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June 1, 2020updated 03 Nov 2020 9:15am

Is distance bringing relationships closer?

By Patrick Brusnahan

With the coronavirus pandemic limiting the amount of in-person contact, a key tool of the private banker, you would think the industry could struggle. In fact, it has found other options and might be starting to thrive. Despite distance, relationships are holding strong

As trite as the phrase has become, the sector is entering a “new normal” as it remains in contact with its clients. Arguably, the move towards more digital services was inevitable, but now digital is inarguably here.

Long distance relationships

This has come at no engagement cost to private banks. In fact, according to a report from Oliver Wyman and Morgan Stanley, digital interaction has increased for leading wealth managers. In some case, it has increased tenfold during the pandemic.

Furthermore, digital research consumption has gone up by four or five times and there has been a three or four times increase in client-facing webinars. Virtual client meetings have either doubled or tripled in number at leading wealth managers.

The report stated: “The market turmoil prompted by Covid-19 has highlighted the clear value clients place on high-quality human advice. Even prior to Covid-19, more than 85% of HNW investors polled in a proprietary Oliver Wyman survey said they valued the ability to talk with an adviser, versus less than one third who valued advice delivered via robo-advisers. The surge in complexity, diversity and urgency of client requests during Covid-19 has only underscored the value of having access to human advisers.”

However, private bankers cannot rest on their laurels. While digital has helped during a strange situation, they should not revert to “business as usual”. Customers will continue to want interaction in all of its forms and firms should lean into omnichannel, rather than favouring the traditional.

The report added: “Wealth Managers need to develop a clear channel strategy that reflects the client personas they serve, including their needs and channel preferences, and prioritize actions to improve the client experience accordingly.”

The research found that mobile apps by wealth mangers are updated only half as frequently has retail banking apps. Furthermore, only 20% as frequently as digital-only challengers.

As margins are putting under strain, a full digital transformation may be unfeasible, but a digitally-focussed strategy needs to be made. Prioritising use cases that are the most valued and engaging for clients is the way forward.

Despite gaps of hundreds of miles, some clients are feeling closer to their relationship manager than ever. If private banks do not keep up the momentum with digital services, they will lose business to someone ready to meet clients whenever are wherever, especially if wherever turns out to be on the other side of the world through a laptop screen.

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