It's been a decade since we became an independent company, and we feel it’s important to recognise and reflect on the journey because it tells the story of the challenges our clients have faced. And looking to the future, we can safely say our drive and commitment to developing financial technology solutions to help our clients and their customers remain as strong as ever.
The Financial Services industry has been on quite a journey since our formation in the early-90s. Much of this has been shaped by new regulations: pension simplification in 2006, the introduction of the retail distribution review in 2013, and most recently, pension freedoms in 2015 – all of which have brought significant changes and challenges to how the sector operates.
Navigating these challenges hasn’t been easy; each new regulation has increased the administrative burden. To ease this burden, both financial institutions and the advice process have needed to evolve. That evolution has been aided in no small part thanks to advancements in technology.
We would argue that the quality of financial advice and guidance is now better than ever. Technology has helped our customers - banks, product providers, advisers and employers - meet the requirements of a changing regulatory environment and broaden the ways consumers can obtain help when making complex investment decisions.
On a personal level, we’ve been witness to, and indeed part of, many of these developments. And that’s what we cover in this blog, which marks 10 years since we set out as an independent company. Since then, EV has itself evolved – the latest iteration of which is celebrated this month with a name change which is the visible manifestation of a great deal of behind-the-scenes proposition work. Our entrepreneurial team, with experts spanning asset modelling, investments, and pensions, as well as specialists in technology, design, delivery, and engagement, means we are now the UK’s market leader in the provision of digital, personal finance advice products and services.
While the sole purpose here isn’t to boast about our achievements, we feel it’s important to reflect on and recognise the journey we’ve been on because it tells the story of the challenges our clients have faced.
As things stand today, we work with 80% of financial institutions. In 2018, our planning and advice engine was used by 671,000 consumers and advisers and was at the core of 601,000 planning and advice sessions.
Clearly, these numbers didn’t appear overnight but have been part of a constant drive and commitment to developing technological solutions to help our clients and their customers.
Since being founded in 1993 within Towers Perrin, now Willis Towers Watson, we have achieved numerous industry firsts. We were the first company in the world to offer stochastic modelling to consumers; the first to develop holistic retirement models, taking account of all forms of wealth, including home equity release; and the first to model income drawdown strategies for retirees, again holistically.
These initiatives have since cemented themselves as core elements within the personal and digital financial advice and guidance processes. We’d like to walk you through some of the key moments during our 10 years as an independent business.
In 2011 we ended our association with Willis Towers Watson, to become an independent company, associated with Financial Express.
At the time, Michael Holland, managing director at Financial Express said: “By combining Financial Express' historical performance analysis and eValue's pre-eminent financial planning tools and stochastic modelling capabilities, we have created a market-leading proposition for life and pensions companies and advisers.” Since then, our relationship with Financial Express has gone from strength to strength.
Much of the advice profession’s evolution has been rooted in technology. In 2013 the-RDR came into force, but an equally important factor impacting the profession was the 2008 global financial crisis hangover. To help support the economy, the government pushed interest rates down to record lows. This was advantageous for borrowers, but not for savers. It also meant that some forecasting models were failing to capture economic conditions accurately. To get up to speed here, we launched Insight, a sophisticated economic scenario generator (ESG), to capitalise on advances in computing and ensure models could forecast suitable outcomes for extremely low-interest-rate environments.
In March 2014, then chancellor George Osborne announced pension freedoms. The following year, coming into force proved a watershed moment for the industry by allowing consumers to withdraw defined contribution pension benefits; however, they wish rather than being forced to purchase either an annuity or drawdown. As a result, people now favour taking their retirement benefits flexibly rather than buying guarantees; drawdown sales have soared while annuities numbers have plummeted. While this level of freedom was universally welcomed, consumers needed more help than ever before to grasp a better understanding of their options at retirement.
We responded that year with the launch of our Pensions Freedom Planner - it has since been accessed by 52,000 consumers. The tool allows consumers to explore in more detail how they might take their pension in retirement.
We hit two key milestones during 2018: one for pre-retirement, the other at-retirement.
According to the FCA, two-thirds of financial products are sold without advice. The so-called advice gap, born after the implementation of the-RDR, has been a considerable contributor. Many people feel they are priced out of the advice market.
In recognition of a gap in the market for affordable, automated advice solutions, we created a digital advice platform, One Financial Adviser, and consumer-tested it in the FCA Sandbox. It has since been rolled out, helping millions of people navigate the accumulation stage of retirement planning.
We introduced FIN, an interactive, digital, financial assistant offering guidance to help with drawdown on the at-retirement side. With pension freedoms came greater complexity; those feeling priced out of the advice market were often left to plough their furrow when deciding how to take retirement benefits. Combining audio and animations, FIN highlights the potential outcome of drawdown choices and identifies key risks to the individual.
Helping consumers with complexity is a common theme throughout this piece; it’s a big part of what we do.
In 2019 we launched personalised financial videos, using our Insight asset model, calculation engine, APIs and data visualisation technology. It has been designed to help our clients help their customers better engage with their finances.
Despite the disruption to business practices caused by the coronavirus pandemic, we still made significant progress during 2020.
In August, we launched a suite of investment pathways solutions to help non-advised drawdown providers meet the regulatory requirements introduced by the FCA as part of its Retirement Outcomes Review, published in 2019. Our proposition includes an off-the-shelf tool for white labelling and plug and play, widgets and components for providers to create their own bespoke solution. This is helping non-advised consumers make informed and robust investment decisions at the point of retirement.
Finally, we’ve continued to build on Investment Solutions’ (our range of strategic asset allocations) 10-year track record to amass over 10 billion in assets under registration. Returns have been hugely encouraging, too: this time last year we registered an average annual return of 10%. We’ve also managed to grow our passive asset allocation business, moving into decumulation space in addition to accumulation – both these developments have helped strengthen our range of portfolios.
Looking to the future
While it can be satisfying to take a walk down memory lane, our focus now is very much on the future. We want to keep building on our prior work to develop personalised and engaging digital advice and guidance solutions. With technology advancing at a searing pace, we are confident the coming decade will be equally, if not more, successful in how we support clients with whatever comes next.
Visit www.ev.uk to continue your journey with us.