Spring 2020 was “uniquely challenging” for Embark, its chief operating officer has said, as a result of its need to complete its acquisition of the Zurich platform during lockdown.
Phil Bungey, chief operating officer of Advance by Embark, told FTAdviser that while reflecting on 2020 would not be at the top of most people’s bucket list, it was warranted given it was a “year like no other”.
He said: “The global pandemic impacted all aspects of life, including the financial services sector.
“Advisers and service providers alike faced numerous challenges, whether that be the operational difficulties of constant lockdown, the sudden absence of face-to-face contact, or the unprecedented market volatility that characterised the early part of the year.
“For Advance by Embark, spring was a uniquely challenging period.”
Embark announced last November it would continue its expansion in the platform space with the acquisition of the Zurich platform.
By May 2020, the Zurich platform was rebranded ‘Advance by Embark’ after the group’s acquisition of the adviser platform completed.
The move brought £11bn of platform assets under administration and £600m of multi-asset funds to Embark, along with 130,000 advised clients.
Mr Bungey said: “It was by no means plain sailing, but I look back on this period with great pride and admiration for our team.
“Their commitment to exceptional service was a constant that saw us through each challenge, such as the unusually high call volumes that we unsurprisingly received in March — reaching nearly 8,500 in the month.”
Advance by Embark learned a number of key lessons throughout the period, Mr Bungey said.
The company was “reminded” of the importance of increasing communication both with employees and customers, particularly during periods of extreme dislocation, and accentuated the need to be technology-led.
It was this area Mr Bungey expected to see the most impact from during 2021, after the pandemic “jolted” traditional ways of thinking about the role and use of technology and “set the wheels in motion” for new opportunities.
In particular, the advice market was likely to see an enhancement in the interoperability between different devices — that is, ensuring better access and continuity between a client’s laptop and their mobile phones.
Mr Bungey said: “This will make life easier for advisers and consumers alike.
“Improvements in operability between devices will also be essential in tackling a sharp increase in cyber-risk, which is a result of our newly remote world.
“Technology will be harnessed to protect clients, especially vulnerable ones, against scams and fraud – providing more effective and efficient safeguarding.”
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