Our word of the month this month is ‘convergence’. It’s a good word, mainly because no one is really quite sure what it means, and so we can set it to work in the way that suits us best.
And in the world of financial technology for advisers, what suits us best is to talk about the way the various different bits of tech advisers use are converging at a rate of knots, whether or not you want them to.
Exhibit A – and one which doesn’t get written about enough – is adviser back-office and customer relationship management (CRM) technologies. These systems are the very essence of plumbing – pipes to carry data (don’t worry, not going to push the metaphor too far) around the place with as few people noticing as possible. It’s not a glamorous corner of the world, and it’s one which advisers tolerate rather than love, in most cases.
But a bit of glamour did hove into view recently with the acquisition of Intelliflo by US fund giant Invesco. That is to say, Invesco looks after lots and lots of money. The physical stature of its fund managers cleaves, one suspects, to the mean.
Now we don’t know for sure what the purchase price was, but one or two outlets have been confident enough to print that it’s £200m, and that’ll do for me.
If that figure is right, it is more than Aegon paid for Cofunds (£140m or so) and more than Standard Life paid for Axa Wealth’s Elevate platform (believed to be £40m or less). To put it another way, a firm that does grunty admin for slightly less than a third of UK adviser firms is worth more than something in the region of £100bn of client assets.
So how can this be? It’s surely not because advisers love paying technology firms’ fees (advisers hate paying any fees in my experience). But it might be because of convergence.
Let’s take a step back in time for a moment and think about how it all plays out.
A decade or so ago we used to talk about the ‘battle for the adviser desktop’. I’ve written about it before in these hallowed pages: the short version is that platforms reckoned they could do so much for advisers that back-office systems would become redundant.
Back-office systems reckoned that this was total mince, and that platforms were getting ideas above their station and needed a good slap.
Fast forward to 2018, and it seems the back-office systems were right.
So what’s this got to do with convergence? Well, once you’re in the driving seat in terms of the everyday life of the adviser – which I think we know Intelliflo, Iress and their competitors are – you can start coming out of the back office and into the front.
All adviser CRM firms are interested in providing toolsets, client portals, enhanced reporting, regulation assistance (‘regtech’, if it please the court) and so on. Few examples exist so far of back offices really taking platforms on at their own game, but there really isn’t that much stopping them anymore.