How curiosity leads to continuous improvement? StarTalers’ vision about the future of Asset Management and Robo-Advisory

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This article was previously published in AGEFI Luxembourg by Marie-Charlotte Renaux, Margaux Rudnicki and Frederic Lorain, consultants at Initio.

The Robo-Advisor market is getting more competitive showing the increasing interest from both institutional and retail clients for this alternative investment solution.

In the US market, competitors started a price war, leveraging on ETFs to benefit from favorable costs structures and maximized diversification in a profitable way. But here in Luxembourg it is worth noticing that competition is much more about proposing unique value and qualitative solutions.

As a consultancy firm specialized in change management in the financial industry, Initio decided to research this innovative topic and go beyond the internet in order to produce a dedicated White Paper. Hence a team of Initio consultants launched a survey in June to gather information from financial professionals and retail market players, about robo-advisory technologies. In order to complete their findings they chose to conduct a round of interviews of robo-advisory specialists.

 Among the 13 visionaries and innovators they had some brilliant exchanges with, they met with Gaëlle Haag, CEO of StarTalers, a robo-advisor dedicated to women. How exciting to meet the brain behind the robo-advisor and educational platform, aiming at becoming women’s best financial friend!

 What makes your robo-advisor unique?

 Figures are clear. “Only 10% of women invest in financial markets which results in 40% capital gap vs men at retirement”. But when you have the will to change things, no challenge is too big and Gaëlle is on a mission to close the gender investing gap.

 To stand out in the crowded landscape of robo-advisory, the startup decided to embody Gaëlle’s vision in a digital financial advisor and developed 4 competitive advantages:

 -        On-boarding through gamified financial education

-        Development of female investor community to reinforce the digital experience

-        Personalized investment advice using artificial intelligence (as opposed to delegated management)

-        Responsible investment universe advising only on sustainable investments based on independent research”.

 Gaelle Haag, CEO of Startalers (left) and Marie-Charlotte Renaux, Initio Consultant (right), when they met for the interview on 2018 Sept 27th

Gaelle Haag, CEO of Startalers (left) and Marie-Charlotte Renaux, Initio Consultant (right), when they met for the interview on 2018 Sept 27th

The recipe for success requires more than a vision

 The robo-advisory market is trying to answer the growing expectations from clients and traditional financial institutions to deliver a more personalized and accessible experience to investors. The digitalization of information has induced shorter information cycles, wider access to services, higher demand for instant interactions and established taste for customized offers. Taking into account the scarcity of time in modern women’s daily life, StarTalers is using robo-advisory technologies to solve both issues: time management and quest for independence. “We see an exponential interest from a large range of clients for digital offers able to fit their personal life ambitions and give them access to smart financial solutions. The key is to give the power back to clients and enable them to choose when, where, how and with whom they invest that precious time and money” explained Gaëlle during the interview.                                             

 Looking at how digitalization has transformed markets and overloaded many segments such as the Mobile Application market, newcomers in the digital advisory space must find creative ways to reach B2C consumers. Offering portfolio management services outside of an application is one strategy to strengthen the user centric potential of the technology. How convenient for users not to feel forced to download an application to test and use a service! StarTalers focuses on the user experience of end consumers and make their advisory services available directly through Messenger or from their website. This is the kind of feature that is worth a glance! 

The power given back to investors

Among the 13 Robo-advisory specialists interviewed by Initio, there was a large consensus: They all described B2C robo-advisors as a key tool to support clients in their quest for independence. On the sell side as well this appears to be true: the technology would give financial actors access to new markets. It represents an opportunity for them to provide clients with a standardized product (with lower costs structure and thus lower fees) able to propose tailor-made financial experience.

The technology behind robo-advisors is not revolutionary. Most asset managers are already using the underlying technologies (i.e. algorithmic finance tools) to support their daily activities.

Instead, the revolution lies in the fact that mass market will be able to enjoy a customized portfolio management experience, closer to their private interests and risk profiles. No more financial exclusion of small investors. A whole new segment of the market becomes addressable in a profitable way.

Along with the development of robo-advisors, another trend is emerging : data management. Everyone is producing tremendous amounts of data that most of us have - consciously or not – agreed to share with financial institutions.

Until now, these institutions have not been using that data properly to enhance the value to end customers. That is where robo-advisory coupled with AI and machine learning is changing the paradigm. “It is time for financial institutions to use the data they collect in a way that actually delivers value to end customers” according to StarTalers’ CEO.

Although the technology is not new, the advantage of portfolio management using robo-advisors is clear when it comes to getting access to tailored solutions.

Why do clients still feel uncomfortable using it?

Fear factors within the financial industry

Initio tried to answer that question. The consultants dived into behavioral studies and observed many biases that could explain the discomfort in front of these so called robo-advisory services.

First, the name seems mischosen. Why calling robot a service that is not? When we hear robot we think science-fiction movies. When we read robo-something we think of jobs transformation and fear to be replaced by machines. And even imagine that we will be interacting with robots that all look like out of I-robot movie. That is our first cultural bias.

Second, robo-advisors are meant to manage one of the most taboo topic: money.

Money is something that we easily associate with greed or social status . What if we associated money with freedom instead? “Freedom to leave a job that does not make sense for us anymore, freedom to leave an abusive personal situation, freedom to help make the world a better place or simply freedom to live our lives with dignity” as Gaëlle said, inviting us to rethink our relationship with money. That would be a great change - a stress relieving one.

Last but not least, the financial crisis has rendered the mistrust in financial advisors more acute and distilled a misperception of what risk is. Gaëlle mentioned two factors explaining women’s perceived risk aversion: “a lack of financial education and the negative perception clients tend to have of financial actors”. Hence we see new solutions emerge that are transforming the classic on-boarding experience, making it more accessible and pedagogic. For instance, replacing financial knowledge and risk appetite questionnaires by in-depth analysis of behaviors. Offering game platforms providing users with added educational tips and adaptive models.

Main objective: gain back users’ confidence by allowing them to be in control, help them understand how investment decisions are made and give them the opportunity to improve their knowledge and investment skills.

The value lies in more informed customers

What to take away from this reading? Life is becoming more complex. Families also evolve into more complex constellations. Financial advisors have to be more productive and adapt more rapidly to these changes. They are asked to take into account a global asset situation and act in favor of a global wealth development.

Financial actors are under pressure to deliver performing solutions quicker and users are under pressure because they feel investments success is driven by hazards.

Is fear a good reason not to look into new solutions to ease both our daily life (as clients) and asset managers’ performance?  Being curious is the best way to beat and trigger educational upgrades, so be curious!

Interviewees have one thing in common: they have a vision. Strategies they chose to reach their objectives come in all shapes and sizes. To provide you with insights about StarTalers’, here is how Gaëlle told the Initio team of consultants about it: “Our short-term objective is to create a portfolio management platform where value relies on both the support we offer in financial education and our dedication to fulfill clients’ long-term goals through sustainable investments. We want to give the power back to our clients through knowledge.

Our 5 year-objective is to become the top of mind advisory platform for responsible investors willing to secure their financial future while making the world a better place.”

Technologies should not be seen as a threat when they can solve well-known misfunctions of current systems, so let’s talk about it around us and bring our financial markets to another level of inclusion. Supporting trust, communities and transparency.

About Authors

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Marie-Charlotte Renaux. With 3 years of experience in Finance, Marie-Charlotte had the opportunity to get involved in transversal projects in Private Banking and Investment Banking. As a consultant she managed change within different types of organizations. 

She is supporting clients on complex challenges such as regulatory adaptations, project management, business operation models adaptation and actively participate to blockchain (DLT) researches and implementation

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Margaux Rudnicki, is consultant for Initio Luxembourg since June 2017. She has 1 year experience in digital transformation projects management in the banking and industry sector. With 2 years in marketing and communication, her main area of expertise is the change management and digital transformation for employees and customers, including workshops animation, process formalization, tests management and digital marketing strategy.

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Frederic Lorain. Specialized in Banking and Financial Markets, Frederic’s 4 years’ experience had him build a good knowledge of the operational issues. He worked on several development projects providing increased automation, improved risk management and more effective control over operations. He passed all three levels of the CFA Program and may be awarded the charter upon completion of the required work experience. His experience as a business owner gave him confidence in implementing functional and operational solutions.