On the edge of innovation: Q&A with Ignition Wealth's CEO Manish Prasad May 2018

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Manish Prasad began his career during the evolution of internet banking and this month took over as CEO of robo financial advice firm, Ignition Wealth. Manish speaks with excitement about his goals for the first year and talks us through the firm’s "unique venture" in partnership with one of Ireland's biggest banks. We also hear his thoughts on the Royal Commission, workplace culture and the future he sees for robo-advice.

What attracted you towards a career in financial services?

I’d have to say it was my dad. He came to Australia as a first-generation migrant with $300 in his pocket. He always worked hard and quickly started to understand what he needed to do in terms of investing, saving and negative gearing. During my teenage years, he shared a lot of that information with me and this sparked my interest in money; how it’s made and how it’s managed. I got an accounting degree, my first job with Advance Bank (now part of Westpac via St George) and the rest is history.

Can you share some of your key goals for this role over the next 12 months?

Ignition has really narrowed its focus over the last 5-6 months and our main goal in the near future is to become the leading provider of integrated bank-grade, white label digital advice solutions. My personal goal between now and next Christmas is to increase our size by two or three times and also increase our client base by three or four times. These clients are all large institutions - super funds, insurers and banks.

Will the recent Royal Commission have an effect on the way you communicate with your clients?

It’s less about how we communicate with clients and more about how we support them because we’re a B2B business. What the Royal Commission has done is highlight poor behaviour, misalignment of incentives and the lack of understanding from consumers around what they’re getting. It has also highlighted a lack of education around appropriateness for institutions and what they’re delivering in terms of financial solutions.

One of the things that we do at the core of our advice delivery, is education around appropriateness in compliance. We deliver this in a seamless manner at a reasonably tight cost point. Everything coming out of the Royal Commission is highlighting the fact that organisations need to think more about education and compliance. We’re ready to help our clients by having that conversation.

"Everything coming out of the Royal Commission is highlighting the fact that organisations need to think more about education and compliance."

As CEO, what steps will you put in place to instill and maintain a good culture within the workplace?

For me, culture has a couple of different elements. The first being an organisation’s ‘look and feel’ and the other being how we act as an organisation. From the ‘look and feel’ point, Ignition Wealth has always had really excellent people on board. It started with Mike Giles and Mark Fordree and they’ve always recruited around a capability and culture mindset. As CEO, I will continue to support that existing culture. My core part in delivering a good culture to this organisation is to live by our values; always act with transparency, make decisions in the right way and have some fun along the way.

Can you share any new technologies or strategies that Ignition Wealth are looking to implement in the near future?

The biggest opportunity that we have in front of us is data. Our partners all sit on a huge quantity of high-quality data and our goal is to help organisations use and enrich that data to make better financial decisions for their underlying customers.

Secondly, we’re already experimenting with how we can bring in new technologies to help our clients to help their customers. That could be through intuitive conversations, be that a Chatbot or voice assist, to help guide the advice process rather than just having a single dimension, on-screen engagement.

Can you tell us about some of Ignition Wealth’s initiatives in Ireland?

Ireland is a really unique venture for us because their market is going through a massive change and is looking to Australia for leadership. Not only are they going through a digital transformation from an organisational perspective, they’re also going through a real push into RDR and a migration from DB pensions to DC pensions. There are also a lot more individuals who are looking at their own finances now rather than leaving it to a company.

We’re really honoured to have partnered with one of the leading banks in Ireland to help drive and manufacture much of their digital transformation. We’re working with them on one major part of that, which is the delivery of high-quality financial advice and education for their customer base. We’re now in mid-flight of this project, which will be a multi-year, multi-million-dollar transformation on their end.

How do you see robo-advice evolving in the next decade?

I think robo-advice will become two separate businesses. I believe there will be a direct consumer business, which will be dominated by incumbent players, and I think we’ll see what has happened in the US, with the likes of Schwab and Vanguard, where they’ve delivered a lower-cost solution for robo-advice to an existing channel. That will be the dominant path to success for direct consumer businesses.

Then there will be a B2B software technology relationship which is where I see Ignition Wealth’s success in the future. This will be dominated by embedded technology in a seamless advice journey that is data-driven and very intuitive. It will almost happen in the background of your life, so your financial life is constantly being guided by your financial organisation.

I think the biggest robo-advice evolution will come with an increased and higher quality data set driving financial decisions and advice. I also believe that engagement will move away from screen-based services to more background, utility style services.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life/career so far?

Personally, it’s definitely my wife. We’ve been married for more than 10 years now and she has such a comforting way of filling me with confidence to continuing doing what I do. She asks the questions that only a wife can, I’ll think I’m being really smart and then she’ll break it down and ask me a question that makes me realise that she’s a lot smarter than I am! She always has an insightful way of looking at any problems I might be facing.

From a career perspective, it’s Paul Robertson who is one of my recent managers. He’s the former CEO of Tynan MacKenzie and former Managing Director of Genesys. He delivered leadership with integrity and always did the right thing in the right way and stood by his values. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was an absolute pleasure to work with. He’s been most influential to me in the recent stages of my career as an executive. He’s someone who I still reach out to for advice when I need it most.

"I think the biggest robo-advice evolution will come with an increased and higher quality data set driving financial decisions and advice."

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

Don’t get anyone else to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. That was said to me very early on and it’s something that I think about every day. It’s a simple one but it helps to guide how I engage with people.

What was your very first job?

My role at Advance Bank was my first professional job. I was working in their internet banking department. It was the third bank in the world to have internet banking. I was really lucky to be working in the call centre, taking on technical enquiries, about what was at the time, a very new piece of technology.

It’s not what we know today. Back then you had to dial into the internet to start with and you had to download a piece of software, start that software and then go in to look at your balance. Back then, I spent a lot of time talking to early adopters of this technology, they were people who wanted to be part of the future. I can see that financial advice is starting to go down that path now too.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I’ve got two six-year-old boys, so I find that it’s always nice to go home. I always try to do the things that matter first and figure out the things that don’t matter second. When I’ve taken that attitude, I’ve found that there are always enough hours in the day to get the things that really matter done and everything else can just wait.

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