Tech 'will not replace' relationship managers

Technology can help relationship managers, said DBS consumer banking and wealth management head Tan Su Shan (right) and Credit Suisse digital business and channel development director Gerald Mackenzie (second from right), at the Asian Wealth Manageme
Technology can help relationship managers, said DBS consumer banking and wealth management head Tan Su Shan (right) and Credit Suisse digital business and channel development director Gerald Mackenzie (second from right), at the Asian Wealth Management Summit yesterday.PHOTO: FINANCIAL TIMES

Technology may be changing the way banks provide wealth management services but it will not replace the personal touch a relationship manager can offer, according to senior banking figures yesterday.

DBS consumer banking and wealth management head Tan Su Shan told The Straits Times: "When two humans have a working relationship, there is also trust through sharing of knowledge and time. There is that emotional connection that computers cannot replicate. Nothing beats a firm handshake and a warm smile, that human-to-human connectivity."

Credit Suisse digital business and channel development director Gerald Mackenzie noted that relationship managers are still the only means to properly understand the human context of a client.

"We need to understand the context where the clients sit and how they make their decisions. At the moment, technology can't do that alone. You still need a person who trusts you, who knows your business and your family to make those decisions," he added.

Mr Mackenzie and Ms Tan were speaking on the sidelines of the Asian Wealth Management Summit at the Fullerton Hotel.

Credit Suisse and DBS are among the industry players that are applying digital and big data technologies to their wealth management businesses.

In January last year, DBS announced the deployment of IBM Watson, a cognitive cloud-based data analytics solution to help relationship managers analyse complex market and customer data.

The project has won DBS Private Bank several industry awards, while assets under management grew 30 per cent year on year to $1.08 billion for the first nine months this year. The number of relationship managers also grew 11 per cent from last year to 284.

Ms Tan said: "On average, one relationship manager has 100 and sometimes, 200 clients. They will not have the time to research and analyse all the portfolios and research.

"This is where (IBM Watson) comes in as a tool to help, not to replace."

Credit Suisse launched its digital private banking platform in March but it still plans to grow the ranks of its relationship managers from 520 to around 800 by 2018.

But as technology becomes more prevalent, relationship managers must evolve alongside changing customer needs, Mr Mackenzie noted.

"Trade execution, account balances, research materials - today the clients can get these by themselves.

"But when they call and ask about an investment theme, relationship managers have to be able to have that discussion.

"Their role needs to be much less transactional and much more of a specialist."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'Tech 'will not replace' relationship managers'. Print Edition | Subscribe