The Big Interview: Ex-Skandia boss Peter Mann on why humans will beat artificial intelligence

Financial services veteran Peter Mann famously reserved a chair at board meetings to represent the client, his view being the only thing that really matters is whether they have been served.

Although he winces at being described as client-centric, the ex-Skandia chief executive and Old Mutual Wealth vice chairman’s focus on the customer extends to technology, which he says is only as effective as the purpose it serves for the people who use it.

Mann identifies common properties in his work throughout his career. He has to have a strong connection with the people he works with, he wants to innovate and he relishes disturbance.

Considering the school of thought that artificial intelligence will make the people element of workforces less important in the future, does Mann think his focus on people could be anachronistic?

No. To him, artificial intelligence is really only the sum of the human ambitions creating it. He passionately believes successful advice is rooted in the intimate relationships that an adviser forms with clients.

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So what does he think about the march of the robos? Does he not believe it could be a new dawn for democratising advice?

While he recognises the arguments in their favour, he just does not agree they can work without the human element of advice.

“Data spreads the truth about functional things but not about the emotional. Open banking doesn’t reveal anything about the person. The core of financial services will still be about how I personally want to change my financial wellbeing,” he says.

Peter Mann – CV

2014 – present: Various chairman and non-executive director roles

2012-2014: Vice-chairman, Old Mutual Wealth

2007 – 2012: Chief executive, Skandia UK

2002-2007: Chief executive, Bankhall

1996-2002: Distribution leadership roles, Scottish Amicable/Prudential

1990s: Financial adviser and life company inspector

But technology does have the power to change the way the industry does things, even if it cannot outdo us in the field of emotional intelligence. For Mann, the biggest game changer has been the introduction of platforms. “Who would’ve dreamt 10-15 years ago that a platform would be the way we do business?” he says.

Indeed, platforms have offered advisers the flexibility to create and adapt portfolios at the touch of a button.

At their very best, they make advice firms more profitable, as well as help advisers look good in front of their clients and avoid some of the pitfalls that could leave them on the wrong side of the regulator. Increasingly, they offer a convenient service to clients too, giving them greater visibility of portfolio performance and valuations.

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When we speak to advisers, they often cite Old Mutual Wealth’s U-Scan investment analysis tool as an example of a platform really getting something right.

Mann says: “U-scan is a very good example of the principle ‘everything we did, we did for the client’. Yes, you could argue that we created an interesting and clever tool. But the real point about U-Scan is that it just worked and it made advisers’ lives easier.”

Mann’s latest venture is as chairman of protection company Guardian Assurance. Underwriting has been revolutionised by improvements in the way we interpret data, and data from smart devices has helped manage risk by changing customer behaviour, making them healthier. Mann sees an opportunity to improve customer outcomes.

At the moment, protection is still most often sold in conjunction with a mortgage but consumers are not being sold products with the right level of risk protection. He sees the thrust of this business as creating intent in advisers that protection is a good thing.

On the secret to a successful business, Mann believes one can only be created with a clear purpose in mind, and with everyone in that business understanding that purpose.

He cites men like Nucleus’ David Ferguson and Transact’s Ian Taylor as being platform leaders who really get this right.

Platforms in their purest form are essentially utilities. It is only people that can create something transformative. Mann started this journey at Skandia, changing a life company into a platform business and creating disturbance.

It is clear that technology has played an important role in his career but no one can put it clearer than him when he says: “The essence of life, pensions and investments is life.”

Miranda Seath is research director at Platforum


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There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. AI will be good for basic factual information but you cannot, I believe, build a ‘trusted Adviser relationship’ with a ‘box’. There is no ‘relationship meter’ with an AI solution, or is there?

  2. He’s right, the platform isn’t the product, yes it is a product but so too is a cupboard or a wheelie bin.

    Because I’ve knocked around this morphing profession for over 30 years, carrying out fund switches, rebalancing, life goals and accurate risk assessments is now nothing like what it was in 1987. Does everybody get it, probably not and I include providers, advisers, clients and regulators in this comment.

    If we simply anchor to what’s gone before there’ll be another world war or in our world, another mis-selling scandal. Does history repeat, of course it does but it’s no guide to the future!

  3. Now here’s a guy who knows which way is up.

    Duncan has it – Platforms are merely a utility. Those platforms trying to do more are merely pandering to advisers who don’t really feel comfortable with investing. It is not their place to exclude funds, create model portfolios or produce their own versions of multi asset funds. This is the province of advisers and fund managers.

    What Mr Mann wisely doesn’t say (not PC) is that AI and Robots are supposed to be the panacea for the less well off. But in very general terms those who are less well off would (if they were even interested in the first place) be better advised to reduce their level of debt rather than put their money (for which they ought to have a very, very low risk tolerance) into the volatile market.

    Like it or not investing is for the better off who can afford to take a level of change and are prepared to invest long term and not to treat their portfolio as an ATM.

    Robots will be programmed to flog a product – otherwise how can the robot masters make any money? Are people really going to sit in front of their computer, get AI advice and then receive a bill? Or will they be expected to pay upfront? I very much suspect that that old villain ‘commission’ is somewhere in the equation.

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