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Why Financial Services firms need stronger Product Management tools

The Financial Services industry is under immense pressure from many directions to change, reform and adapt to new realities. Effective Product Management is one answer.

 

Emerging considerations for effective Product Management in FS

1. FS products are complex. Manage this complexity with a Unified Product Catalogue

The product offer for the typical Financial Services firm is insanely complex. Often this is a historical anomaly – perhaps due to lazily aggregating the requirements of many individual clients without a thought to simplification. However today, much “push complexity” can be attributed to industry-wide factors, such as:

  • Changing product distribution models. A renewed focus on the “open distribution” and more generally a willingness (or having a regulatory mandate) to sell competitors’ products;
  • Macro trends such as the increasing demand for Islamic banking;
  • A resurgent popularity of alternative investment classes, for example absolute-return products;
  • Changing sophistication of investors and the incessant demand for higher return investments.

Put simply, better processes and tools are needed to manage products throughout the FS firm.

In the simplest sense, a single unified Product Catalogue will return significant benefit where the product portfolio as vast and complicated. Some of the benefits on offer are:

  • Quicker and simpler product searches, using a single mechanism to identify products.
  • Improved analytic for identifying better and more complementary products to serve market requirements;
  • Quicker access to product data. Fostering a single access point for all products and variants information, ensures sales people use the right data and sell the most suitable products;
  • Improving the structured communication flows between product manufacturers (creating financial products), product managers (regulating product innovation & development) and distribution channels (sales people).

2. “Trusted Advisor” is becoming the dominant business model for many FS firms, meaning firms no-longer exclusively sell their own product. Product Management is therefore now a fundamental tool, not a luxury

Previously the reserve of the Family Offices and UHNW / HNW clients, the “trusted advisor” business model is taking market share in the Mass-Affluent and Retail Banking segments. This is where customers buy into a mutually-agreed outcome and are less inclined to arbitrate over individual products.

  • Individual outcomes are assessed and are matched against FS products to meet specific objectives;
  • Non-FS products are typically bundled into the product offer – everything from concierge services to philanthropic advice.

The explosion of services/products offered requires strict control over available products, product options and ongoing monitoring of performance.

3. The past and future are equally important as the present when selling financial products.

Products require a structured process for managing product lifecycles — for example

blog6-lifecycle

 

This so called lifecycle view is emerging in the industry, adding value by taking a time-series view of product development and introduction.

  • Compensation is changing and will continue to evolve. It will be driven by long-term product performance for all roles – not just sales, but also for other product development roles;
  • Litigation can and will happen for products sold years and decades earlier to proper record keeping and retention is important;

In the discrete manufacturing industry, Product Lifecycle Management is a well-embedded concept but has been rarely applied to FS.

FS should learn from manufacturing and implement the strong constructs such as Bill of Materials (to describe the products being packaged for a customer), PLM (to manage the full-lifecycle of product development) and methodology support to assure product development follows a clear methodology or way of working.

4. Precision is expected when describing products and their features. Move away from risky and intrinsically unmanageable spreadsheets.

Unlike in discrete manufacturing, Financial Services products are more difficult to describe, meaning there has been limited attempts at classifying/describing products in Financial Services. Typically, this is driven by:

  • The range of financial products in the market is huge and there islittle consistency in how to describe them. For example, the difference between describing a mortgage product and a FX derivative is significant
  • FS products are typically packaged into a final product – containing many different products and services. Discrete Manufacturing uses a Bill of Materials structure, however thishas not gained traction in FS
  • In international markets, the same products are sold with slightly different features, due to regulatory and demographic / market differences. To create truly global products and a consistent customer experience across markets, product management tooling must be “market aware”

To implement this currently, spreadsheets are often used – however they are notoriously difficult to manage and in some cases they are almost impossible to audit

5. Analytics make a real difference to Product Management. Move to a Product Lifecycle tool that provides analytics into your daily workflow

Arguably the most important role of Product Management is to create a portfolio of high-performing products. This requires strong tooling:

  • Product manufacturing can be made more efficient by decomposing products at every stage of development against commodity components (such as FX or hedge products) to ensure effective definition and reuse of components.
  • Differences between products can be easily shown to help reduce complexity and improve the sales process.
  • Merging product data (contained within the Product Catalogue) with actual sales data can open up significantly more sophisticated insight.
  • The social aspect is important – gathering crucial internal and market intelligence (such as emerging customer demands and competitor activity) in the context of product in all stages of development – increases the surgical targeting to client and improves the chances of success.

With effective management of the product inventory and by connecting this to the internal data-bus, unrivalled insight into product performance can be gained.

6. Effective audit of user behaviour along the Product Management lifecycle is critical. Spreadsheets fail to do this.

There is a natural trade-off between the benefits of openness and the requirement to maintain a secure product environment.

  • All regulator-sensitive product management activities (such as creation of a new product revision and customer communications) should be logged and be discoverable if required.
  • Harvesting when and how sales people interact with the product catalogue (such as search terms) can provide deep insight to emerging themes and customer requirements
  • Effective control over the access of product data will assist in demonstrating compliance to the regulator.

Audit control is not just a mandatory utility required to secure the product inventory; it is becoming a tool to better understand the end-customer and sales force.

7. A firm-wide product view provides many benefits – including uplifting sales, regulatory compliance, improved marketing and cross-selling opportunities

The Financial Services “Firm of the Future” is one characterised by increasing complexity – whether that originating from the evolution of products, markets and regulations. To be successful, this aspirational state must unify the multiple views made against the same product.

  • Products need to be viewed from all aspects – product management, manufacturing, distribution, sales and support. They should work together to create client advantage and continue to develop the best products for the FS firm
  • Provide coherence between the roles – for example, when in a sales meeting, any unanswered questions can be immediately answered by connecting (in real-time) the sales person to the product manager

To create a unified view, the products should be uniquely identifiable across the product management process.

The call to action

Clearly, all Financial Services need to pay attention to their Product Management processes and tools. This has been traditionally under-managed it is this reason why we created a new Product Management and innovation tool –Uberito . It has been designed for the Financial Services industry.

  • Spreadsheets are addictive but dangerous. Uberito can get you away from your spreadsheets without the need to go cold-turkey.
  • Uberito has a strong FS-compliant Product Catalogue is required; this contains:
    • a clear, authoritative and unambiguous mechanism to refer to products and all derivatives;
    • a flexible structure to manage hugely differing characteristics;
  • All usage of uberito is audited for performance improvement and compliance reasons
  • We work towards the elimination of email by bringing together all roles involved in product innovation and sales

Uberito is a next-generation Product Management Tool designed by Financial Service Professions for the Financial Services Industry. Register for a free trial at www.uberito.com/register