Former Coutts head of digital explains how relationship-centric firms can drive digitisation

08/10/2018 News Team

 In a world characterised by ever increasing competition, regulation, technology disruption, margin pressure and evolving expectations, firms must fight to “stay relevant” to the clients they serve. And this challenge “can be most acute for companies where relationships, often intergenerational, are a cornerstone of their business model”, Joe Norburn, executive advisor at Recordsure, Temporall and Upgrade Pack told the audience at PAM Insight’s third annual eprivateclient Accountancy Dinner. 

Prior to his current roles, Mr Norburn worked at Coutts for six years, where he led the firm’s digital, innovation, business development and client experience activities. 

Firms that serve the private client sector “aren’t always associated with innovation and transformation”, yet with “new kids on the block” change is needed to remain competitive while staying true to their brands and what has made them successful over the years. Mr Norburn continued that “trusted advice will remain core to the client proposition”, but “digitisation is reshaping the work and focus of an adviser”.

With “so much that you could do to meet these challenges, what should you do?”. “And how can a relationship-centric business drive digitisation successfully?”. Mr Norburn highlighted six pieces of “common sense advice” he would give himself if he could go back in time to before he started at Coutts.

1. “Solve meaningful problems”. Whatever a company does it must be hard-lined to the wider strategy of the firm and its ambitions for clients. It’s about making the overall boat-go-faster, not just digital for digitals sake. Seeking input from others, getting buy-in and communicating what you plan to do is, of course, critical. Set stretch KPIs; what gets-measured-gets-done.

2. “No fluff”. Don’t fall into the trap of vanity projects. Build a coherent and considered roadmap, linked to the strategy. Chunk it up and get runs-on-the-board to build momentum with both clients and internal stakeholders. Test, learn and evolve and don’t be afraid to course-correct if needed. 

3. “Optimise before you digitise”. A pig with lipstick is still a pig. Get the foundations right before you digitise anything, especially data models. It’s key to scaling effectively, unlocking cost and process inefficiencies and creating time for clients and for advisers to focus on value-adding activities. Obsess about the user experience in the end-to-end process, remembering that colleagues are users too. If it doesn’t work for them, they won’t adopt and embrace the change.

4. “Security really is the highest priority”. It’s not a soundbite. It can affect the share price and has real jeopardy for the firm. The CEO is now the accountable exec. Private client relationships are founded on trust; hard fought, but easily lost. Design-in great security. Think like the bad guys to identify vulnerabilities. Adopt layered based models, always think you haven’t done enough. Combine great technology, frictionless UX and client education. Make sure you have a play-book to drive action internally and externally…just in case something goes wrong in the future

5. “Remember it’s people that make things happen”. And “embrace the frontline”. Build multi-disciplinary teams. Look for team-playing mavericks and contrarians. Partner brilliantly, you can’t always do it yourself. Show the frontline RMs what’s in it for them. Most will rise to the challenge and use the additional time and capability to the benefit of clients and the firm. Traditional ways of working are likely to need to change, but it’s not all about labs with beanbags, barista’s and beards. 

6. “Establish a client sounding-board”. The client is the acid-test of what you do. Involve them from the get-go. You will find out things and get ideas that you will never have thought of. Be brave, you may not like everything you hear, but it is the voice of your customer. It’s not an abdication of decision making, nor the sole source of ideas. If you are confident in your strategy, business judgement, instinct and acumen remain critical to driving meaningful change.

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