Having worked in the investment technology space for nearly two decades, and in broader financial services for another decade prior, writes Hugo Thorman, the last few weeks have confirmed a few things...
On the one hand, lockdown has shown the immense power of technology. And on the other, it's reaffirmed what I always knew: I'm not a natural techie.
For many advisers up and down the country, it's probably as though you've had to entirely re-learn how to work in a very different, wholly digital world. And take it from me, I know what it feels like.
Tools like Slack and Zoom have soared in popularity. They were already firm favourites among technology companies and start-ups the world over - including us here at Seccl, where, thanks to our cloud-based, serverless and paper-free set-up, we've been able to move to a fully remote working model with zero impact on our processes or output. But now they've entered the commercial mainstream - and everyone's had to get on board.
To put it in perspective, 200 million people a day used Zoom in March - a staggering increase from the 10 million a day that were using it only three months prior.
Meanwhile, people across the planet are now coming together to spend a collective one billion minutes each weekday on Slack. Their CEO, Stewart Butterfield, summed it up powerfully: ‘It felt like the shift which we believed to be inevitable over 5-7 years just got fast-forwarded by 18 months.'
A steep learning curve
Such an aggressive jolt forward has clearly brought challenges. Some, like the teething pains that come with any new and unfamiliar technology, are short-lived and sometimes funny (who hasn't by now had a video meeting with someone's forehead?). Others, like the concern around online security, pose more serious thought.
Hackers and fraudsters are, by definition, opportunistic. And a global pandemic presents a powerful opportunity to prey on confusion, fear and digital inexperience.
We've probably all heard about the poor advice firm's Zoom meeting interrupted by some, ahem, unexpected and unsavoury top-shelf content.
And then there's the recently reported fake email from the FCA ‘claims and firm-authorisation' department, hoping to coax unsuspecting advisers into sharing their Office365 password - and potentially their firm and client data along with it.
Of course, it's only right that we acknowledge the security risks that come with working online. Vigilance is key, and we all need to keep our wits about us.
But security is only half the picture. It's important we focus not only on the risks of doing business digitally - but on the risks of failing to as well.
Because if these strange times have shown anything, it's that businesses who have chosen to embed technology are far better positioned to adapt and thrive than those who haven't. After all, to paraphrase JFK, they chose to repair the roof when the sun was shining.
Technology is the new normal
Ironically, the sun seems to be with us at the moment (even if we can't enjoy it). But for some businesses it will feel like the rain is hammering hard - with falling revenues, a continued squeeze on fees and a growing pressure on profitability.
All the more reason, then, to fix that roof - and fix it quickly. In practical terms, that will probably mean squeezing every ounce of efficiency from your business, which is a challenge that only tech can solve.
But don't fear - to use technology you don't have to become an expert yourself. New technology platforms thrive on doing the heavy lifting for advisers, paraplanners and administrators alike, precisely so you don't have to. Put them work.
So, why not use the time and space that our present circumstances afford to ask some tough questions of your business?
Does your current tech setup do more to hinder than help? Are your staff wasting time using tools that don't speak to each other? Are you missing out on revenue that, were you established differently, you might be able to capture?
It might be tempting simply to get your head down, work through this tough patch and then get back to the ‘normal' way of doing things.
But I think that to do so would be a big mistake. Because this is the new normal. Like it or not, the world won't go back to how it was. Nor can your business.
Times like these offer a large dose of healthy perspective - and an opportunity to take stock. It'd be wise to grasp it.
Hugo Thorman is co-founder and director of Seccl
Thorman will be speaking at PA360, which has been postponed until 8 October and will take place at The Brewery in London
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