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  • Digital comes in from the cold
    The digital mood music among wealth managers at this year’s Middle East Wealth Management Forum­ couldn’t be more different to that I was hearing last year. Unlike twelve months ago, it’s no longer a question of convincing firms of the benefits of digitalisation—quite the opposite. Every wealth manager I spoke to in Dubai ‘gets’ digital. In other words, rather than talking the digital talk, firms are indeed walking the digital walk.

    What’s changed?
    The business of wealth management is coming of age in the UAE. And as the conventions which prevail in the western world don’t exist—most firms are in effect, starting with a clean sheet. Although the region’s financial institutions carry none of the baggage of the past, there is another factor in play in the Middle East, which is to do with ‘attitude’.

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    Being seen to be ahead of the game
    The UAE’s wealth management markets are phenomenally rich, dynamic and hyper-competitive. Not only is the average client wealthier and younger than their European or US counterparts, they’re also more demanding. They have no time for the traditional approach to the management of wealth—new, fast and cutting edge is what it’s all about. Given their clients live and work in countries which fully reflect that philosophy, it’s imperative that wealth managers match up to those expectations.

    Practical enlightenment
    Digitalisation is seen not as a cost or an overhead (or indeed a panacea for survival) but a strategy for growth and revealing opportunity. While clients are intrigued by front-end digital tools, digital also heightens operational efficiency, which creates competitive advantage, which results in higher margins. So the more digital, the better.

    Buy in from the top down
    Almost every CEO of almost every firm is committed to creating a fully digitalised enterprise. Business leaders don’t dabble, indulge in vanity projects or look for quick wins. For them, digitisation is as much about transforming the culture of the business as it is about automating fundamental tasks and processes. In their eyes, digital transformation and customer centricity are one and the same.

    With the UAE committed to building a knowledge economy utilising the very best technologies, it’s no surprise that the world’s wealthy are looking east. The question is: how much longer can so many of the west’s financial institutions afford to stay put, rather than walk the digital walk?

     *Ed Lopez was speaking at The Middle East Wealth Management Forum 2019, hosted by Hubbis, 22nd January 2019 at the Ritz Carlton, DIFC, UAE.