In this latest edition of the Lockdown Interviews, International Investment's Gary Robinson speaks with Ray Tubman, managing director of Australia-based wealth management fintech company FinoComp.
GR: How has the covid-19 lockdown affected how you work generally?
RT: We run a remote development team here in Australia, so the first very physical change for me is that I have been grounded. All of my interactions with clients have had to be remote with meetings conducted over video links and phone calls, I have found this to be somewhat of a frustration as, for me, there is nothing quite like being there in person; however it would have been the same had I been in London or over here in Australia.
The scenarios in different economies will have a significant impact on currency. We have seen some extreme volatile fluctuations and trying to manage that would be stressful both for advisers and their clients" - Ray Tubman, MD, FinoComp.
Internally within the business it is that personal contact that we have all had to adapt to. It is easy to share understanding when in same room, but it is somewhat more of a challenge to share understanding of concepts remotely. We've perhaps all been in that situation when we have had to throw up pictures onto a wipe board and talk these through and to do that remotely can be hard. Sharing visions and sharing concepts has been a challenge, so we have had to rely on technology to do that.
GR: Describe where have you been working during lockdown and how are you coping with more remote working ie: work /life balance?
RT: When this all happened I sent everybody home and I continued to work in our office. That is because our office is in a remote rural community (only one mile from where I live) so I had the office to myself. However, with the need to have lots more communication with both with our clients and our staff remotely I have set up facilities when I am working from home, to work within my shed.
Here I am surrounded by my treasured cars, motorbikes and other unusual artifacts; as for me it is important to distinguish between both work and family, so I found it useful to have facilities away from house.
GR: What are the biggest challenges for the industry and for advisers?
RT: A time of plummeting markets and a global pandemic is a time of fear. People are fearful of many things, first and foremost perhaps their health, but also the economy, and its ability to cope when a lot of the work force are not working. The investment by governments to keep economy rolling is brilliant but, fundamentally, everyone has the fear of the eventual impact on people's investments and livelihood; especially those leading into retirement.
There is often within a fear environment, a possible panic reaction of selling while the market is low. I can only imagine that for advisers the need to promote calm amongst their client base and to point out the long-term nature of retirement savings is hugely important right now
For the international market there is also the further overlay around currency. The scenarios in different economies will have a significant impact on currency. We have seen some extreme volatile fluctuations and trying to manage that would be stressful both for advisers and their clients. Advisers would need to also consider currency impacts of their clients investment portfolios.
Managing that fear is the key thing.
GR: How has FinoComp changed how it deals with clients?
RT: We have always had the availability to service our clients remotely as our main development centre is here in Australia whilst out clients are in the UK, so service to our clients has not been impeded. The biggest business impact for us has been the sales cycle. Of course, during a pandemic of this nature, it is natural to witness a headwind when it comes to new sales.
I have been delighted that this headwind has been minimal for us. With Covid being a significant distraction for everyone, it is taking a huge effort just to maintain the status quo, but we have come through relatively unscathed. Everybody, of course, is in the same boat and people are trying, where they can, to continue with business as usual, this is difficult to do when the world is falling apart around you.
Whilst our day to day development processes and the support arrangements that we have in place have not changed, that engagement with clients and looking forward to future projects has all beenlimited..
I am personally looking forward to when this is over, getting back to the UK and maybe having a few social catch-ups rather than formal video meetings.
GR: How important has technology been during lockdown?
RT: We all acknowledge that technology has been the backbone of how we work now. Every meeting that would have been face-to-face or in the City is now being conducted on Zoom or other video conferencing services, even the Queen did her first Zoom call the other day! These changes have really shown that people can adapt, and when it is literally not possible to be present in person, the technology is there to support us. It is not just the applications that have affected how we work, the whole infrastructure including high speed broadband has made it possible for many of us to carry on working effectively.
When the Spanish flu hit a century ago, the country was totally shut down. Today a large number of workers in various sectors have been able to keep working solely because of our technology infrastructure. Technology has also played a major part in public awareness, with messages of safe practices, social distancing, hand washing etc propagated through technology via social media, news outlets and various other distribution channels. I believe we owe the technology a massive debt of gratitude as without it, things could have been much worse.
GR: What lasting impact will covid-19 have in the international advice market?
RT: We are all going to take some lessons away. My belief is that these will include the fact that you do not have to be in an office to do a job and you do not have to be on a heaving underground tube or spend hours commuting each day to get work done. On the contrary, remote working can be a very efficient and effective way of working.
I believe we will see a rise in remote workers working both in regional areas and indeed offshore. Some people have experienced some very positive lifestyle changes from lockdown including the appreciation of family time, and some of those simple pleasures like cooking or taking a stroll in the country.
A massive market downturn like we have experienced does remind people to carefully assess the investments and risk levels they have selected. Those who have not been through previous significant market downturns will perhaps find their appetite for risk is challenged and having lived through such a time, volatility becomes a very real experience.
I think we will see a licking of wounds and some re-setting of financial plan risk appetites following the significant global impact of the pandemic.