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Ian McKenna at Finovate: Lessons from US personal finance leaders

It is unlikely the US leaders will ever make it to the UK, which provides a perfect opportunity for digital advice firms here to lead the domestic competition 

Finovate is the place to go to see the leading edge developments in financial technology. Although there is an excellent European show in London in February, I find it valuable to visit the international events too. I saw a couple of exceptional examples in New York last week.

United Income 

United Income is the new business founded by Matt Fellowes, who previously built HelloWallet, a service that redefined workplace financial wellness, before selling it to Morningstar. HelloWallet never arrived on these shores and, with Morningstar having now sold the business on to KeyBank in the US, it is not likely to.

A lot of the great technology shown at the US shows will never find its way to the UK. The domestic market in the US is so large that many companies will never take on the extra work needed to localise products for international markets.

But while United Income may never come here, it is a great example of what the advice world can do with technology.

It is a hybrid digital and human retirement planning solution, which includes a free of charge, guidance only proposition with no investment being put on the system, plus self-service, semi-service and full advice service options.

The fully advised proposition is delivered for 80 basis points, including advice and asset management. In fact, the full range of services within this price has to be seen to be believed. Customers have access to both pre-retirement and post-retirement concierges, and benefit from account sequencing, budgeting, legacy, gift planning and tax reduction, to name just a few.

The service is the first US advice proposition I have seen which could be moved to the UK without a major rewrite to meet our assessing suitability rules. This is not as surprising as it might seem, since United Income’s chief of staff is Elizabeth Kelly. Kelly’s preceding job was at The White House as a special assistant to President Obama, where, among other things, she coordinated the development and rollout of the Fiduciary rule to US retirement advisers.

Digital advice firms in the UK should be very pleased it is unlikely to come here, as they would be facing some stiff competition. However, it should serve as inspiration in terms of the depth of services that can be delivered using automated solutions, and how technology can reduce the cost of advice.

MX

MX is another great American technology company. Regular readers of this column will know I am convinced the onset of open banking next year will result in an increase in adoption of personal financial management tools. It is a real shame MX is also unlikely to come to the UK, as I believe it is the best company in the world in this field.

Its experience with over 1,000 US financial institutions is that new users of its tools are on average three times as likely to open a primary current account where they do not already have one and to deposit four times as much money.

Many advisers are cynical about the potential for PFM but, while recognising we are talking about insurance and savings here, not banking, if anything like these rates can be achieved it is a powerful message.

With 70 per cent of online banking providers in the US relying on MX for their data aggregation, enhancement and PFM needs, it has to be worth listening to what it has to say.

Moven

If anyone comes close to MX in being the best in the world at PFM it is Moven, which launched in the UK back in February. I have been using its system myself for a short while and it certainly has a stunning user interface. More importantly, there is clear evidence it can change consumer behaviour, with regular users reducing their discretionary spend by between 4 per cent and 8 per cent per month.

This is exactly the sort of economies pension providers need to help reduce the impact of the coming auto-enrolment increases on consumers and ensure opt out rates do not explode.

Envestnet Yodlee

One well known PFM provider in the UK is Envestnet Yodlee. The company virtually invented aggregation almost 20 years ago and has been operating here nearly as long.

It powers aggregation services for the vast majority of PFM tools here, including those from Intelliflo, Moneyhub and True Potential. That said, it has not been having a great time of it lately. Just about every conversation I have had with one of its customers begins with the fact they enhance the standard Yodlee categorisation.

I took the opportunity to raise this point with them at Finovate and have been assured we will see significant enhancements to the current offering in the near future. I hope this does happen, as the team showed some compelling technology at the event, introducing its AI powered financial coach ideally suited to the pensions and investment markets.

The service not only looks at day-to-day budgeting but also considers both the provision of emergency funds and the user’s progress towards long-term savings goals, with a strong focus on financial planning type nudges.

There was not really anything in the demo I had not seen elsewhere but the scale it could achieve both in terms of numbers of customers they might harness and the size of its AI dataset is interesting.

If the company can address some of the parochial challenges it has been facing in the UK, it might yet be a powerful service provider to the life, pensions and advice community. It also makes me wonder if we will see more of the impressive Envestnet suite in the UK.

My next column will focus on a range of other technologies demonstrated at Finovate which could be valuable to our industry. An extended analysis of some of the presentations outlined above can be found on my blog at https://www.digitalwealthinsights.com/index.php?/blogs/blog/1-ian-mckennas-blog/

Ian McKenna is director at Finance & Technology Research Centre

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