The global wealth management industry, like many knowledge-economy sectors, was quick to shift to a remote-working model with the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020.
Technology helped to ease the pain of the rapid transition and, for the most part, companies around the world recorded consistent – even higher – productivity rates. According to The Wall Street Journal in a 22 August 2021 article, various surveys now show that “enthusiasm for remote work has only increased as the pandemic has stretched on”. This means that the longer a remote-working reality continues, the less likely it is that employees will want to return to a bricks-and-mortar office. However, for a people-facing industry like wealth management, is this necessarily a good thing?
Good move or bad idea?
For Anthony Palmer, Group Commercial Director at Carrick Wealth, the question of whether a wealth manager who works with you through a computer screen is good or bad comes down to client preference.
The Carrick international office in Mauritius has always met with clients using technology so when the pandemic hit, the firm had the experience to roll the business model out to the rest of their offices, explains Palmer. This remote-working model enabled advisors to have meaningful discussions with clients even though face-to-face meetings were impossible. Using Zoom or Microsoft Teams, it was possible to continue with business and usual and make use of paperless technologies, like DocuSign, to keep the wheels of wealth management moving.
Despite the obvious and tangible benefits that technology brings to the table, many clients in Africa still prefer to do business in person and, to be fair, so do a lot of advisors.
“We started off giving advisors a lot of freedom, but the reality is we all need to feed off the energy of an office,” admits Palmer. “Questions are answered and decisions are made a lot quicker when you are sitting together. Just having someone to bounce your ideas off is critical in our space, as there are a lot of options to consider and it’s imperative that decisions are not made in a vacuum when there is such a wealth of experience to draw from.”
On a personal note, Palmer admits that he’s far more productive without family distractions to side-track him or the fridge to offer temptations. His own pace of work is better supported in an office environment and his productivity reflects this.
How will Carrick Wealth’s approach evolve?
As a result of both personal insights from the recent past and discussions within the company, Palmer believes that a hybrid approach for different divisions of the business is likely to emerge. “Certain functions such as accounts and marketing have worked well from home,” he admits. “However, it is important to have daily and routine online interaction between these teams.”
As for the firm’s wealth management talent, Carrick Wealth appears to be in step with industry-wide thinking that technology should continue to be leveraged as a way of meeting with and servicing clients, while ensuring that valued face-to-face contact – both with clients and between Private Wealth Managers - is supported and encouraged.
What might the future hold?
Views are mixed on how the world of work will look once we emerge from Covid-19. Talking to The Wall Street Journal, Intel Corporation CEO Pat Gelsinger was, unsurprisingly, bullish about a tech-enabled future: “If you have a little blip, people go back to the old way. Well, this ain’t a blip…. There is no going back.”
In stark contrast, Wall Street banks such as JPMorgan and Goldman Sacks are firmly in favour of a return to the office. Forbes magazine, citing a Goldman Sacks memo, noted CEO David Solomon’s comments that remote working was not good for productivity and should not be regarded as ‘a new normal’. In a separate article, the New York Times quoted Solomon as saying: “We are focused on progressing on our journey to gradually bring our people back together again, when it is safe to do so.”
High on his list of reasons why a return to the office for financial services experts looks likely includes the collaborative nature of the industry and the need to foster an innovative culture. This accords with Palmer’s view. Ultimately, the wealth management world of tomorrow may look a lot more flexible than it did before 2020, but when it comes to full-time remote advisors, it seems a hybrid option may ultimately be the best option for both advisor and client.