don't think IoT (Internet of Things) is likely to dramatically change most areas of financial services that soon. Self-driving cars (outside insurance) and robots similarly. Bitcoin is really interesting and I think will have a big impact in the long term but not just in financial services.
I think the big one is artificial intelligence. There are so many really useful applications of both specialised and generalised AI that means it will have a big impact across all industries, including financial services. To start with it may not be 'disruptive' changes but just doing a lot of things we already do but in a smarter, more intelligent, way. Better customer service through the intelligent mining of previous enquiries for example.
In terms of your own personal investment journey, can you pick out any areas that have changed as a result of digitalisation?
have an IFA and various investments that are largely managed on the Transact platform though I also use Hargreaves Lansdown and have some direct investments (in Fundsmith and shares I own in companies via an EIS for example).
There are two areas I can immediately see that could be dramatically improved:
Firstly the user interfaces, particularly on mobile, are still generally quite poor and getting the answers to seemingly simple questions is unnecessarily hard (e.g. what percentage gain/loss have my funds experienced over a defined time period?).
Secondly, I'm sure some basic application of AI and benchmarking data, could provide me with some insights that my IFA might not want to draw my attention to. Am I paying them too much? How well are they managing my money compared to others? Am I being too slow on certain transactions? Generally I think more of us might trust machines more than humans than we care to admit!