In a very interesting, or maybe offensive, release, the Vatican has just put out commentary from the Pope which criticizes financial advice. In a bulletin called “Considerations for an ethical discernment regarding some aspects of the present economic-financial system”, the Pope appears to criticize advisors who are not fiduciaries, listing among its “morally questionable” activities, “a failure from a due impartiality in offering instruments of saving, which, compared with some banks, the product of others would suit better the needs of the clients.
FINSUM: We have no problem at all with fiduciary advice, but we think it is very close-minded when anyone broadly calls non-fiduciary advice immoral.
A lot of advisors have been under pressure to cut their fees. Pressure from competition, both digital and human, has reportedly put downward pressure on the fees advisors feel they can charge. However, Barron’s has put out a piece arguing that advisors should not cut their fees. The reason why stems from the results of a survey which found that advisors who lowered their fees actually brought in less assets and experienced less revenue growth than when they left fees higher. An industry commentator summarized the situation this way, saying “That supports something we’ve seen, frankly, for 15 years, which is, clients don’t leave because of price; they leave because of service issues”.
FINSUM: We think this is a bit of a misleading survey, at least if you buy the “services issues” theory. The reason why is that it is only advisors who have service issues that are cutting fees, which means the lower asset growth does not really have to do with fees, it has to do with a problem with the advisor.
Go back a few years and the big fear of the wealth management market was robo advisors, especially upstarts like Betterment and Wealthfront. Fast forward to 2018 and fears of robos have largely receded as they seem to have found their niche in the industry alongside human advisors. Now the big worry is about large tech companies pushing into wealth and asset management. The anxiety most commonly manifests in worrying that Amazon might launch a digital wealth management platform of its own. However, Charles Schwab’s CEO just sent out a warning to the FANGS, saying that “If you’re a FAANG-type company and you decide you want to come into our space in a manner consistent with the way we operate, you will invite the Federal Reserve into every single thing you do”.
FINSUM: It is true that if the FANGS were to become full-fledged financial service providers they would suddenly be subject to much stricter regulations. It could be an obstacle that holds them off, at least for a while.
Goldman Sachs seems very committed to expanding its business. Not only is the bank trying to make a bigger push into wealth management, but it also also reportedly downsizing its trading unit and putting more resources into its consumer finance business. It now offers consumer savings products, and last week, made an acquisition to grow revenue in its consumer business. The bank bought consumer finance app Clarity Money, whose CEO is Adam Dell, younger brother of Michael Dell. The app helps consumers lower their bills and suggest ways to help their budgets and then keeps a cut of the savings.
FINSUM: To us it is quite amazing how Goldman is proactively shedding its elite image to become more broadly consumer focused. We wonder how it will affect its business in the long run.
Can you remember any technology (maybe since the internet) that has had as much hype as artificial intelligence? Blockchain and Bitcoin come close, but other than that we cannot think of one. That said, advisors may be wondering how it is going to affect them. Well, Barron’s has published a long piece looking at how the technology will impact everything in wealth and asset management. Everything from portfolio optimization, to trade execution, to loss harvesting is being looked at through the lens of AI. Even securities selection itself is having AI applied to it through a number of techniques that all harvest big data on stocks.
FINSUM: AI has a lot of promise, not just hype. And from looking at how it might impact the sector, we don’t think the effects are going to be detrimental to human advisors, at least not in a major way.