Harshendu Bindal ticks off the priorities for Franklin Templeton Investments:
- changing consumer behavior in both its retail and institutional businesses,
- meeting the challenge of the relentless demand for passive products,
- ongoing regulatory changes,
- shifting distribution needs.
That’s already a lot.
“Plus digital,” he told DigFin in his San Mateo, California office. “It’s all-pervasive. We need business leaders to devote time and energy to digital,” both to fend off its threats as well as to harness its opportunities.
Franklin Templeton has recently promoted Bindal to a newly created role as head of digital strategy and wealth management. He was previously head of retail for the firm’s ex-U.S. business, but the digital role includes the U.S. too. He now reports to Jed Plafker, executive vice president of global advisory services (i.e., distribution). Bindal emphasizes that his new role is a front-facing one: “Digital is about growing revenues,” he says.
He is no stranger to digital: as the CEO of Franklin Templeton’s India business, he oversaw the integration of early versions of digital business, to allow the firm to develop a mass-retail strategy. That experience taught him asset managers can use technology to grow beyond their traditional consumers and distributors.
Bindal says the firm does not want to compete with its distributors. In markets like Hong Kong and Singapore, virtually the entire addressable market is already in a banking relationship, so banks will remain the dominant distribution channel.
But in other markets, there are new, cost-effective ways to help the firm’s intermediaries reach their local masses, or to enable Franklin Templeton to reach them itself, perhaps through non-traditional distribution channels.
Working with robo
Bindal doesn’t intend to drive a one-size-fits-all approach. Each market has its own consumer needs, distribution structures, and pricing models. This means the digital response will vary, from simple access to financial planners, to a sophisticated robo-advisory offering with either ETFs or active mutual funds as the underlying.
This will build on the firm’s taking a stake in fintechs such as last year’s deal for Singapore-based Bambu. Bambu builds robos for banks and other clients on a B2B basis.
“Bundling Bambu’s robo-development capabilities with our investment-management solutions opens a bigger opportunity for us,” he said.
Many robo-advisors trying to sell direct to consumers have become commoditized, with good but similar client experiences and very basic algorithms. They are good at customer acquisition, and a useful gateway to clients lacking access to financial products or advice; they are not, however, superior at money management.
“In the U.S., only one out of three families has a financial plan,” Bindal notes. “And what they have is cumbersome and paper-based. A robo-advisor can get the consumer involved, and provide a self-service offering as a step towards a customer meeting a human financial advisor.”
He says he is not looking to drive a direct-to-consumer business, at least not for the mutual funds business. “We’re moving more to B2B2C,” Bindal said. “We still think about reaching the end consumer, but through other platforms. That’s the big play.”