‘Financial firms should solve their own problems – and avoid the graveyard’

bryson-rod-capgemini-2017

A change is meant to be as good as a rest but nobody could accuse financial services of taking it easy over the last few years. Capgemini Consulting director Rod Bryson acknowledges there has always been change in the industry but says the last five years, starting with the RDR, have seen significant levels.

Bryson views this as transform-ational change and part of a bigger picture of movements in global regulation, consumer behaviour and technology, which he expects to continue for the next 15 to 20 years.

He says: “As a consultant there are very few times in your career that you will see true transformational change. Companies have to think long and hard about their customer propositions and operating models. They need to think about what practical changes they need to make to their businesses; what operating models and digital client experience they need to develop. Do they use robots to undertake simple activities?”

For Bryson, transformational change means younger companies coming into the market, lots of challenges ahead and firms needing to think about how they create infrastructure for the future.

“It’s not easy but there are ways and means. Some advisers didn’t see the RDR coming; they didn’t want to change and they have now left the market or, frankly, been swallowed up. The majority of adviser businesses I see today are very professional, very focused and very customer-centric.”

In Bryson’s view, successful advice businesses are those that are able to learn from other sectors and bring good ideas across from them.

“Financial services will not solve its own problems. We need to bring innovation in to the market. We need to think about things differently. Any heathy business needs to be nimble, agile and willing to change. There is a graveyard full of businesses that did not see the future, and that just did not think ahead. Look at the likes of Kodak and Blackberry.”

Bryson has certainly practiced what he preaches on a personal level. Thinking ahead, or at least having a general idea of knowing where you want to be, is how he has ended up in fulfilling his teenage career ambition.

“I am doing what I always wanted to do. Even as a teenager I was interested in financial services, shares and how companies performed. My dad was managing director for a company and it was just one of those things growing up, understanding how companies perform and how that impacts on share prices.”

Bryson weighed up whether the best way into financial services was to go to university or to get a job. He chose the latter and joined Natwest in 1986 but did a degree in his spare time.

After 11 years at Natwest, moving through various roles, he went into marketing at Police Mutual Assurance Society. However, he missed working for a large company and soon joined Norwich Union, now Aviva. During the nine years spent there he moved from life and pensions to general insurance.

“A lot of people stay with one sector and don’t move across. But what you tend to find is that there is a lot of synergy between both. Both have had challenges around the cost of advice and remuneration of the distributor. Both markets are challenged by the pressure on margins.”

Bryson points out the general insurance and life and pensions businesses at Norwich Union were run as two separate units. Under the Aviva brand they have moved closer together, which he believes is the right model.

Most customers have a similar set of basic requirements and it is more efficient to meet these needs within a single firm rather than duplicate costs by running two separate businesses, he says.

Working in product development at Norwich Union, Bryson found the big challenge was managing expectations within a budget and time frame.

“The worst thing in product development is to allow significant scope creep. If you say you are going to build something in the next six months, and two months in you start thinking about changing it, that changes the dynamics of the build and the timings.”

He warns companies that already struggle with running the risk of delivering projects late and over budget will find it significantly
more challenging in the future
when competing with those that are more agile.

One development Bryson thinks has not happened as quickly as many expected is automated advice. That said, he predicts an increase in automation, hybrids and “bionic” advice over the next five to six years. He believes there will be room for all options, as people could well use a mix of models depending on their changing needs over time.

Bryson’s move into consulting came after being approached by someone he knew at PwC. It was then that he started to see the beginning of the transformational change still working its way through the industry.

So what about the future? There seems to be a lot riding on the ability of younger generations to solve the need for more advisers to deal with rising demand.

Bryson points out many sectors, not just financial services, are struggling to find new talent but he believes apprenticeships will help to bring new advisers through. He also thinks financial awareness and engagement is moving in the right direction.

“Financial education is happening – it could be a lot better and it could be worse. It is certainly better than 10 or 15 years ago. Arguably, far
more could be done in middle schools, for example, but it is
slowly happening.”

Five questions

What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

Focus on what you are doing rather than what other people are doing.

What keeps you awake at night?

Very little. I’m always too tired to worry about anything.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?

Ongoing regulation is continuing to have an impact on the delivery of advice.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Simplify and narrow the focus of what it does around consumer protection. It’s a tough job and being in charge is a big ask.

Any advice for new advisers?

When looking at adviser firms to work for, I would seek out those that have good customer outcomes as a core part of their business.

CV

2015-present: Principal/director, wealth, long-term savings & insurance, Capgemini Consulting

2009-2015: Assistant director, financial services & insurance strategy, PwC Consulting

2008-2009: Associate director, corporate proposition management, Fidelity International

1999-2008: Various roles in life & pensions then general insurance from corporate pensions marketing manager to head of propositions & product development, Norwich Union (now Aviva)

1998-1999: Assistant marketing manager, Police Mutual Assurance Society

1986-1998: Various roles including financial planning manager, NatWest