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Hybrid advice - combining the best of both worlds

Nicolas de Skowronski, Head of Wealth Management Solutions & Member of the Executive Board, talks about how shifting client expectations are pushing private banks to accelerate their innovation cycles, the potential of hybrid advice, and why he does not see pureplay robo-advisors as a big threat in higher wealth segments.

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Nicolas what is your view on hybrid advice, and why is it an important topic?
We need to be clear what we are talking about. Increasingly we see robo-advisors offering clients the possibility to talk to a human contact to help them set up what is essentially an ETF portfolio on autopilot. This is not hybrid advice, in my opinion. For us as a wealth manager, ‘advice’ means supporting clients to make investment decisions by taking into account individual situations and requirements. 

What are the specific trends that are shaping this development?
The most relevant driver is heightened client expectations. High net worth clients expect both a dedicated human relationship manager as well as sophisticated digital tools and capabilities. This goes beyond ‘channels’ providing access to transactions – it is more about content; clients expect to be provided with investment ideas that are relevant for their specific portfolio at that particular moment rather than generic, one-size-fits-all recommendations. In the past, we relied solely on relationship managers to provide this tailoring. Today, we take inspiration from recommendation systems on streaming services such as Netflix to analyse transaction data and come up with meaningful suggestions.

The net benefit is that relationship managers augmented by technology can spend more time with clients.

Nicolas de Skowronski

Speaking of digital channels, do you envy FinTechs for their user interface?
From a usability perspective, FinTech solutions often have an edge. As a consequence, Julius Baer is in the process of adopting Agile methods – not only for software development, but for our entire ‘change-the-bank’ activities, including business projects and resource allocation. This will allow us to enhance the client experience by focusing on ‘client journeys’, prioritize innovations which matter the most, and accelerate the delivery by decreasing wait times.

Are you afraid of losing clients to robo-advisors, particularly the younger ‘digital natives’?
No. Regardless of age and level of digital affinity, the needs of a HNWI or UHNWI go far beyond the offerings of robo-advisors. At Julius Baer, we offer over 40,000 financial instruments, we have Wealth Planning experts who can help with complex international issues, and we provide bespoke credit and structuring solutions. More importantly, we have a professional and integrated investment process. Meeting the performance and risk objectives of a client is of crucial importance. In particular, in volatile market periods it is better to rely on the expertise and guidance of a dedicated Chief Investment Officer and Research team than on a simple automated process.

Lastly, it is not only about capabilities but also about delivery and the experience. You can’t compare high-end luxury goods with supermarket products, neither in terms of price nor quality. In addition to offering a comprehensive range of services and solutions, we offer a personalised high-end experience for our clients.

Are you happy with the Hybrid Advice offering at JB? Or is there more work ahead?
There is always more work ahead and we can always be better, however, we have made a good start. In recent years, we have succeeded in digitising our advisory business – we provide advice but investment decisions are ultimately made by the client. For discretionary mandates – where the bank manages the assets on behalf of the client – we are now enhancing the offering, increasing automation and developing customisation features. Ultimately, we want to bring the advisory and discretionary worlds together using a fully modular architecture: Some clients are happy to delegate the management of assets but want a say in the strategic allocation. Other clients may want to pick stocks themselves while relying on the Bank to manage their fixed income portfolios. We need to ensure that we can help clients select the approach that best suits them.

Do you think that is the future of wealth management?
Yes and No.

Yes, because what I have described still needs some work, and because we will see many players in the industry moving into this direction.

No, because it doesn’t stop there. I mentioned Wealth Planning. Reconciling the professional activities and the international lifestyle of our clients with tax laws, social security systems, inheritance laws and so on is highly complex and reliant on delicate conversations. We wish to enhance the profiling and navigation of solutions to a point where we can provide the most impact for our clients in a faster, more convenient way with even better outcomes.

Ultimately, for private banking clients, the bottom line will be the quality and availability of a full set of services that meet their needs and desires. Scaling and price differentiation are important, but not the only criteria. What’s the point of a great shoe at a nice price if it doesn’t fit the foot?

The Future of Wealth Management

This interview is taken from the 2021 ’The Future of Wealth Management’ report, published by Redesigning Financial Services.

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