"If the trust industry doesn't change and be proactive, something will happen. Tech will disrupt us … but it will never replace that essential human touch."

Change or be changed: The Trustee industry must adapt before it gets disrupted

30 Nov 2017

Technology is disrupting even the most traditional of industries. Finance and banking has been forced to transform, but what’s happening to the trustee industry? Rudy Tan, Managing Director at Singapore Trust Company, a subsidiary of Ocorian, and Vice-President of the Singapore Trustees Association, provides his thoughts.

The banking sector is in a state of shock as fintech changes the dynamics of how traditional investments are done. And disruption is all around us: Taxi companies acted on feedback about availability and price only once apps gave consumers a choice; the sharing economy is changing the way we travel and have holidays. And in finance, launches from the likes of Curve and Lendr are changing consumer banking.

The trustee industry hasn’t been impacted much - yet. I believe, though, the disruption will come, and soon. That’s why as an industry we should be looking to streamline processes to become more nimble and light, and to manage costs, before we no longer have the choice to change.

 

Technology brings more information - and more worry

On the one hand, technology is making the life of trustees easier; it’s facilitating the exchange of information, which in turn helps make regulation and client identification easier. Much has been said and written about the burden of increasing complexity, particularly in the private wealth sphere, and anything that can be done to streamline compliance can only be a good thing.

Yet with technology, cyber security becomes a bigger worry. While it’s easier for us as trustees and wealth managers to find client-identifying information for compliance, it’s also easier for cyber criminals to find the same information for different purposes. Fintech, more than any other disruption, has to evolve alongside security features and encryption.

Then there’s the impact of digital currencies on wealth management. Where does bitcoin and similar distributed-ledger technologies fit into the Trust and wealth industries? And what impact will blockchain have on the way we report and source information?

Once we get through this transitional phase of big data, analytics, and more information, I believe it will be easier to onboard new clients. Technology will enable us to merely enter a name and see everything they have done; there will be no stringing along or chasing paper trails. The exciting thing is, there will be tech that changes the way we work that’s not yet been thought about.

Technology will also make control much easier - control of the structures and trusts that manage wealth, control of reporting, control of how the family office is set up. The impact technology will have is the ability to choose where to base your family office, and Singapore is still the best place in Asia to act as your base. It is certainly not the cheapest place to operate from, but it gives you peace of mind - there is stability, certainty, security, lifestyle. A trustworthy connectivity to the rest of the world that is becoming ever more crucial as technology disrupts how we live, work and invest.

 

Don’t lose the human touch

Technology is an enabler, helping everyone to be more flexible, but it cannot replicate personal service. The human touch is still needed, especially when it comes to family wealth planning. In these days of automation and robotics, I feel the human element is the most important thing that shouldn’t be lost.

Yes, if the trust industry doesn’t change and be proactive, something will happen. Tech will disrupt us. But it will never replace that essential human touch. This is what Ocorian has to offer; we still treat our clients as individuals.

 

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