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The future is digital: business must streamline to survive

The future is digital: business must streamline to survive

A new lexicon: words and phrases that very few of us had heard of are now part of everyday language. 

Coronavirus. Covid-19. Lockdown. Furlough. Social distancing. New normal. And let’s not forget Zoom, Teams or remote working, either.

But it is not just a new vocabulary; it is a whole new way of life.

A recent BBC article quoted M&S chief Steve Rowe, who suggested that customers “may never shop the same way again” after the crisis.

Key Points

  • Some things may change quite dramatically following Covid-19.
  • It may be a bit premature to sound the end of the office.
  • Companies have to be digitally ready.

As Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, observed: “Covid-19 has accelerated lots of consumer trends and it may just be the catalyst required to accelerate Marks and Spencer’s transformation into a 21st century retailer. In particular, it looks as though M&S has learnt just how important online is.”

The impact on financial services may be just as profound. Technology and online services are playing a crucial role during lockdown — financially, socially and mentally. As the brakes are slowly released, some of the changes we are witnessing may last well beyond Covid-19.

Here are four technology-based trends that could become part of the ‘new normal’.

The move to online client meetings and purchases

In the past, many advisers resisted the idea of video communication, adamant that meeting in person was the only way to build rapport, develop relationships and do business.

That resistance crumbled in the wake of lockdown and, in conversations I have had with a range of businesses, productivity has increased for many people, including some advisers.

Prediction: while face-to-face will return, there will be a shift among larger, vertically integrated companies where the opportunity to drive efficiencies, productivity and profitability will not be missed.

There will be an increase in ‘relationship’ video calls rather than in-person visits, with more use of shared client/adviser portals and integration to open finance data sources.

Robo-advice capabilities will be increasingly accepted and incorporated into advice companies’ propositions to increase capacity and improve consistency.

Simply being ‘digital’ will not, however, guarantee success. Offering a value proposition that matters, engages and is compelling will be the difference between the winners and the losers.

Across some 200 individual digital solutions that Altus tracks, those that survive will fall into two distinct categories:

• broader customer-facing propositions where human support is available, to reassure, guide and, where necessary, to advise;

• technology suppliers that have honed their business-to-business solution to provide a modern, streamlined capability to companies in need of a tech upgrade — whether that be to provide a direct-to-consumer proposition, or increasingly, to provide the tech that advisers can use.

Remote working and location strategy

I recently had a video meeting with the managing director of a large advice company based in the City. With the twin drivers of advisers forced to adopt remote working and a need to reduce overheads in response to Covid, office costs are under significant scrutiny.