A fascinating week, and the flood gates appear to have opened up on conversations concerning the wealth management industry’s future being more about understanding people than understanding investment products.

There are several different starting points to these discussions.  Generally, however, two key themes prevail: regulatory and marketing.

In the regulatory camp, the discussion is all about what is a survivable (as in not subject to appeal or litigation) method of mapping investment products to people, or perhaps the other way around. The debate here is expansive, but is fundamentally centred on what is a legitimate way of mapping the ‘needs’ of a person to suitable investment products. This is pretty challenging if the design or purpose of the product does not map to the ‘needs’ of the investor.

This, in itself, raises a number of questions: how does the product owner or operator actually know the needs of the investor? Have they spoken to them? Or, is it just assumed? And, if so, on what basis? In the past there has been an assumption of modern portfolio theory and asset allocation, but is this still valid today? Is this defensible? Clearly, there are some big questions here…

In the marketing camp, the discussion is more about ‘how’ does one promote a ‘product’ in a way that is suitable to an investor’s needs. If there is an accepted theory that this mapping can be done from within, then there is a better chance of marketing success and investor acceptance.  However, if there is not, then the product manufacturer (or the person implying suitablility) must demonstrate some basis for mapping the product philosophy to the investors’ ‘needs’.

Again, the approach of modern portfolio theory comes up a number of times. But what does modern portfolio theory have to do with each and every individual person? Not a lot in the specific sense, but quite a lot in the generic sense.