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Wealthify deal fires the starting gun for the UK Robo Acquisition race

Aviva Wealthify.png

Today’s purchase by Aviva of a majority stake in Wealthify has significant implications for the whole UK robo advice community and wider personal savings market.

This move by the world's 12th largest insurer and a major asset manager is far more significant than the previous investment by LV= in Wealth Wizards and other UK robo deals. 

Aviva have a far greater degree of scale and partnerships that can be leveraged to the advantage of both businesses. Aviva have been a real leader in the digital revolution with the London digital garage having set the trend now being followed by many of their peers.

While the deal keeps Wealthify as an independent business located in Wales it provides Aviva with an opportunity to open many doors for the company and harness a slick platform designed to appeal to a constituency that thinks and behaves in very different ways to previous generations. From the Wealthify perspective they no longer have the constant worry about access to capital to grow, no small benefit.

Aviva already have a Direct to Consumer platform, built on FNZ technology for investors who are looking to go the DIY route to invest in a diverse range of funds. What they did not have up until now was a simple solution for those customers who do not want to spend large amounts of time managing their finances, but are seeking an easy way to invest for their future. 

It would be natural to expect Wealthify to move into pensions and Aviva’s knowledge in this area should be a major benefit.  Whilst they would be wise to let Wealthify develop their own pension product, using Wealthify technology to support their substantial workplace pension and auto enrolment proposition would also be a smart move. As I have identified elsewhere this week (a link to the column will appear here on Monday) there is a compelling argument for focusing the Pensions Dashboard project around millennial auto enrolment customers in the short term.  Adding the sort of execution capability Wealthify have to an Aviva Dashboard could deliver a powerful and compelling proposition to young savers.

I am not at all surprised by this move; the US market typically runs two to three years ahead of the UK in the digital wealth arena. With this deal Aviva are emulating BlackRock’s 2015 move for Future Advisor and Invesco’s 2016 Jemstep buy by acquiring robo firms early rather than build their own in order that they could quickly partner with other financial institutions and distribution businesses.

We have recently seen Blackrock make a substantial investment in Scalable Capital, the Anglo German robo firm, so Aviva are right to secure one of the more attractive firms available. There has been much debate of late around the cost of customer acquisition for start-ups with perhaps too much focus on the amount of money burned by Nutmeg who really had to break entirely new ground as the very first player of its type in the UK.

If you happen to have 9,000,000 consumers, as there are on My Aviva, you do not actually have to hit too high a conversion rate to start achieving some very worthwhile numbers 

This move will cause Aviva’s peers to question if they are now at a commercial disadvantage particularly when trying to build partnerships with building societies and other savings institutions.

It could also have a substantial impact on the asset management community. Do Aviva Investors have a significant advantage over their peers with an innovative new route to market? In my view the UK asset management community is for the most part failing to recognise the opportunity to leverage simple robo solutions which whilst a tiny percentage of the market today will have obvious appeal to the next generation of savers. 

There are unlikely to be enough robo advisers to supply demand from all the institutions who will wish to acquire one so they can maintain their competitive position. Primary players in this market will not want to be reliant on robos owned by competitors or others who may not always priorities their development agendas when it matters most. Unambiguous ownership will always settle such issues. 

Personally I can still see room for some Robo 3.0 start-ups emerging over the next year. Buyers will however need to have a clear understanding of what represents the good, the bad and the ugly in this sector if they are to spend their cash wisely. There are some that are very attractive targets and a few I would not want to go anywhere near.

This deal may also provide significant opportunities for Aviva to deliver other products such as life and personal lines insurance to the attractive Generation X and Millennial demographics targeted by Wealthify.

While the deal opens many opportunities the hard work is yet to be done and it will be at least 2 to 3 years before we can see the benefits reflected in Aviva results.

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