Distribution Technology (DT) was founded in 2003 because the vast majority of investments are made by clients after they receive advice from advisers, but the time, cost and risk of delivering advice mean the provision of quality advice is increasingly challenged. The three founders of DT – Ben Goss, Adrian Hall and Patrick FitzGerald – felt that technology could change that.
Ben had previously founded the UK’s first online advice company (Sort.co.uk) using the Internet to help make advice more widely accessible, while Adrian and Patrick were working in tech for a bank. Patrick and Ben originally met at a National Childbirth Trust event and ended up talking business more than babies.
Suitability risk or, as the founders called it in their original business plan, ‘the risk of selling the wrong product to the wrong person’ was also high. They felt that in this market the old ‘product push’ model was increasingly unsustainable and more ‘service orientated’ business models were needed. These bring:
- Longer term, more profitable relationships
- More stable assets and sustainable revenues
- Enhanced cross-sales and greater ‘share of wallet’
For the end consumer, the vision for Dynamic Planner was that it could help bring a better understanding of whether they are on track to meet their goals, how much risk they should take and what their investment strategy should be
Dynamic Planner was launched in early 2004, nine months after the founding of the company on St George’s Day, 23 April 2003. Its launch as the UK’s first off-the-shelf, Software as a Service (SaaS) based financial planning tool was covered in the Financial Times under an article which began: “Behind the scenes, a quiet revolution is going on in Financial Planning.” From day one, end clients were given online access to the service, an early innovation and one the company has continued to evolve.
“Our Dynamic Planner technology represents a new generation of financial and investment planning technology in the UK and is designed to help advice-led distributors grow their business… Web-based, it allows them to take advantage of the Internet to deliver flexible financial planning solutions to their advisers allowing them to deliver ‘traditional’ face-to-face advice but better, faster and at lower cost” – Distribution Technology Business Plan, 2003
In 2004, it was clear that UK insurers wanted to provide advisers with financial planning tools. Pre-RDR – and the Financial Conduct Authority’s Retail Distribution Review (RDR) in 2012 – advice firms were unaccustomed to paying for such tools from a software vendor. They principally received them for free.
A Ringing Endorsement
In late 2004, Dynamic Planner received a ringing endorsement from the then Financial Services Authority (FSA), which called its custom use of the application ‘a benchmark for perfect advice. That was a fantastic feather in the company’s cap, because, at that time, the use of technology, let alone web-based technology, in the advice process was rare. Dynamic Planner’s marriage of process and deep analytics was unique and quickly developed a strong market for its services.
Initially, Dynamic Planner provided firms with one investment process via a single SaaS code base, but solutions were typically heavily configured for large financial institutions through professional services projects.
Success for Dynamic Planner snowballed and contracts were won in swift succession with a series of major product providers and banks. The company expanded rapidly and after hiring a number of team members from the Thames Valley, the UK’s tech hub, some of whom are still with the company today, moved from its offices in the City of London to Reading. The company also moved from self-funding to take on outside investment from a syndicate of experienced FinTech investors.
By 2007, DT had hit the Tech Track 100 and ranked 40th among the fastest growing UK companies. Dynamic Planner continued to enjoy a Tech Track 100 ranking in 2008 when they climbed as high as 24th and in 2009 (46th).
DT remained largely unscathed throughout the tumult of the 2007-08 global financial crisis. A full order book and large ongoing projects helped safeguard the business. In September 2008, another eye-catching deal was completed with the biggest UK advice firm outside of a bank. Later in 2009 and into 2010, Dynamic Planner prestigiously ranked number one in the Deloitte Fast 50 and was the fastest-growing tech company in Europe.
“We came out the blocks as a business very quickly,” remembers DT CEO and co-founder Ben Goss. “We were more than doubling our revenues year-on-year. I was always confident that we could succeed and confident that we could build a great company. A lot of people have worked incredibly hard to help us achieve that.”
Asset and Risk Model Framework
The underlying Dynamic Planner asset and risk model framework have played a significant role in delivering a coherent set of risk-adjusted, multi-asset, target allocations. By offering clients the reassurance of sensibly diversified portfolios – across core asset classes of cash, bonds, equities and alternatives, with varying currency exposures – the observed risk and reward metrics have proven the robustness of the model during times of extreme market turmoil including the financial crisis. The model has proven vital not only when assessing future expectations of value at risk, but also provided a tried and tested set of risk-adjusted benchmarks for advisers to demonstrate the ongoing investment journey and justify the ongoing suitability of their recommendations.
A perfect storm still lay around the corner, however. Banks, which had previously been Dynamic Planner’s staple clients, were choosing to stop offering financial advice. The global financial crisis had forced them to refocus on their core business. At the same time, the FSA was making increasing noises about what in 2012 became RDR and the banning of advisers receiving a commission for the promotion of products to clients. The insurance industry reacted by rapidly consolidating and stopping the free provision of planning tools.
By the autumn of 2009 Dynamic Planner’s core client base was being challenged. The company responded and restructured. It knew it had been the first company to create a joined-up, end-to-end investment process. That bedrock lay at the root of its early success and by the end of 2010, the company had adopted its ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy, which refocused the company on its core service to Independent Financial Advisers and included the provision of innovative mobile apps. ‘Blue Ocean’ would pave the path to an even brighter future.
IFA firms wanted an independent view of asset allocation and of asset and risk trade-offs uninfluenced by product providers. Dynamic Planner delivered that. It became increasingly seen as the industry benchmark for asset and risk modelling. Instead of focusing on delivering a highly configurable service, the company concentrated on building the best service it could with an independent model – a single set of assumptions for its asset and risk model and a team whom advice firms could access to help them embed it successfully within their business. The business model also had to change; away from large professional services projects to recurring licence subscriptions.
Use of Dynamic Planner’s core service started to grow dramatically, from a few hundred users in late 2011 to more than 6,500 (around a quarter of all UK advisers) and rising today in 2018. RDR, at the end of 2012, was pivotal within the sector and accelerated interest in Dynamic Planner from firms who suddenly faced a challenge meeting its requirements to demonstrate their value and justify their fees more transparently. At the same time, the company launched its Fund Risk Profiling service with a small group of asset managers who wanted to position their multi-asset fund ranges in line with Dynamic Planner’s risk profiles. Six years later, this service leads the market, covering more than 1,000 investments from more than 100 asset managers, including more than 30 discretionary fund managers offering model portfolios. More than £3bn of investment recommendations were made during 2017 through Dynamic Planner and this is growing at 40% per year as a result of the company’s focus on its three brand promises.
Dynamic Planner brand promises
- To help you accurately risk profile your customer as part of a risk-based plan
- To ensure investments meet our definition of a suitable risk
- To track investments’ risk on a quarterly basis
The Dynamic Planner investment process, in careful consultation with advice firms, evolved – helping advisers demonstrate real value to clients. It enabled them to show clients what their current portfolio looked like and the risk entailed; what the level of risk that they are willing and able to take is to achieve their plans; and what portfolio is suitable for them as a result. Dynamic Planner and the team have been fortunate to win a series of industry awards as a result of focusing on a single version of the service and a single version of its asset and risk model.
Dynamic Planner deepened its investment services to advisers further and, from 2015, launched its Risk Target Managed classification where investments are explicitly run to stay within its risk profiles – an industry first for an independent provider. While still early days, more than £5bn was run by managers in the service at the end of 2017.
From January 2016, ACE Fund Rating research was introduced, helping advice firms assess which investments were delivering (and most likely to continue to deliver) good risk-adjusted returns against the Dynamic Planner model. At the end of 2017, leading manager Schroders launched Wealth Portfolio Services – low cost, active access to Dynamic Planner’s risk profiles or asset allocations with high-quality portfolio reporting, where Dynamic Planner’s Head of Asset and Risk Modelling sits on their investment committees – another industry first.
Digitally, this depth has been mirrored to include, from early 2010, an iPhone and iPad app; from early 2015, a risk profiler and client portal app. At its Annual Conference in March 2017 Dynamic Planner launched its white label automated advice service AccessAdvice, which enables adviser firms to deliver automated advice, initially on ISAs via their website.
In 2017 Dynamic Planner was named as an Emerging Star in the Megabuyte Scale Up awards – as a result of the growth in its recurring subscription revenues, now more than 90% of its turnover.
“Even today in 2018, investment processes remain relatively fragmented,” says Goss. “So the future for Dynamic Planner is very much focused on encouraging firms to fully adopt our end-to-end process integrated with their back office and platforms.
“Dynamic Planner’s strategy continues to centre on the success of advice firms and our vision continues to focus on a world in which customers are able to access suitable investments and advice from them. This is the way we do good in the world and this is the way we have built a good business. This year we will have supported the provision of high-quality investment advice to over one million end clients post-RDR. We are incredibly proud of that.”
Goss continues: “FinTech for financial advisers has gone from a ‘nice to have’ when we started 15 years ago to fundamental to their business. More and more firms are basing their investment proposition around our asset and risk model and trusting us with their investment process. As a result, we’ll continue to innovate and invest in our service and our people to support them and their success over the next 15 years.”