St James’s Place will launch its first mobile app this month as the UK’s largest wealth manager races to get “up to date” with its customers’ tech demands by joining the smartphone era.
The move by the FTSE 100 group, which manages £142bn in assets, comes 11 years after Royal Bank of Scotland became the first big high street bank to launch a full-service mobile app.
Traditional businesses in the UK’s $2.1tn wealth management sector have faced a mounting challenge in recent years from high-tech start-ups including robo-advisers and investment apps.
Although the face-to-face customer service approach favored by SJP has proved resilient, the company said the Covid-19 pandemic had helped prompt overdue change in its use of technology.
“The app is really something that Covid led us to turbocharge,” said Ian MacKenzie, chief operations and technology officer at SJP. He said the new service would “put us up to date”.
“Wealth management and financial planning, we would all recognise, has perhaps not been at the leading front edge of tech,” he added.
The company, which began developing the app last year, has been testing it with a few thousand customers since March and plans to start a full rollout to its 830,000 customers this month. The app will allow customers to see personalized performance figures for all their investments at SJP, and help cut down on the need for mailed paper documents.
The Gloucestershire-based wealth manager’s tech push lags behind those of several rivals, even among more traditional financial groups. Coutts, the wealth manager owned by NatWest and used by the Queen, already offers a smartphone service. Brewin Dolphin, a 260-year-old rival, launched its app in 2019 while Evelyn Partners (formerly Tilney, Smith & Williamson) has been rolling out its app this year.
“Am I worried we’re late to the party? No, not at all,” MacKenzie said. “I think what we’ve done is take the time to understand what our clients want. There’s a multigenerational appetite for digital. We see people who are 60 or 70 and have embraced the digital journey, largely because of the pandemic.”
SJP has said the app will remain optional for clients, who will still receive paper documents if they choose to.
Tech upgrades have proved a painful problem for companies across the wealth management industry, frequently incurring delays and cost overruns. The rising demand and costs of tech are one of the driving forces behind a wave of consolidation in the sector, which has seen historic businesses such as Brewin Dolphin and Charles Stanley absorbed into international groups, and many small firms merged in roll-up deals.