In the post-financial crisis world, wealth management is once again poised for growth. Yet with its traditional business model under attack, the industry faces a more challenging environment than ever, complicated by demographic shifts, the impact of technology and digitization, continuing regulatory reform, and investors with different expectations.
Large financial institutions like Morgan Stanley, UBS, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and many others increasingly look to the less capital-intensive wealth management business to provide more of their revenue and profits. The need to navigate these new dynamics is driving demand for a new set of leadership competencies at the top of wealth management organizations across the industry.
Traditionally, wealth management leaders have followed a well-marked career path to the C-suite. They began their careers as financial advisors and rose through the ranks. Along the way they gained deep business line expertise, honed their sales and coaching skills, and developed exceptional ability to build relationships. As leaders, they have carried that sales orientation and those people skills with them. They excel at communicating, coaching, and building teams. The best of them are downright charismatic — able to motivate and inspire large field organizations.
More recently, however, we are seeing demand for wealth management leaders with a much broader set of competencies. Relationship and people skills certainly remain important, but today's wealth management leaders require far more than those largely sales-oriented abilities.
First of all, today's wealth management leaders must be focused on the overall strategic objectives of the enterprise, not merely on the interests of their own business line. For example, most major banks now use their wealth management operation as the central point of distribution for everything they offer — commercial banking, investment products, mortgages, and more. Leaders in these integrated operations must work together to produce results that are greater than the sum of the parts.
Leaders must also be strategic. They face new challenges and potential disruptors including intense competition from emerging business models fueled by easy access to financial products and services and a pool of talent increasingly attracted by the lure of independence. Competitors and new entrants of all sizes can now offer the same level of service as large banks. Outflanking these competitors will require not only superior strategy but also innovation in products and service delivery
Leaders, too, must be able to drive change and deal with complexity, reshaping the organization as strategies evolve. One such change that must be managed deftly is the shift from transaction fees to fee-for-advice. Similarly, banks that expand their wealth management businesses through acquisitions, as many already have, need leaders who can successfully integrate those acquisitions. Moreover, because the average age of financial advisors is in the mid-50s, wealth management leaders will also need to solve succession issues and potential high attrition rates as well as the conundrum of how to develop a "next generation" financial advisor.
At the same time, they must bring to bear deep financial acumen and strong operating skills. A number of banks have set aggressive goals for pre-tax profit margins in their wealth management operations and the expectation is for the business to deliver sustained high margins. To meet these aggressive goals leaders will have to build in greater efficiencies while facing investors who demand more but want to pay less.
Interpersonal and relationship building skills will remain at a premium among wealth management leaders. But those skills will be put to work across the entire organization as wealth management becomes more important to overall bank performance. To help make sure that everyone is focusing on that common goal, wealth management leaders will need to build bridges to other areas of the bank and win the cooperation of leaders and teams over whom they have no direct control.
Finally, today's wealth management leaders must be highly adaptable — to technology, to client behavior, new attitudes and expectations, and increasing regulatory burdens. Digitization, for example, is changing the way advisors interact with clients and will continue to drive even more fundamental change across every aspect of the wealth management business.
Where are large institutions finding leaders with this demanding set of competencies? Some are transitioning into wealth management from investment banking and capital markets businesses. Notable examples include Bob McCann, who has engineered an impressive turnaround at UBS, and Greg Fleming, who has driven great momentum and margin improvement for Morgan Stanley.
"Best-in-class" leaders from many other financial services sectors have also brought their skills and experience to wealth management. The industry is also attracting talented executives from the major strategy and consulting firms. Further, many in the industry have begun to think much more broadly about developing their own talent by rotating executives through mission-critical roles across distribution, the home office, product groups, and even business models. Morgan Stanley has perhaps made one of the strongest statements in the industry with its recent shuffling of several key leaders across its various business lines, including wealth management.
For these and other large banks, this is a challenging time in wealth management. But their recognition of the competencies required in this new world and their determination to attract or develop the requisite talent suggest that new competitors won't be displacing them anytime soon.
Jane Swan is a managing director and head of the North American Wealth Management Practice at Sheffield Haworth, an executive search and advisory firm.