Could you briefly outline your role at AJ Bell Youinvest and your recent projects?
I’m the MD at AJ Bell Youinvest. That means I’m responsible for everything to do with the product and the service the customer gets, whether through my direct reports or through my business partners in areas such as technology. I am pleased to say that AJ Bell has continued to invest in the AJ Bell Youinvest platform and we have seen good growth in customer numbers and AUA. Our recent projects have included a complete rewrite of our website, upgrade of our mobile app for android and Apple and the launch of our investment guidance service.
The influence of digital platforms and marketing is growing everywhere and it’s becoming increasingly conversational, what are the main constraints for the financial industry?
I’m a great fan of people being able to research, access and control their assets online – it has opened up choice, reduced cost and generally made life easier, in finance as in many other sectors. There are constraints for the industry – technology is not perfect and what we can achieve often lags behind our ambition, acquisition costs can be high and there is increasing competition in some areas of digital marketing. Ad and email blocking is becoming increasingly sophisticated and regulation is an issue especially as the landscape frequently changes. Ultimately though, the main constraint is the level of education and knowledge in society of financial management and people’s ability to make adequate provision for the financial needs. I think we have a role to play in making easy to use products available that meet these needs.
Is there a well of untapped potential that the industry has yet to bring out?
Yes, definitely. To me nirvana is where we are able to target digital marketing so accurately that we get in front of the customer with the right message at the precise moment that they have a need which our solution addresses and a propensity to fill that need. Although digital marketing is far more targeted than offline marketing, it can still feel a bit scattergun and there is a lot of scope to improve.
What motivates you about digital and finance and what would an ideal world look like?
The fast pace of change is exciting and I’m learning something new every day so it’s a great area to be involved in. We help people to invest and giving customers positive outcomes is always motivating too. An ideal world would be where many more customers have the confidence and ability to successfully save and invest for their needs and that we as an industry provide a range of products that enable them to do this easily and cheaply – we are all rich and happy!
If you could make a survival tool kit for businesses in the digital space, what would it entail and why?
- The first item in my tool kit would be a well-designed, well-written and focussed website that is optimised for search engines and mobile devices. Your website is your shop window but it is also important for search marketing and crucially it takes the traffic you can direct to it and converts it into customers. More and more customers are using mobile devices to go online and it is vital to provide services in the format they want.
- The second item would be to have good people who understand your product and can communicate with customers and ensure that the service they receive is good. Whether the communication is by phone, web chat, an email or a tweet it needs to be timely, accurate and relevant. In the digital age this is still relevant – channels have multiplied and become more immediate but service is still key.
- Lastly I would include good tracking and reporting tools – you need to make sure that you know what is happening as a result of the money you are spending on marketing – which channels work, are you bringing in volume at the expense of quality, which creative works and which doesn’t, what is your return on investment, what is the value of a lead versus a direct sale, how many leads are you converting etc etc
How do you go about turning an inspiration into reality? Can you share a story?
You can turn inspiration into reality by backing people with vision and stepping outside your comfort zone. A few years ago we took on Tim Huckle to help us reengineer our online technology. He had great experience and used that to relaunch our website and mobile apps but he is also keen to push the boundaries so that we continuously improve the offer and explore new technology. We have introduced an app for Apple Watch and more recently Apple TV – not because there is huge demand for people to consume financial information and carry out financial transactions on wearables or TV but because these are things that might evolve into something else that we can’t imagine currently and by continuously testing and improving we are helping our industry evolve.
Top digital trends you’re excited about?
- The first one has got to be the growth of mobile and the opportunities that this gives us for both marketing and product delivery to customers. We want customers to be using their commute to work to check their portfolio and do research on their mobile devices and we want to be able to alert them immediately to changes in their investments.
- The second trend I’m excited about is the growing power of Google and the increasing sophistication of its search engine. For customers it is getting easier and easier to find exactly what they are looking for and that is a good thing. For us it is a constant challenge to keep up – no sooner have we absorbed the February change removing the right hand ad column and redone all our PPC bids then along comes position zero ads and we need to work out how to use these. It definitely keeps us on our toes and ultimately provides the tools to connect with our customers.
- The third trend I will mention is the growth of tools that enable accurate targeting of prospective customers. We have already seen online display advertising move on from a ‘stick it on a relevant website’ approach to be far more targeted to include retargeting of customers who have been to our website or used certain keywords in searches. I’m looking forward to seeing what new tools will emerge and help us connect with the customer when they need us.