COO at Close Brothers Asset Management
12 July 2021
6 min read
He's a PAM 'Top 40 under 40', is known for being an agent of change and is on a mission to bring wealth into the digital age. Gregg Clarke, COO at Close Brothers Asset Management, opens up about leadership, transformation and why choosing a tech partner is like building a house.
Being a good leader takes integrity, authenticity and honesty. The more senior you get, the less you do and the more you provide counsel, advice and mentorship. You’ve got to deliver through your team, so having a trusted team you can empower to do their job, I think, is critical. It’s hard, though. I want to be in control of everything, but actually, I need to be empowering everything. I got a business coach to talk those things through; it’s been really helpful. You’ve got to actively work on your mental wellbeing - whether that’s headspace, meditation or coaching.
Success is doing the right things right and providing a reliable, robust service. It’s the basics - getting everything out quickly and correctly. With the client portal, everything that’s client visible is operating well all the time, and we can leave the front of house staff to get referrals. The strategy is working; our assets under management are the highest they’ve ever been and growing. We’re attracting high-quality premium investment managers and advisers and are on the acquisition trail. The plan is more of the same - stick to the knitting.
15 years ago, my approach to change was a bit more direct than it is now. You can’t just deliver change. You’ve got to set the agenda and conditions for success. It's really easy to derail the agenda. There are lots of what I call ‘new sweeties’ in this game; the CEO wants a new sweetie, the head of business development wants a new sweetie, but the agenda’s set and the less you change it, the more successful you'll be.
I can’t think of any sort of strategic initiative that isn’t technology or data-led. Harnessing the power of data is going to be interesting. The more we can try things and show prototypes, the more leaders say, ‘actually, we need technology, and we need data.’ The business recognises the need for a technology leader around the exec table because technology strategy drives business strategy in other ways.
Covid has been an accelerator for the things we've been looking to adopt. Where we’ve had the naysayers going “well, our clients will never send a secure message” or “they’ll never use digital signatures” or “they’ll never interact like this”, it’s been a device to say, “well, actually they do, and it’s their preference.” It’s a default position now for clients to sign up for paperless service, one because that’s what they want, but two, it fits our sustainable, green priorities, so it’s hitting a multitude of objectives.
Providing optionality for advisers and clients and being channel-agnostic is the utopia - a bit like Sky. They can say they want Sport, Sky Atlantic or Movies and rather than us saying we offer the Sky package and that’s what you’re getting, we can give more optionality on our products and services. Getting to a single platform provider has empowered client choice and unlocks a whole heap of benefit for us. As the demographic shifts in our client base, we need to provide that functionality - you can’t do that without the right tech stack.
Choosing a technology partner is like building a house. If you get the wrong builder - “arrgh, I’ve got to knock it down and start again”. There are bigger players out there who think they can build it themselves, but the right strategic vendor is critical to success at our size and scale. You can’t do it on your own. Working with Iress has been a meeting of minds. We founded our relationship in the right way by making sure we have the same goals. Ultimately it comes down to having a cultural and strategic alignment. When you have that, you never need to get the contract out.
One of the things Iress does well is information flow, and we can learn from that. Throughout the industry, you’ve got a classic mix of legacy methodology, some legacy thinking, legacy tech and some new ways of thinking, and I think how can we blend all that? No one’s cracked it yet. You don't need an agile methodology to make decisions quickly; you just need the right frameworks and hierarchy - it’s something Iress is really good at.
I get good counsel from clever people who I respect. Iress gives us complete clarity on the product roadmap and global market research at a senior management level. We do research, but Iress provides a global consensus view through some massive industry players and a level of data insight we couldn’t tap into elsewhere, which informs some of our strategic thinking and prioritisation. On a delivery level, we share a belief in building reliable, scalable, resilient technology right. The client solutions team will say to us, “actually, we’ve seen this problem elsewhere, and the best way to do it is by doing this”.
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