Talent and innovation to determine success of financial sector

Edmund Koh, Head of UBS Wealth Management Asia Pacific, shares why investment in people and infrastructure are critical for the wealth management industry.

The financial services industry has witnessed a proliferation of digitally enabled financial products and new processes in recent years.

Digitalisation is a continually growing force within the industry, says Koh who has witnessed some of the biggest changes in the financial services industry during his 20-year career.

“Fintechs are pushing the pace of innovation and digitalisation with the services that they offer, and our professionals and clients are demanding greater digital capabilities,” Koh says. “Technology is also shaping processes in every stage of our work, and will continue to be an important cornerstone for the success of the financial services industry going forward.”

In addition, he points out that Fintech is not the only change in the industry. Regulatory changes are also impacting the way financial institutions do business. “It is the responsibility for everyone in the industry to be aware of ongoing changes,” he stresses.

“Regulation is important for the long-term development of the industry and for ensuring an equal playing field for all,” he says. “Banks need to be able to keep pace with these changes, and professionals need to have a firm grasp of the global regulatory landscape.”

Building Talent

One of the key challenges emerging from the ongoing digital transformation for financial institutions is how to find the right people with the right skills for the right jobs. Koh points out that competitive strength in this industry depends on the expertise, talent and commitment of staff.

“The industry needs seasoned bankers who have weathered market cycles and are well placed to help mitigate risk, but are also able to advise on strategies for capitalising on new investment opportunities,” he says. “It is not about age or tenure – it is about experience in balancing portfolios systematically and effectively.”

To ensure its Wealth Advisors are equipped with skills and capabilities to meet client demands and deliver the most up-to-date advice, UBS has created an IBF-accredited programme for its more experienced private banking professionals. It covers industry essentials such as laws and regulation, risk awareness and client servicing.

“My goal is to create an environment that inspires our people to work to their maximum potential and come up with better ways to serve our clients. This is critical because the drive, skill and dedication of our people are absolutely key to meeting the needs of our clients and building our businesses,” he explains.

As leader of a team of more than 2,300 wealth management professionals managing assets of CHF 311 billion, Koh believes in nurturing and building a pipeline of young talent. Beyond training, he says that a constant drive and keen willingness to learn are vital for professionals to succeed.

PHOTO: Edmund Koh, Head of UBS Wealth Management, Asia Pacific

“To me, it is important for a person to have several traits: a hunger for the challenge, the humility to listen and learn, and the curiosity to want to expand one’s knowledge,” he adds. “Continuous professional development and growth are essential.”

On the issue of regulatory change, Koh highlights that risk management will continue to be a concern for the banks. “Many banks globally continue to struggle with the increasing risk of money laundering and other financial crimes. It is the work of all of us in the industry to step up our vigilance and strengthen our risk management.”

UBS signed an agreement with the Wealth Management Institute (WMI) to launch a new initiative, the WMI Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Risk Management Program, on 15 May 2017. The programme aims to deepen AML competencies in the wealth management industry to reinforce Singapore’s position as a competent, clean and trusted financial centre, and will also be aligned to the IBF Standards.

Tech to drive future growth

To remain competitive, financial services companies need to invest in innovation and digitalisation, and make them strategic priorities.

“This includes driving the development and integration of new technologies into our existing business model, building a state-of-the-art IT infrastructure and investing in market research to understand what tomorrow’s clients will expect from us,” Koh says.

Client engagement will be heavily dependent on technology as new innovations come to market. “We have to move towards combining our talents with outstanding technology, which will produce the best insights and solutions for the ever-changing needs for clients today,” he says.

According to Koh, the wealth management industry is set to undergo further consolidation, thanks to the changes taking place in the financial services industry today.

“Now more than ever, it will be essential for providers to have the scale and resources to invest in infrastructure and personnel, as well as the commitment to maintain a broad geographical footprint,” he says.