A Game of Knowns: Battling over Boundaries in the Digital Wealth Wars

Written by: John Wise | InvestCloud

Opposing factions abound in today’s wealth management landscape.

With a desire for “ownable” territories, boundary-defining battles are being waged on two fronts; defensively - to protect owned and established channels and relationships; and offensively - a fight to add new territory. It is a game of knowns because now, over a decade into this battle, much of the fog of uncertainty is clearing. Despite earlier predictions about how digital delivery would all but eliminate the role of advisors, the battle has turned out to be more about “augmented” intelligence vs “artificial” intelligence. We are seeing that when smart advisors are empowered with the right digital tools , they can easily best the bots.

But what tools, and which advisors?

The winners in this battle will be those firms who best build (or rebuild) their firms around new digital capabilities. From my work with hundreds of firms engaged in this battle, I believe there are three strategic “knowns” that will determine who holds – and gains – competitive ground. They represent the principal themes that will underlie the digital battlefield strategy for the foreseeable future.

Known 1: Elevating the Episodic

In the pre-digital world, all client and shareholder communication was periodic. Every month or quarter the numbers were booked and the narrative was set, written down and delivered. This did not necessarily correspond to when clients cared or needed to know results; it was a product of the calendar and the practicalities of printing. Although these patterns of communication and delivery still exist, the periodic “snapshots” have little impact when clients have grown used to seeing the entirety of their portfolio on-demand, with near continuous access to market news and pricing.

This environment has allowed client expectations to shift to a more natural “episodic” need-to-know. If they can see the numbers at any time, they want to be able to know what those numbers mean when it's important to them - irrespective of how long it has been since their last report. The episodes may be personal (think new money that needs to be committed) or they can be more market-driven (doubts resulting from a difficult market environment or a competitor sowing doubt about performance for example). Digitally smart firms are building their reporting and communications around this reality. What this looks like in practice includes things such as creating on-demand audio or video commentary tied to meaningful market events, rather than calendar quarters. It can also be addressed by measuring and noting heightened website activity by clients which will then trigger proactive service calls. In every case it means putting the expectation of the client ahead of the mandate of the calendar.

Known 2: Positioning for Personas

Firms that adopt the more episodic, proactive approach to client and shareholder communication soon discover that this approach requires thinking about clients differently. The foundation of this lies in web-portal access, which allows clients to self-serve their reporting needs. But it goes further by opening the door to different reporting frames and contexts that vary according to client type and appetite for detail. This is simply a more nuanced and responsive version of the long-tested categories of “institutional” versus “retail” client communication.

To do this a firm needs to design content delivery around client “personas” rather than assuming that one size fits all. An effective digital platform allows a firm to offer reporting configurations adapted to different learning styles and various information consumption patterns. This becomes practical by combining appropriate client on-boarding questions with insights from behavioral science. There are lots of options on how to define personas. A good place to start is the four investor personality types identified by the CFA Institute : Preservers, Accumulators, Followers, and Independents. This simple four group classification offers plenty of fertile ground for exploring how different reporting schemas might better cement client loyalty.

Known 3: Enlarging the Map

Nothing better anchors a client relationship than believing that the investment advice they are being given is set within a truly complete view of who they are and what they hope to achieve. Basic account aggregation is part of this, but it is just a starting point. The ability to add and track illiquid assets for a full balance sheet view is also important. Even more valuable is the ability to add family views so that the advisor can see a client in a generational context. Digital tools makes this larger view both possible and practical.

Beyond broadening the asset and account map, another element of enlarging the client view is the projection of outcomes over time. Monte Carlo analysis is no longer exotic - it commonly shows up in financial planning documents. What digital connections enable is tying those projections to current asset values and accounts, so that the forward projections can be created on-demand. It can have a great calming effect on clients to see how a nasty drop in the market averages have little effect on the long-term outcome of a well-diversified portfolio .


The battles around gaining and holding competitive ground in the digital transformation of wealth services will not be ending any time soon. Firms that are serious about securing territory and owning defensible high-ground, will be well served to think strategically and to take the long-term view. Simply playing catch-up will not win the war. The dimensions of the strategic “knowns” of persona, information timing, and holistic planning will be discovered one battle at a time. Traditional battlefield tactics would have required an army of programmers to code their way through each iteration. This will no longer work. Going forward, nobody, including even the large global banks, can afford the costs or the slow-moving nature of this army. Digital platforms today can offer an alternative “low-code to no-code” approach based on “augmented” intelligence engines to generate the required code and interfaces. Only those firms using such digital tool sets will be able gain ground in this game of knowns.

John Wise is Co-Founder, CEO & Chairman at InvestCloud. A British-American chartered software engineer and a serial technology entrepreneur, John founded several financial technology companies including Temenos(EBS), Synergo, TCA Syntec, Netik and most recently InvestCloud, which he founded in 2010 in his garage in Los Angeles.  

Today the InvestCloud platform supports some of the largest banks in the world with substantial assets. In addition, for managers under $50 billion, InvestCloud supports over $1.7 trillion of assets across 700 diverse clients – from wealth managers, institutional investors & institutional asset managers to family offices, asset services companies, financial platforms & banks.