Finding new ways serve
‘Financial services is one of the industries yet to be truly disrupted by digital technology,’ says Brad Eliot, Group IT Director of Alexander Forbes, one of South Africa’s most widely recognised financial services providers with a footprint across Africa. ‘Our organisation is built on technology. It enables all the products and services we deliver to customers, and it’s the backbone of our business. But I believe the widespread digitalisation we’ve seen in other industries is yet to make a real impact here. That’s what we’re preparing for. And it’s a change driven by customer demands, the users of our products and services.’
Alexander Forbes is no stranger to transformation to align itself with customer needs. In its 80 years of business, it’s changed from being a risk-based insurance broker to becoming a fully fledged financial services provider focusing on employee benefits and multimanager investments. ‘But our new focus is on retail customers,’ says Eliot, ‘in other words, individuals, the more than 1 million members of the various funds we manage on behalf of organisations.
‘The big dream we have at Alexander Forbes is to create an environment over the next few years where our customers have full access to all of our products and services, regardless of the channel they choose to connect with us – whether through mobile devices, our call centre, or the Internet. We want to expose our customers to more of our intellectual property and back-end processes.’
Customer and product diversity
‘One of our central challenges is that our customer base is so diverse,’ says Eliot. ‘The financial aspirations of our customers range from blue collar workers on the factory floor, focusing on putting bread on the table and getting their kids through school; to high net worth individuals who are considering offshore portfolios and tax aggressive investments. It’s a wide range of people, but we want to serve all of them.
‘Our customer diversity has been the result of the various products and services we’ve developed over the years – from administering funds to brokering health care products; from providing high net worth financial planning, to multimanager platforms for investment products. Each type of product implies a different customer, and different customers demand different contact methods: some prefer face-to-face consultation; others prefer Internet-enabled, real-time, self-help tools.
‘Our vision is to make a real impact on each individual customer’s life. We want to help them secure their financial well-being by creating, growing, and protecting their financial assets. That leads to true financial freedom.’
Keeping up with change
Technology itself also posed a challenge for Alexander Forbes. ‘With the consumerisation of IT, our customers are becoming more and more tech-savvy and have more access to information,’ says Eliot. They know which technologies and technology-enabled capabilities are offered by, for example, new entrants into the market. But they also demand greater clarity, transparency, and simplicity from the financial services and products they select. We have our task cut out for us in just keeping up with all of that change!’
Along with technology evolution, there’s the legislative and compliance environment that adjusts accordingly. ‘Many new regulations are coming down the line from the Financial Services Board, which will govern aspects such as fair customer treatment and the protection of personal information. Our IT systems and processes need to comply at all times, or we’ll risk costly and reputation-damaging consequences.’