Why wealth managers must adapt customer-profiling

Methods to separate customers into groups are ineffective, argues Catherine Tillotson of Scorpio Partnership. She points to the potential importance of new behavioural analysis.

2010 was the year that Asia started to roar towards pole position as the world's largest wealth market. And where there is wealth, there are wealth managers.

A big question for 2011 is: Will Asia's brand of wealth management be any different from that in the US or Europe? The answer depends largely on how well wealth managers get to know the customer base across the region.

We have just released findings of a study of Asian high-net-worth individuals which received 1,800 responses. Its objective is to gain insights into the financial attitudes and behaviour of the region's investing elite.

Our research employs a new behavioural analysis technique using a form of financial profiling to determine to which of four behavioural groups an individual belongs.

It identified the dominant characteristics of each of the four profiles as: benefit valuing; wealth building; status enhancing; and convenience seeking. The responses of those who most strongly represent the attitudes of each group are then monitored over a series of questions.

The survey covered nine of Asia's major markets, and found that if a profile is dominant in a market, this is reflected in local financial behaviour.

For example, the 'status enhancing' profile is strongly represented in South Korea and this is reflected in the money goal of South Korean sample group. Overall, individuals in the study had an average of $1.3 million in investible wealth and a target of $3.5 million. However, those in South Korea had liquid wealth at $1.7 million and a target of $5 million.

Similar correlations were found in India, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Thailand. Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates were also covered in the research.

The advantage of this approach over others is that this dominant characteristic can be used to build a profile of how individuals in the group typically make financial decisions.

This is different from other customer-profiling techniques. To date, wealth managers have relied on risk-profiling to separate customers into groups, but this reflects only one aspect of their financial behaviour. Others assume that the level of wealth a customer holds can be used as a proxy for customer behaviour.

Neither of these techniques is satisfactory for gaining the in-depth understanding of customers that is necessary for developing the tailored solutions that wealth managers try to pitch.

More sophisticated firms have turned to marketing research techniques or even behavioural finance to understand what drives individual investment choices. But these approaches also have notable weaknesses.

Marketing research aims to identify customers that respond to the benefits and features of particular products. Behavioural finance, meanwhile, draws on psychology and economic theory to understand how rational and emotional processes affect markets.

The results from these two branches of the social sciences are therefore either too specific or too general to help determine what drives individual customer investment choices.

In contrast, the approach we have used allows us to analyse how rational and emotional processes affect individual investment choices and even financial purchasing decisions.

We believe this method will potentially provide a better basis for wealth managers to deliver financial products and services against the long-term financial needs of clients.

The Futurepriority Report: just what are Asia's wealth priorities is part of an ongoing research initiative between Scorpio Partnership and Standard Chartered Priority Banking.

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