Distribution Technology chief executive Ben Goss has always believed in the power of technology. As a boy he spent summers at his family’s farm arguing with his cousin about the ways technology could transform farming. He founded Sort, which he says was the UK’s first online IFA, in 1998. It was sold to US firm mPower in 2000 and eventually bought by Morningstar.
Goss has spent the last decade building up Distribution Technology. The company provides financial planning tools, client management and reporting systems to advisers, risk profiling services to fund management groups and a tool that directly links adviser systems to those of product providers and platforms.
While many people have complained that the RDR has helped increase an advice gap, Goss is convinced that technology can enable advisers to adequately service clients with portfolios below £100,000. He attributes this advice gap to inefficient systems rather than the removal of commission.
“There is a huge advice gap. Deloitte says around 5.5 million people – the mass affluent or middle Britain, to use David Cameron’s words – are now excluded from advice. For most advice firms,the majority of clients are uneconomic to service because of inefficiencies in their systems and the advice system,” says Goss. “Advisers use six or seven different systems to complete a piece of advice, including back-office systems, portfolio construction tools, a risk profiling tools and platforms. They have to rekey client information six or seven times. That is a deeply inefficient process.”
Goss believes the removal of comm-ission since the RDR has uncovered “the fog of inefficiency”.
“Commission hid a number of sins, including the inefficiency of the advice system, pricing and the product centric nature of the advice process. Its possible to close or at least halve the advice gap and for advisers to reach half their client base by improving their systems,” he says.
Goss says if adviser firms applied the right process to existing business, they could reduce the cost and risk of delivering advice to lower-value clients. Integrating the systems of the adviser, product provider and platform to create a “joined up” process would make a huge difference, according to Goss.
“Right now many advisers are unhappy with their jobs, not because they don’t want to be advisers but because they spend too much time form-filling and waiting for people to come back to them.
“Over three million people could be served if the industry was more efficient and integrated. Every single firm I know, and we have 500 firms with 6,000 advisers, have segmented their client base and are able to serve the low-value segment. There is an oportunity for the industry to embrace technology and become more digital. Digital relationships would allow the advice gap to be significanty closed.”
Goss’s original ambition was to be a farmer. “The Goss family farm can be traced back to the Domesday Book,” he says. But an interest in the world around him led him to study environmental science and geography at university followed by a masters in geography at Indiana University in the US.
“There I became a MacArthur founding fellow. The MacArthur fellowship gives money to people to research economic development. I worked with them to study the manufacture of semiconductors in places like Barbados.”
This led him to a job offer working in the Caribbean but he turned it down to join the world of financial services.
“I was offered a job with a guy who had an amazing consultancy organsisation based on an old sail boat. He sailed around the islands working on how the Caribbean islands could improve their governments. But I said no and came back. I then started at Coopers & Lybrand, which became PwC.”
As a strategy consultant with Coopers & Lybrand, Goss worked with life companies and banks on their distribution. He was involved in the launch of Egg and Direct Line’s telephone-based proposition but left in 1998 to set up Sort.
“We built a rudimentary system, in hindsight, for the delivery of online advice. We were servicing 1,000 people a day at the height,” says Goss.
Goss became managing director of mPower Europe by virtue of its sale but decided he wanted to start another venture. “But I wanted to run my own ship again and had the money to do it through selling Sort. The price paid for Sort was a reflection of the fact that we didn’t want to sell it – but it was the right thing to do at the time,” says Goss.
In 2003, Goss established DT which is perhaps best known for the risk profilng services it provides to advisers and fund management groups. Goss says DT has grown because of the regulator’s focus on suitability. “Bridging the gap between clients and the investments they are buying is technically challenging. We’ve invested a lot of time and money to constantly evolve the process. We profile 650 funds in the UK from over 63 asset management groups. Doing that well takes a lot of resources and investment but if you do something you should be the best at it and we continue to evolve. We’ve been around 10 years and people have seen that it works.
“Once you profile the client you need to profile the investment you are making on the same basis and continue to assess its suitability on the same basis. It’s what we call asset model intregrity,” he says.
Integrity hints at a human presence that seems absent in a world dominated by talk of integrated systems and digital relationships. But Goss is acutely aware of the limitations technology has in trying to replace human contact.
“Customers want advice – it’s a human thing. I have learnt that there are limitations to technology and advisers have a tremendous and very important role to play. You understand and care, think about the client’s circumstances and are supportive.
But advisers do need to evolve their businesses to take advantage of technology. It should enable them to do what they are doing but do it better,” he says.
Ben Goss – Profile
Education: Bradford University (BSc), Indiana University (MA)
Career: 2003-present: Founder and chief executive, Distribution Technology; 2000-2003: Commercial director then managing director, mPower Europe; 1998-2000: Founder of online advice business Sort; 1995-1998: Strategy consultant, Coopers & Lybrand/ PricewaterhouseCoopers
Likes: Creative, energetic, positive people
Dislikes: The opposite of the above
Drives: Jaguar XF
Book: The Social Animal by David Brooks
Film: Meet Joe Black
Album: Genius Loves Company by Ray Charles
Career ambition: To build DT as the leader in front office and financial planning, helping our clients and partners run successful, integrated businesses and close their own ‘advice gap’.
Life ambition: To make a positive impact and enjoy whatever I do; family, friends, DT and causes I feel strongly about like the environment.
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… a geographer. I have just become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.