Growth drivers of financial services, Today and Tomorrow
It will be very difficult to not mention ‘Fintech’ when discussing financial innovation of today. The buzz word has captured the attention of the media and, in turn, the media has started a cycle of monetization (conferences, special reports etc). No doubt, financial technology will be a key growth driver for the industry as a whole and over a longer period of time. Financial services companies that have brushed it aside will likely suffer customer attrition, while those that have embraced it will attract more and more ‘mobile’ customers. Some thinkers speculate that new comers coming from outside the financial industry could oust big and slow incumbents, but that is a little too stretched. Finance is, at the very core, a ‘conservative’ industry. But even though ‘Fintech’ is here to stay, it won’t be the main driver of growth for the year at hand, 2015.
Having touched upon the hype of today, which innovation strategies will unlock the growth in the financial sector in 2015? The short answer is the innovation that has been happening at the core of innovative financial services firms, which is to acquire the execution capability to provide cross-border investment solutions and advice in the institutional space, while also providing the ability to replicate something similar for retail investors. These early movers will immediately reap the benefits and growth will come in the traditional forms of increased AUM and fatter fees, not tomorrow, but today.
Asia’s Institutional Appetite for Global Assets
There is much money in Asia that is looking for solutions to invest in global asset classes. China’s sovereign wealth fund CIC (China Investment Corporation) which holds assets of 652.7B USD (end of 2013) of which about 220B is invested in overseas assets, manages about 67% of this through external management. Those Chinese and global advisors who have invested in their network and relationship with CIC and Chinese decision makers will reap great rewards. CIC holdings grew a whopping 13% (77B USD in absolute terms) in 2013.
Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the largest of its kind in the world, manages some 137B JPY (1.14T USD, end of 3Q 2014). Its overseas allocation is 13.14% in global bonds and 19.64% in global equities. Recently, its decision to more than double its target allocation of foreign stocks to 25 percent, which came together with BOJ’s shocking decision to ramp up stimulus, was greeted with a world-wide equities rally. Again, those firms who had strategized before-hand and have come up with innovative solutions will stand to benefit.
NPS, the Korean national pension grew 10% in 2014 to 426B USD. Of the 42.9B USD increase, 20B was in global asset classes.
Recently, the Ministry of Employment and Labor of Korea, selected one lead manager to manage its 14B USD holdings. In the past, it used to directly apportion the holdings to about 10 different managers. In the new scheme, a single manager will be making the decision as to which asset manager will get how much, while the firm earns a fee on the total AUM for providing advice and risk management services. This ‘beauty-contest’ to decide which firm will lead was decided based on many criteria, of which allocation and execution skills were key.
Reduced home bias, a common trend for all Markets
In their Global Pension Assets Study 2015, Towers Watson calculated a 6.1% rise in the assets of the top 16 markets reaching a 2014 year-end total of 36T USD. During the last 10 years, the most rapidly growing pension markets have been Mexico (16.1%), Australia (11.7%), Hong Kong (10.0%), Brazil (9.7%) and Canada (7.3), when measured in US dollar terms. Since 1995 bonds, equities and cash allocations have been reduced to a varying degree while allocations to other alternative assets have increased from 5% to 25%. There is a clear sign of reduced home bias in equities, as the weight of domestic equities in pension assets portfolios has fell, on average, from 64.7% in 1998 to 42.9% in 2014.
Innovation of Core Competencies: How to execute is a strategic choice
As the most visible ‘smart money’ in each of the regions, SWFs and pensions have great impact on how wealth managers advise and HNWIs invest. Financial services firms all over the world, both local and global, both emerging and developed, will be competing for the patronage of not just institutional clients but also HNWIs.
Winners will have already answered critical strategic questions: Will it provide execution for all or part of the vast space that is global asset classes? Will it forge alliances or go it alone to create a platform for that chosen space? How much customization and dedicated personnel will it provide to the major SWF and pensions? How much, if at all, can this capability be replicated or mirrored for the retail clients?
Local firms have the clients, global firms have the execution capability. Fintech firms are providing easier and cheaper ways to reach both clients and execution platforms. The innovation challenge is huge: people, IT and networks. It is almost to the scale of reinventing the whole business process and value chain.
In the Now
This megatrend is not in the near future, it is in the here and now: 2015. Firms that innovated their old locally oriented models are experiencing growth. Those that think this is still a future event are quickly losing ground.