WealthTech pioneer and industry veteran Bert-Jan van Essen arrived at Zurich headquartered digital solutions provider additiv on April 1 this year, taking up the position of MD for Asia Pacific, and bringing a wealth of experience from his former role as CTO and CEO at other FinTech companies, as well as from industry-leading positions such as at Credit Suisse, where he was formerly APAC CIO of Private Banking. Hubbis met up with van Essen to learn more of his vision for additiv’s markets in Asia Pacific, why he thinks the fintech’s suite of digital solutions are so well suited to the future of private banking, and how he will further propel additiv’s expansion in the Asia Pacific region.
Zurich-based additiv has been a recognized innovator of digital wealth management solutions.
The firm was established in 1998 and has become a leading provider in the field of digitalization for wealth managers, with offices today in Switzerland and Singapore and development centres in Romania, Ukraine and Vietnam.
The company chose van Essen, amongst other roles formerly also the founder of Dragon Wealth and APAC CIO Private Banking at Credit Suisse, to spearhead the additiv Asia team of sales, product and delivery managers in Singapore and Vietnam, with the aim of further accelerating what has been an impressive growth record in the region, where additiv has tripled its staff since early 2018.
Van Essen explains that the essence of additiv’s proposition and its unique added-value is the provision of a digital wealth platform based on cloud services for banks that will allow them to better engage with existing clients, extend better advice and then to execute more efficiently and reduce cost.
Breaking this down further, he explains that advisers in banks can better engage with their clients if their communications are more effective, in other words, enabled by better technology. And secondly, additiv provides an assisted robo to help improve adviser recommendations. And finally, the additiv platform helps the bank to more efficiently execute orders, for example, for mutual funds or model portfolios in the market.
“Our platform is cloud-based and completely available as a service, and everything the client wants is actually compiled in box and readily available for any bank to deploy,” van Essen reports. “The additiv platform is supported by artificial intelligence and backed up by metrics, so the client obtains excellent insight into how their customers and their own advisers are behaving. In short, it really helps financial advisers to get closer to their clients.”
<h3>WealthTech expands the wealth net</h3>
Stepping back from the detail to consider the Asian market froma wide-angle perspective, van Essen remarks, first of all, that wealth management is becoming democratized as more of the mass-affluent can access it, due to the rise of digital solutions.
“Obtaining a certain level of financial advice in a bespoke manner for those who have money to invest has a far wider catchment today,” he notes. “These services used to be available only to a very limited group of people with direct advice from an adviser.”
But today, he explains, providers can combine the skills of an adviser with the power of a
technology platform to offer more people a much faster, bespoke financial advisory service. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) are the vital ingredients,” he reports. “And from my perspective, looking at Asia, I do not envisage that migration towards discretionary portfolio management will be the key trend, it will be an extension of the advisory offering where the providers can more comprehensively support their clients.”
<h3>Bringing power to the people</h3>
“Looking at the wealth industry’s needs, tech-savvy clients expect a modern and seamless omnichannel experience across traditional and digital channels,” he explains. “
As we know, the legal and regulatory environment today is increasingly complex, and wealth managers must ensure they can offer clients a compliant yet also engaging service in a cost efficient manner. additiv positions itself as the catalyst for change in the financial services industry through easy, quick and affordable digitalization.”
Additionally, he notes that innovative Fintechs and TechFins (tech companies like Go-Jek, Grab
offering financial services) are creating a whole new competitive environment.
“All this is resulting in new market dynamics and profound disruption in the long run,” van Essen observes. “Wealth managers must embrace these challenges today to be ready for the future in order to remain competitive.”
A trend to watch is the rise of the super-app, comparable to WeChat in China, where a wide variety of consumers interact with all kind of businesses, including investment services. Financial institutions need to get ready to offer services to the mass-affluent class via these platforms, so that their prospects and existing clients can interact frictionless.
“In short,” van Essen adds, “we are therefore positioning ourselves to empower banks to be able to offer a larger group of clients financial advice, part of which emerges from the human financial adviser, and part of this is derived with the support of our tools and our cloud-based platform which is powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, resulting in better portfolio recommendations for any of the banks’ clients. Then the client has better access to reporting, to see on a real-time, or day-to-day basis what their portfolio looks like.”
<h3>Horses for courses</h3>
Van Essen has taken over the regional Asia Pacific MD role from Thomas Achhorner who is now focusing on developing select strategic markets. He had helped put additiv firmly on the Asian map with the opening of its development centre in Vietnam, the recruitment of senior talent from key competitors and the late 2018 launch of an award-winning wealth app for the Indonesian arm of Australia’s largest bank.
Michael Stemmle, Founder and CEO of additiv said in January when van Essen’s appointment was announced that van Essen’s experience in wealth management, digital finance and deep knowledge of Asia, combined with his entrepreneurial spirit, would be ideal to further tailor additiv’s products to the Asian markets and to drive the next phase of growth.
<h3>Momentum is vital</h3>
The announcement came on the back of the news that additiv is now powering the award-winning wealth app of PT Bank Commonwealth (PTBC), the Indonesian subsidiary of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).
“In today’s digital world,” van Essen reports, “investors increasingly demand the ability to stay abreast of market developments and to manage their financial assets from their mobile devices. However, most financial institutions struggle with delivering this experience as they are tied up in a maze of legacy systems and disjointed service channels. PTBC recognised this challenge early on and entrusted the delivery of the platform for its mobile “SmartWealth” service to us.”
He explains that the app is widely seen as a game-changer in the industry, providing the bank’s ‘Premier’ clients with a 360 degree view of their investment holdings, bank accounts and bancassurance policies. It also displays relevant financial news, robo advisor-like investment recommendations and the ability to stay in touch with their advisors.
additiv’s technology provided the functionality and flexibility to do this with minimal impact on the bank’s legacy systems.
Michael Stemmle, additiv’s CEO, said at the time that the important milestone achievement demonstrates additiv’s commitment to the Asia Pacific region, and also the strength of its Digital Finance Suite, the technology
<h3>Here comes DFS , all Micro-Service and API based, so that implementation efforts for banks are very low</h3>
The company’s cloud-based Digital Finance Software-as-a-Service is based on the fourth generation modular Digital Finance Suite (DFS 4.0) and Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform for the financial services industry. It allows financial institutions to deploy class-leading client advisory, servicing and expert tools in wealth and asset management for the digitalisation of new and existing business segments.
“This relatively new cloudbased offering allows wealth managers to deploy class-leading client advisory, servicing and expert tools in wealth and asset management – both faster and more sustainably than anyone else,” van Essen reports. “We are due to add more than 10 different innovative cloud-based software products for clients and client-facing staff in the near future.”
Van Essen clarifies that additiv has no intention of getting involved in core banking systems.
“We do not do that,” he explains. “We offer a system that our users interact with on a day to day basis,
out of the box, and this provides help with every step from engaging clients to giving advice, to execution but all on the front-office level. We are therefore complementary to the core banking system that, for example, Avaloq, Temenos or another provider offers, so we are not in competition with them.”
In Asia you also see many local, home grown core banking platforms, mostly coming out of the banks’ legacy retail business. Through our loosely coupled API architecture, we can easily connect to these platforms without a lot of integration work.
He also offers further insight into the additiv offering. “We provide everything as a service on a hosted platform, and we publish the APIs, while the integration required for a bank is very minimal for all the services that we offer,”
“The offering is white labelled and will be branded as the clients wish, but they can also choose actually to use their own user interface and actually provide services as a back-end.”
<h3>Ahead of the game…</h3>
As to additiv’s USP, van Essen is emphatic. “It is really very simple,” he claims. “We are ahead of the game and compared to the other players in the market, our platform is proven and tested, it is already in its fourth generation and it has been developed for many banks in the region as well as in Europe and in Africa. It is live, and there is a clear and established track record.”
The second core element of additiv’s USP is, van Essen explains, the company’s “fantastic user interface” with which advisers, as well as clients, like to work. “Thirdly,” he says, “the platform is available as APIs, or it is offered as a complete user interface-based platform which is also very easy to implement.”
Van Essen appears to have arrived at additiv at a moment when the firm’s momentum in the region is clearly accelerating. Combined with his experience, dynamism and drive, market insiders are expecting to hear considerably more of the additiv name in months and years to come.