In the early 1990s, Jeff Bezos left a position at one of Wall Street’s top hedge funds to pursue his dream of participating in the internet’s then-nascent retail economy. In setting up Amazon.com, he put forward 14 Leadership Principles as a guide to growth. Today, Amazon is considered the world’s leading e-commerce site with Bezos regularly featured among world’s wealthiest people lists.
To celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, we’re exploring the 14 principles that have shaped one of the most successful entrepreneurial ventures ever. These values provide a framework for wealth managers striving to ensure customer excellence, develop employee talent and cultivate high performance for businesses.
Customer obsession, Amazon’s first pillar and the principal foundation of its business model, is the simple answer to how it developed its trailblazer status.
Bezos, who has a public email address, email@example.com, closely monitors customer feedback and anecdotes. He reads many customer complaints and often follows up with culpable employee(s) in the format of a one-character addition: “?”
Indeed, the dynamics of the digital world have made listening to customers a business imperative.
This is a mantra that holds true in any industry. The most successful wealth mangers formulate strategies by starting with the customer first and working their way backwards to address key pain points.
Insisting on the highest standards, another sacrosanct principle, has led Amazon to use quantifiable metrics to track and improve levels of service and support customers receive, review employee performance, and to make important company-wide decisions such as which features to introduce or scale up.
Benchmarks can tell a lot about market fundamentals – sentiment, direction, efficiencies – so managers who want to improve performance and raise customer satisfaction, need to regularly assess themselves and their process.
It is also an exercise in earning trust – a feeling that is hard won and easily lost.
Here another parallel with wealth management can be drawn. Our research consistently shows the importance of trust in HNW advised relationships. In wealth management there are no substitutes for trust, and there are certainly no shortcuts to earning it.
Customers, especially in the wealth space, also expect you to constantly learn and be curious about them. Even if a wealth manager’s client base is fairly consistent, their goals, needs and feelings will be constantly evolving as their lives change. Remaining up-to-date on forces that shape their decision-making is the best way to identify opportunities as they arise.
Strong leaders empower their employees, encouraging them to take greater ownership of their role and results. At Amazon, Bezos promotes ownership by including Amazon stock options in employee compensation packages – promoting partnerships and comradery among employees.
In finance, advisors are often compensated on measures such as net new assets or total revenue. Both are important metrics but, in the context of advised relationships, which typically span decades – there is potential for discrepancy between bankers’ shorter-term rewards and the longer-term objectives of retaining and consolidating clients’ assets, which happens when clients are consistently delighted with the firm. As such, incorporating both shorter and longer-term client-centric metrics, like satisfaction or NPS, incentivises employees to think ahead.
Effective leaders also exhibit qualities such as the ability to operate across all levels of the organisation, deep dive across data and anecdotes, have a backbone, disagree and commit to ideas, and of course – have conviction, tenacity and are right, a lot.
It is one of Bezos’ core business beliefs that leaders and entrepreneurs should have an open adaptable mind-set, revisit their ideas and explore other perspectives; those that do, often find themselves revising and refining their assumptions and ultimately arrive on the winning side of the equation.
Our industry could learn from this approach. Scorpio’s research shows that 62% of private clients would stay with the wealth management firm if their manager left for a new institution, that advisors often make poor assumptions about clients’ priorities, and that many U/HNW investors want to move away from fees based on percentage of AUM. Strong instincts, extensive experience and a pulse on your client base will take you only so far – so conducting market research to test assumptions, set direction and validate strategy will bridge the remaining knowledge gap.
Hiring and developing the best talent is an age old challenge for entrepreneurs. In his 1998 address to shareholders, Bezos writes: “It would be impossible to produce results in an environment as dynamic as the Internet without extraordinary people… Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”
Amazon’s hiring strategy is multi-faceted and evaluates each candidate from a personal, team and company-fit perspective. First and foremost, the hiring team needs to consider whether or not they admire the candidate; lack of admiration means no offer. Secondly – will the candidate increase Amazon’s average effectiveness and the effectiveness of the team? And finally, in what context can the candidate be a superstar?
These are interesting questions to consider for wealth firms. The need for exceptional talent continues to rise – particularly across Asian and US markets – where talent management is reaching critical levels. And while all clients agree that professionalism, integrity and intelligence are the most important traits, younger clients are also significantly more likely to consider creativity, patience and empathy as equally important qualities. As such, recruiters in wealth will have to think a little differently about the type of profile they are looking for.
The third and final combination of principles are business related, such as the importance of frugality in helping organisations invent and simplify i.e. with certain constraints in place, businesses are forced to invent and innovate, accomplishing more with less and developing self-sufficiency.
For example, Amazon flies all its employees Economy, has secured low prices on its hardware by promising vendors they’ll never return broken equipment and designing its own software and hardware solutions.
Frugality is modern day reality and many of today’s wealth mangers are also forced to cut costs. Rising compliance costs, weak markets, low interest rates and slow growth all mean budgets are being squeezed and many of the largest firms – such as Goldman Sachs, UBS and HSBC – have already announced significant cost reduction measures.
However innovation is key to remaining competitive, particularly in an industry where clients see themselves part of the process. Our research on the digital world of the Futurewealthy finds 56% of HNWIs believe their engagement with digital technology is contributing to their success – a figure that rises to 76% for the most wealthy.
So to succeed, businesses need to think big, have a bias for action and ultimately deliver results. Bold ideas and blue sky thinking inspire while bias for action encourages calculated risk taking and speedy decision-making.
When Bezos introduced Amazon Web Services, he was met with deep scepticism from the market. But, true to his word, he hit a home run with the service and ten short years later it’s on track to gross $16 billion in revenue in 2017, outperforming competitors like Google, Microsoft and Oracle.
Many wealth managers are concerned about the evolution of financial technology and wonder about the extent to which FinTech will threaten their businesses. 61% are expecting pressure on their margins, 50% are expecting a loss of market share and 34% are yet to even engage with a FinTech company – these are sobering statistics.
So as an industry, we should be inspired and emboldened to take action.
Amazon’s leadership principles are fantastic stepping stones for enhancing our own customer service, evolving the business’ value proposition and empowering employees.
So in Bezos’ words: “We can’t be in survival mode. We have to be in growth mode…work hard, have fun, make history!”
News from the world of wealth:
Mediobanca to sell down Generali stake in wealth management drive – (Financial Times)
Lossmaking online wealth manager Nutmeg raises £30 million – (Financial Times)
Is private banking on the decline in Singapore? – (The Middle Ground)
Thought of the week:
“Often times invention requires a long term willingness to be misunderstood” – Jeff Bezos
Coming events in the world of wealth:
Author: Joseph Ebin, Senior Analyst at Scorpio Partnership.
Expertise: Joseph focuses the key performance indicators at wealth managers, and in particular, the linkages between performance, reward, and the client experience.
Background: Joseph joined McLagan in 2013 where he was responsible for data management and analytics relating to wealth management performance and reward. Since joining the Scorpio team Joseph focuses on performance, reward, and client insight.