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About this blog

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull

There is an irony about the company I am working for. FinTech is this bright and shiny word that everyone has been focusing on for the past couple of years, yet it has been the stuff that our bread and butter has been made of for the past 21 years.

Finance & Technology Research Centre (F&TRC)’, was founded in 1995 and has been analysing the relationship between financial services and technology ever since.

Yes, FinTech is an actual THING (a global phenomenon) and not just an abbreviation for the name of my employer.

the Founder of F&TRC, Ian McKenna, is one of the UK's loudest, influential and highly revered FinTech commentators.

Ian has given me the green light to come out from under my keyboard and provide you with my personal anecdotes on ‘My week in WealthTech’.

(No our company is not changing it’s name to ‘Wealth & Technology Research Centre').

The team at F&TRC are currently launching www.digitalwealthinsights.com.  Apart from doing what it says on the tin, we aim to provide our audience with objective comparisons of automated financial service solutions in the UK and globally, alongside our informed analysis. We also comment on industry trends, lessons learnt and highlight any leading edge functionality we deem a cut above the rest.

I aim to share with you some behind the scenes informal insights into our analysis. I’ll include some insider tidbits, in-house views and anything exciting that I think might float the FinTech boat.  

Interesting (always)

Edited (sometimes)

Honest (crucially)

See www.digitalwealthinsights.com/blogs to follow our official insight and formal analysis of automated financial services in the UK.

Entries in this blog

Kerry Nicolaides

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull.

We all have a comfort zone at work. Topics which we could talk about until the cows come home.cow (resized).jpg

WealthTech propositions are my bread and butter, they sit very comfortably in my ‘safe place’.

A number of new tools, ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘machine learning’, and ‘deep learning’, have rapidly crept into the WealthTech space. 

These self-teaching systems are busy revolutionising many industries. WealthTech is no exception.

You need to ask yourself whether you want to jump on the train and work them into your ‘safe place’, or rather wait for the next train to pull in.

My fear with the latter is that you'll be late! 

It’s true that artificial intelligence has been around for decades, but for the majority, it’s something we have typically reserved for the latest James Bond movie.

These tools crop up regularly in our research. I talk in length to various proposition owners about how these technologies are being implemented.

 

More often than not, they are on their ‘to do list’ and still to be added to their roadmap.

“I’ll get back to you on that Kerry”

“We can’t disclose anything at the moment, but we’re working on it”

There is a lot of chatter about these innovative technologies. A few firms are already rolling out such services in the real world. It's these that I want to take a look at today.

 

To the majority of us, it’s something new. You need a certain level of skill to understand how it works. Your brain needs to tick a certain way.

It’s not always important to understand the inner workings of these technologies and algorithms. 

It is important however, to understand how they are going to change the way we design and deliver financial services.

 

Hedgeable 163059232.png

Every now and then I speak to an organisation which turns everything on its head. This is exactly what happened when we met Hedgeable.

They are primarily a technology company. Having successfully developed and deployed its own digital wealth platform in the US in 2009, the company decided to open up its architecture and partner with organisations across the globe.

The technology consists of four key open application programming interfaces (APIs).

Partner organisations will use these open APIs to form the infrastructure / back end of their digital wealth proposition. The API’s are available on a modular basis so you can pick and choose which ones best suit your business.

Hedgeable’s co-founder, Mike Kane, described the process as ‘plugging in’ their API’s into your existing framework.

Once you have the back end in place, you can add on a number of optional customer facing modules.  

One of these, being a truly fascinating artificial intelligence module.

The following video from the recent Finovate Spring conference gives a great feel for the system.

5dc44c04c26da3d42d92a33f7ecd33ff9ead7160

Hedgeable AI Lab

Digital Wealth Insights analysts are producing a more extensive analysis of Hedgeable’s functionality which will be available from this site shortly.

 

Abaka

We recently reviewed Abaka’s intelligent savings proposition targeted at employers looking to improve the financial wellbeing of their employees. (see their full review here)

What makes Abaka different from other workplace propositions is that its powered by artificial intelligence and delivered via both a mobile App and a chatbot called AVA.

This technology collates and translates the employee’s data to provide insight and nudges into their personal financial life. It also provides comparisons of their financial life against that of their peers or others with similar circumstances as themselves. 

 

Crucially, Hedgeable and Abaka are both LIVE physical propositions available to use in the UK today.

We are in an era where technology can take our data, read it, understand it, and provide us with proactive insights to make changes before reaching a particular unhealthy situation. 

Over the course of the next few months I’ll be looking at ways in which artificial intelligence is changing the way we develop and deliver financial services.

 

I highly recommend getting on the artificial intelligence train sooner rather than later. Step out of your comfort zone.

It’s incredibly exciting!

Kerry Nicolaides

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull.

vuvuzela (100px).pngNever has a term rung so true.  
 
Many loud, rambunctious and confident announcements have been made in the press and via social media the past six months about the launch of innovative, industry changing, kitchen sink inclusive, WealthTech propositions.

In the hope that a new proposition will be well received and communicated to our audience, we are approached by these organisations, with much gusto, and told of the wonders of their tools.

 

That’s not how we roll.

 

When it comes time to lift the actual bonnet and start our review, the process is promptly placed ‘on hold until further notice’.

Why?

Is there nothing to show for all the chatter?

 

A particular favorite of mine, are the three savings or budgeting applications that I downloaded onto my mobile last year which claim to automatically assist you find various savings.

Still pending!

Large traditional institutions have called in with incredible enthusiasm, announcing the imminent launch of their very own robo adviser. When it comes down to the details, suddenly everything goes dark. 

 

Readers with roots in Africa, will relate when I liken these propositions to the feathered phenomenon, the Hadeda bird (Football fans may identify more closely with the flying vuvuzela!)

 "haa-haa-haa-de-dah"   hadeda.jpg

'Marketed but not yet launched’ is the official standpoint.

‘Jumping the gun’ or ‘all talk and little action’ may be a couple of ways to explain it, but my gut tells me that neither of these is typically true.

 

Understandably, it’s important to create interest, establish positioning, grow your beta community, engage the industry and entice investors.

Equally, we are talking about a regulated environment here, so crucially you would have to get your compliance on point.

 

I wonder however, whether this premature marketing launch instead harms a proposition’s first impression and opportunity to capture their target audience.

From my perspective, I can't help but feel disappointed and slightly skeptical. 

Importantly, I'm not talking about the odd hadeda here and there! I'm talking about a full on flock of these big flappers.

 

Vaporware assumes that the organisations making these announcements have no intention of actually releasing the tech / functionality any time soon.

Again, my gut tells me that this is not the intention, but rather a cautionary trend within the UK industry.

 

We simply seek perfection before taking that first step.

 

Please, don’t miss the boat!

Waiting for the perfect product could take months or even years. Each month that goes by, another few propositions are launched, taking a chunk out of your target audience.

Get the fundamentals right first. Absolutely. But then go for it!

 

Introducing new and improved functionality as and when you have it has many advantages:

·      An agile development process can be exciting for users.

·      It shows them you are continuously adapting and evolving.

·      You can change your priorities according to demand and not a deadline.

·      It will force you to innovate from within more regularly.

 

Be honest with your audience. Tell them what is coming. Tell them how you are building things to benefit them. Ask them for help and then tell them you listened. Reward them for their loyalty.

 

People like honesty. Approach your users with your cards on the table. You will be giving them a reason to stay.

 

That better day may never come.

Your competitors are already leaving the harbor.

Stand up. Be present. Be brave. Own it.

 

Launching a half-baked proposition today without all of the ‘bells and whistles’, may put you in a better position than if you waited for that perfect bake.

Kerry Nicolaides

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull.

"I've got this" - my final thought before I walked out my front door and faced the day we launched http://www.digitalwealthinsights.com/

At F&TRC usually they come to us. They pay us. They ask us to help them 'fix it', 'build it' or 'measure it'. 

Not this time!

With our new service we went to them. We told them. We are going to 'review it', 'compare it' and 'rate it'!

I must give credit where it is due. 90% of organisations opened their doors and welcomed us in.

They were proud of what they had created.

Analysing a single proposition from the ground up, including the size of their underwear, teaches you a hell of a lot about it.

Analysing multiple propositions, teaches you about the industry.  It identifies trends, and offers up valuable perspectives from numerous angles.

Yes, it's our intention to share these with you!

The brief for Digital Wealth Insights is to be thorough.

The objective is to provide unbiased, constructive and honest analysis of each proposition we select.

Above all else, it had to be accurate! 

Each review was sent back to it's 'owner' to welcome challenges, debate reasoning, and check against accuracy.

Many an hour I sat with bated breath waiting for the phone to ring, or my inbox to beep with messages from irate founders, cheesed off developers, and maniacal MDs.

If you want to run with the 'Big Dogs' you've got to learn to take a pee in the long grass! Right?

Right!

'Difficult' conversations are now par for the course, a daily hazard of my day to day job.

Or so I thought.

Instead what I found was intelligent debate, gratitude for the transparency, and acceptance of our measures.

It is safe to say that there is no ‘one size fits all in FinTech!’

I’ve met with;

  • Individual entrepreneurs who have put their heart, soul and life savings into their passion to help other people. 
  • Industry giants with years at the helm looking to modernise their offerings.
  • Groups of friends / colleagues who have pooled their crazy high IQ’s and mind boggling skill sets, into providing a service for the ‘people’
  • Technology gurus who have been building bridges and plugging holes all over the industry. So much so, that they now have a full suite of functionality to offer their own standalone product. 

As an analyst of UK WealthTech propositions, I’ve picked up a few overarching pearls of wisdom these past few months: 

  • Showing excellence doesn't necessarily mean having all the bells and whistles. It's also an attitude, a drive, and a commitment to achieving something that actually makes a difference. 
  • Most WealthTech players are heading in the same direction. If you want to stand out from the crowd, think of delivering the ordinary in an extraordinary way. 
  • Options, always give the end user options. We are not all cut from the same cloth.
  • Customisation is a USP. The ability and depth of customisation is crucial for customer longevity.
  • Simple, keep it simple. (Do offer the complicated option, but keep it simple first).
  • Education breeds security. Security breeds contentment. Contentment breeds longevity. Longevity breeds a well-funded bottom line. It all starts with education! 
  • The foundations are well and truly down! Where is the innovation? 
  • Don't get comfortable. I get it. You want to make sure you perfect your current proposition. But don't lose sight, keep up, innovate from within. (Before someone innovates for you)
  • The opportunity is there. It's everywhere. 

Digital Wealth Insights was launched with an initial set of 20 propositions:

case studies.png

Each week we will be adding more proposition reviews to the service.

The next week we plan to look at Abaka and Intelliflo’s automated advice process.

As more trends, facts and figures emerge we intend to share these with you through our various ‘Digital Wealth Insights’ social media accounts.

To see a summary of our analysis identifying the areas of strengths and where we believe there is scope for improvement visit http://www.digitalwealthinsights.com/  (This does require you to register to the service to gain access to our free summary of each proposition). 

Further detailed analysis of the various propositions can also be accessed via this link. However, please note there is a subscription fee for the additional level of information.

Kerry Nicolaides

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull.

 

It was time!

 

To take on the PFM’s (Personal Financial Managers)

 

Personally, I've been most excited to get stuck into analysing these as they are best placed in helping me manage my family’s ‘financial baggage’.

(By baggage I’m really referring to the husband’s constant care and attention for his bicycle)

 

Wikipedia defines Personal Financial Management as:

 

Software that helps users manage their money. PFM often lets users categorize transactions and add accounts from multiple institutions into a single view. PFM also typically includes data visualizations such as spending trends, budgets and net worth.”

 

Many PFM’s in the UK can hold their hand up high in chanting “Yes we can!” “Yes we do!”

 

But is this really enough?  

 

This week I signed up and aggregated all of my banking / credit accounts with four of the UK’s direct to consumer PFM’s.

 

www.moneyhub.com

www.moneydashboard.com

www.moneymojo.co.uk

www.pariti.com (Totally missed the ‘name yourself money’ memo)

 

A full review of each proposition can be accessed shortly via www.digitalwealthinsights.com.

 

I’ve been biding my time waiting for the perfect moment to introduce the husband to an objective 3rd party which would inadvertently point out his obscene spending on all things bicycle related. 

 

Other positives I’ll be seeking include;

 

·       What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine, what’s ours is (mi..) ours.

 

·       No longer would amazon purchases be unaccountable to a specific individual (“It wasn’t me”).

 

·       A centralised platform would mean a reduction in arguments about whether my hair cut constitutes as ‘personal spending’ (i.e out of my own personal account) or ‘joint spending’ (i.e out of our household spending account).

 

·       A mechanism to encourage us to eat at home more often (health, weight and budgeting benefits to be gained here).

 

·       Something, anything to help us (him) stop wasting money on unnecessary items.

 

·       Redirect budget reductions towards short term savings goals we can enjoy as a family. (age-defying botox for mid-30s mom of a toddler)

 

You get where I’m going… Simplicity! Cohesiveness! Clarity! Answers!

 

PFM’s have the power to significantly help the end user make positive changes to their ultimate ‘bottom line’ today, and better prepare them for longer term savings.

 

My experience in analysing these propositions in the UK is that the majority are not honing in on that power (yet).

 

PFM’ing is not relaxing.

 

No matter the level of automation or real-time updates, all four PFM’s required a significant amount of manual interaction from myself. (I assume this will continue for an initial phase whilst the PFM learns more about your spending categories and establishes trends)

 

Whilst aggregation and automated categorisation accounts for a majority of the data, it is important that it is personalised and checked for it’s accuracy by the user.

 

Worryingly, no two PFM’s of the four I analysed produced the same output (in any respect).

 

One thing they did agree on, was that the ‘financial baggage’ in our family could be closer to home than I thought. (oops – sorry husband)

 

A well delivered PFM provides you with an overview of where you are now, how you got there, and what to expect going forward based on historical trends. Some offer the ability to use these insights to set goals and change trends.

 

Our ‘Digital Wealth Insights report’ provides our full analysis and identifies who of the four PFM’s is the clear front runner.  

 

This PFM provided access to real-time budget management, high levels of accuracy of it’s automatic categorisation, the ability to create personalised forecasts, and the creation and tracking of spending goals.

In addition it offers simple personalisation and great visuals of your income, expenditure and forecasting.

 

Will I continue to use either of the four PFM’s analysed this week?

 

Honestly, I’m not sure.

 

The question I ask myself is, do they help me solve any of my personal ‘financial baggage’?

 

In part, yes.

 

But it’s not enough to make a difference.

 

(Besides, I need to spend a bit of time reducing my spending at certain retailers first, before introducing the husband to the objective 3rd party!).

 

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be turning to the Business to Business market and the likes of Intelliflo, moneyinfo and AON’s Big Blue in search of a PFM that can make a difference.

 

Adding value through tools such as micro savings, debt managers (not just consolidators) and smart spending to actively engage their end users in physically making changes is how you put the power into PFM.

  

Watch this space.

 

See http://www.digitalwealthinsights.com/ to follow our more detailed insights and analysis of automated financial services in the UK.

 

 

 

 

Kerry Nicolaides

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull

 

Nothing quite wakes you up like the dark mirrored recesses of Soho's Groucho club (inclusive of lewd phallic images on the walls) first thing on a Monday morning. Although Shawn Brayman (President & CEO of globalcash flow planning software supplier PlanPlus and the new miPlan+ robo advice engine) came close with his opening statements during the Algos4Robos seminar hosted by Finametrica.

 

"A new Robo-advisor is launched every three days in the US"

Say what!!! 

My initial instinct was 'panic'. That’s a lot of robos! It's my day job to analyse and identify the merits, fouls and trends of robots and similar services around the world providing financial advice and guidance. 

 

Actually it's great news. Great for the consumer, great for innovation, great for competition, great for me (I should have a day job for quite a while longer), and great for the UK. We tend to follow US trends quite closely, identifying what does and doesn’t work (my job), and learning from their mistakes.

What really stood out from their demonstration at first glance, was their approach to ensuring that the automated advice process was actually suitable for each individual client.  They recognise that there can be a scientific approach to automated investing but that automation also needs to be able to recognise when scientific academics don’t suit. They prefer to nudge the user to communicate with a person with professional judgment instead.

Paul Resnik, Director and Cofounder of FinaMetrica, is no stranger to building software across the World. His experience has taught him that common US FinTech mentality is to deliver as much as they can, as long as they deliver it today.

The UK’s approach is rather to sit on it, wait until everything is in place, double check, and then deliver.

 

If I had a pound for every time I heard “can we postpone your analysis of us until said date”, I’d only be needing a half-day job.

 

This week highlighted two British organisations who have put in the man hours and clearly spent a lot of time developing a robust set of functionality, with the end-consumer  at the heart of the proposition.

 

It was great being British this week!

 

I put Moneybox (www.moneyboxapp.com) and Wealthify (www.wealthify.com), who are both offering non-advised investment propositions in the UK, through our full analysis process this week. Look out for our benchmarking summary soon

 

Moneybox has been a big in-house favourite amongst the DigitalWealthInsights team since its launch in August this year. It’s been one of the very few propositions to incorporate micro savings into it’s proposition. I myself saved £94 over six weeks into my ISA simply by rounding up all my spending to the nearest £1.

 

Wealthify has a very effective, streamlined and engaging customer journey. It also incorporates a unique socialisation technique through the use of it’s member ‘circles’. I believe Wealthify is in the front row of organisations leading the way to lasting customer longevity.

 

I’d have no problem recommending either of the above to my friends and family.

 

I found myself schmoozing, shoulder to shoulder, with suited and booted fund managers at the London Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

 

Novia hosted an event on the merits of investing in ETFs and at the same time introduced Copia, a subsidiary of theirs offering an investment range using 100% of ETFs.

 

I'm pretty confident that I’d smash a pub quiz now on the difference between a tracker fund and an ETF.

 

Some interesting data (and numbers almost as big as pie came from the event). For my purposes it was encouraging to see how automated advice propositions were ahead of the platforms in leading the way to offering lower cost ETFs to their clients. 

 

The week ended with my first rodeo at a chatbot bootcamp hosted by Personetics. 

 

The bot landscape is already substantial. Did you know there are already 35 000 chatbots integrated with Facebook.  

 

I’d seen all the adverts about Amazon Alexa, well she is a bot as well!

 

The UK doesn’t rate it very much at the moment but let’s give her a break, she is the first of her kind. It’s possible that Google will have a similar bot out just in time for Christmas.

 

2017 is going to be the year of the Bot.

 

Is the bot going to start becoming another member of our family?

 

In fact, after seeing all the 'bot action' on Friday, it's pretty conceivable that a proactive cheeky little bot will be shouting at you from the fireplace in your lounge, telling you that you shouldn’t have had that extra drink at the pub quiz last night, but rather put it towards your ISA!

 

It’s the potential of the bot that I can’t get off of my mind this week.

 

See http://www.digitalwealthinsights.com/ to follow our more detailed insights and analysis of automated financial services in the UK.

Kerry Nicolaides

Honest. Constructive. Objective. No Bull

Born in the early 1980s, I’ve been comfortably sitting on the fence between Gen X and Gen Me (Millennial), falling whichever way I need, depending on whom I’m speaking to.

I’m having to learn to speak to people of all ages, less or more (or much more) intelligent than myself and with differing levels of corporate experience.

This week has taught me a lot about the ‘true millennial’.

  •          Fast thinking and fast to commit. They literally have no bureaucratic red tape to cross whatsoever (which is refreshing).
  •          They suck you dry of information,  providing very little in return (which is clever).
  •          They are brave (which makes them a threat). 
  •      They began their journey with a perfectly clean sheet, devoid of any legacy systems (which means they have no preconceived baggage)
  •        Instead of perpetuating established businesses' preconceived customer journeys they are truly innovating new ways to engage with financial services (which they believe will give them customer longevity).
  •         They don’t call you back! 

Each day I focus on a single automated proposition and analyse everything about it. Wherever possible, I physically try it out for myself. I measure it against a set of core components and functionality. I speak at length to the developers and founders about how it came about, their route to market and what their plans are for the future.

Here is who stood out for me this week: 

Mulalo

The founders of http://mulalo.co.uk/ really made me stop, look up and listen.  Mulalo is a FinTech start-up soon to be releasing the beta version of their savings app. The Founders, Matt Pritchard and Julian Bourne are straight out of University, buzzing with excellent ideas, hungry to learn, and driven to provide a financial experience to their users based on their own need to find a better way to save.

Not only did these true millennials call me back, but their passion to build a service which would actively help users save money on a daily basis is why I would put Mulalo on my list of ‘who to watch’ in 2017.

Simples

Switching over to Insurance, www.my.simples.uk.com has an exciting proposition currently in beta where they have incorporated ‘machine learning’ algorithms and a chatbot to provide their users with a platform that aggregates their general insurance policies. It presents the key information back to the user in a format which is easy to understand.

The idea behind this is to increase the user’s understanding of what they are covered for, and ultimately ensure that they have appropriate / sufficient cover in place.

As the user interacts more and more with the service, it is expected that their customer experience will improve as the machine learns more about them.

To assist engagement, Simples has implemented a ‘chatbot feature’ which enables users to text Simples on-the-go to request instant up to date policy information as and when the need it.

Whilst the service is still in it’s infancy it is making great waves into the insurance market by helping the end consumer better understand and manage their insurance portfolio.

Simples is looking to expand their services to the wider industry including energy suppliers, health insurers and mortgage providers.

I can't help thinking how this could potentially benefit the Protection industry by providing some much needed clarity and simplification on complex issues such as policy conditions. 

 

Some of the people I'm catching up with next week include Moneybox, Planplus, My Future Now and Wealthify.

(No millennial start-ups in the diary as yet, as they still haven't called back)

Keep an eye out for the list of who floated my FinTech boat. 

See http://www.digitalwealthinsights.com/ to follow our more detailed insights and analysis of automated financial services in the UK.