It’s no mystery why the TV show Grand Designs is so popular, and a viewing experience I regularly enjoy as it’s a family favourite.
The outlandish projects, the ambition and Kevin McCloud’s taste in coats are all fun; but my belief is that, above all, people like seeing how these things happen.
Whether starting from scratch or from basic foundations, it’s fascinating to see how they realise the vision that had been set out.
One thing that always stands out is how the sight of the bigger picture is never lost (at least in the more successful projects).
In other words, it’s not about ceilings, windows, floor and doors. It’s about the way they all fit together to produce something that functions. The impressive design features might be the main reason for embarking on the project, but they are ultimately a by-product of the bigger picture.
The same can be said for the reasons why many firms adopt different technologies.
Most firms will cite the efficiency gains they can make from technology as the main reason for using it – and this obviously helps to build a viable business case – but there may be far greater gains to be made.
Efficiency has been perhaps the biggest driving force behind technology innovation and adoption over the past decade or so, in a range of industries.
By using technology to streamline and automate processes, firms can free up time to spend on the business of actually advising clients.
But efficiency is too often seen as an end in itself, when in reality it should be a natural outcome of a broader approach.
If your aim is to achieve marginal efficiency gains, that’s what you’ll get. If, on the other hand, your aim is to achieve better client outcomes by meeting their needs in the most efficient way that technology will allow, you’re likely to realise significant proposition gains. Efficiency will be improved as a natural byproduct of this.
The opportunities available to firms using technology as an operational enhancement have widened dramatically in recent years, as digital innovation has accelerated.
More firms now view digital solutions as having the potential to deliver a better service while making their business more efficient and meeting regulatory demands that are increasingly stringent when it comes to client data.
We know that our own expectations as consumers are evolving. Why should those of our clients be any different? If they can use their phone to control their central heating and lights and check what’s in their fridge from wherever they are in the world, they will likely welcome a much greater oversight of their financial affairs.
Open Banking will from January 2018 accelerate this process in financial services. It will allow consumers to share their data securely with banks and third parties, widen access to existing products, encourage more switching, promote engagement and help them manage their finances more effectively.
As consumers, we increasingly experience relationships with organisations and companies that are able to tailor their products, services and communications to our circumstances and preferences.
This is the world that advisory firms now operate in. Investing time and money in digital resources can be both a daunting and a rewarding endeavour, and greater efficiency can be a modest objective in that context.
Efficiency can be just one of many gains from looking at the bigger picture to achieve genuinely transformational change.
As with Grand Designs, this entails thinking strategically. If the answer to your question is 'greater efficiency', you might be asking the wrong question.
The question you might want to be asking is: 'How do we use technology to be the enabler that allows us to successfully execute our business model and deliver superior outcomes for clients?'
It might be a bit more long-winded, but answer it and the process will itself deliver efficiencies.
Several other questions will need answering along the way. Who are our clients and what do they want? Do we want to reach more clients or simply refine and expand our services to our existing clients?
Once you’ve identified your existing (and any target) clients and have some insight into their needs, you can set out more clearly how your proposition should look and develop and then build a roadmap that will get you there.
When you look at how to improve engagement with clients and demonstrate value, you’re entering the realm of personalisation, collaboration, openness, agility and connectivity.
Ultimately, it’s about having an ecosystem where the wealth manager or adviser can view and administer the entire client financial position, and where the client can also access and see everything you want them to.
As it stands, relatively few firms deliver that. Yet over the coming year, we can expect more firms to embark on that shift in focus from delivering efficiencies to driving better outcomes and value for clients.
The advisers who succeed in this new and increasingly complex environment will be those who understand the impact of major trends such as data, digital and mobile advice, and that digital isn’t just about improving processes.
Above all, it will be the advisers who are able to focus on aligning technology closely to their business models.
Richard Ross (pictured) is digital product manager at Iress.