The financial services sector is in a period of flux and YouGov’s head of media and financial services is encouraging IFAs to engage younger customers with online forms of communication and to overcome lack of trust by giving a human face to an industry that has become depersonalised Interview by Rachael Adams
YouGov head of media and financial services Adele Gritten has learned the value of foresight. “Before joining YouGov, I set up a capital markets division for research company Marcus Evans,” she says. “We were at the tip of the iceberg in 2006 and were able to track the demise of the structured credit market. Needless to say, capital markets were not an area in which I wanted to continue my research, so I joined YouGov.”
Twelve years in financial services research at firms such as Quaestor and PHD Media meant Gritten was well placed to join research titan YouGov.
“YouGov is different from most research agencies in that it aims to know the answers to questions before clients have even asked them. Its focus is on foresight rather than hindsight.”
Projects geared towards understanding consumers’ attitudes to financial services, such as YouGov’s debt tracker, have given Gritten an insight into consumer financial behaviour.
“There has been a paradigm shift in the past three years. A recent questionnaire asked people who they trust most and least within financial services since the recession. Everyone was trusted less across the board, apart from price comparison websites.”
Gritten believes the burgeoning power of the internet could prove problematic for IFAs and product providers.
“Customers have woken up. They are becoming more financially literate and going online to look for the best deals. Since the recession, people are trusting their peers more and asking others in similar situations what they should do.”
Gritten thinks social networking will play a bigger role in how people engage with brands. “Financial services is the one category that is lagging behind in terms of social networking. Providers should be looking to online channels as shop windows rather than just assuming people are going to pick up the phone.”
She says this attitude in financial services could discourage younger generations from engaging with it.
“There is an arrogance in the financial community over engaging with the consumers of tomorrow through technology. They may well become debtors rather than creditors but a new way of working with them needs to be looked at. I cannot think of a single IFA who has done anything in this area.”
Gritten can envisage financial services going the same way as the travel industry if it does not carve a niche for itself.
“What is the role of a travel agent these days? You just go on lastminute.com. The role of individual service providers is going to be diminished, so IFAs need to show where they add value.”
But she believes technology is not the industry’s biggest worry. “It comes back to trust. Before the industry starts using online channels, it needs to overcome the trust barrier.”
The retail distribution review could be a step in the right direction. “It is designed to enforce a rigour that seems to be lacking. Time will tell if consumers start engaging with IFAs but it will be a long process.”
Gritten thinks the IFA community has been lax in its approach to the RDR. “Nobody has really stepped up to the plate. There is this wait and see mentality and I think it should be more of a go out and grab it mentality.”
The changing regulatory regime may also address another problem Gritten sees - lack of exposure.
“A lot of people do not know the difference between a wealth manager, a broker and an IFA. The RDR is a case of watch this space to see what happens as to how people define financial advice. IFAs must delineate themselves as an industry and I have not seen much of that.”
She has an idea how IFAs can distinguish themselves. “The human aspect could help. Metro Bank, which has a personal feel to it, is doing things differently. Financial services has become depersonalised and the Howard from the Halifax kind of thinking gives a sense of identity to corporate behemoths, which IFAs could learn from.”
Making advertising more credible is another change Gritten would like to see.
“Feedback on the Natwest adverts for its customer charter show people just do not trust the kind of false advertising that says branches are open on Saturdays when only a handful are. Financial services companies could get away with that before the recession but they cannot now.”
She feels the industry could have more trouble contending with a more savvy consumer population.
“There is inertia within some parts of the population but IFAs will find consumers are going to them with more articulate ideas and aims. The IFA will play less of a consultative role and more of an enabling one.”
However, despite consumers taking their financial futures into their hands, Gritten says this will not compensate for the savings gap. “There are 33 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds saving nothing at all. To say the economic outlook is bleak would be an understatement.”
She believes this will have a knock-on effect on the industry. “This age group may never have any positive equity, that does not mean they should be ignored. Financial services needs to take a fresh look at the definition of saving and seriously consider how it can help
Born: Neath, South Wales, 1976
Lives: Woking, Surrey, with husband and nine-month-old son
Education: MA in Social and Political Science at Peterhouse, Cambridge University
Career: 2009-present: head of financial services consulting, YouGov; 2007-08: head of capital markets research division, Marcus Evans; 2005-07: research director, Quaestor
Likes: Playing the piano, playing the violin and singing
Dislikes: Dogs, estate agents and collateralised debt obligations
Drives: A Vauxhall Astra
Book: What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
Film: The Pianist
Album: Crazy Love by Michael Buble
Career ambition: To be the best of the best
Life ambition: To stay healthy and live to 100
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A writer