Our drive to find smarter, more efficient solutions to problems lies at the heart of the way Link Group does business. We have long recognised that an innovative approach improves the outcomes we are able to offer the market as well as boosting our profitability. It can also provide broader benefits to our clients, their customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. We were once a company that processed and sent millions of sheets of paper for our clients. Nowadays we lead the industries we work in towards efficient, environmentally aware, paper-free solutions. The past year has seen Link Group pass a number of milestones in its determination to maintain its position as an industry leader in innovation.
Mobile apps are one of the most exciting tools of the digital age - simple, hand-held solutions for doing better business. A few years back, Link Group saw the potential this technology could bring to executives of listed companies. In 2015, Orient Capital, a Link Group corporate markets company, launched the miraqle® app for iPad. An investor-relations management tool targeting C-suite and investor relations executives, the app is based on the popular miraqle® platform and was developed by Link Digital Solutions. In January 2017, the app was updated for the iPhone, and an Android version is also being developed.
The miraqle® platform is used by over 1,500 listed-company clients worldwide, including by some 80% of the S&P/ASX 200. In app form, it helps listed-company executives better manage their interactions with shareholders, even while travelling. Executives can track and manage their meetings with existing investors, or target potential investors, both online and offline. Audio dictation allows users to take notes on the go, with links to apps such as Uber and OpenTable integrating tasks such as booking transport and making restaurant reservations.
Link Group made corporate governance history in November 2016, when it became the first S&P/ASX 200 company incorporated in Australia to hold a hybrid (physical and virtual) Annual General Meeting. The use of the Company’s online meeting platform for AGMs allowed shareholders from far-flung locations to take part in the meeting, ask questions and vote. Some 16% of the votes cast during the AGM were cast online, 50% were cast via the LinkVote App and 34% were paper based.
We were also the first company in New Zealand to use this technology to facilitate online AGM participation. We have successfully supported a number of entities listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX), as well as ASX/NZX dual-listed entities to use the technology, including Xero Limited, Spark New Zealand Limited, and The A2 Milk Company Limited.
In mid-2016, we opened LinkLabs, a dedicated innovation space in Link Group’s new Collins Square office in Melbourne. The space is designed to be used by our employees, clients and business partners, as well as by our community partners such as schools and universities. Boasting an array of advanced multimedia technology, including a 3x3-metre video wall, the facility can be used for everything from strategy sessions and staff training to client meetings and ideation workshops. The benefits to clients are significant. LinkLabs provides clients with a flexible way of learning about Link Group’s latest products and becoming involved in the innovation process. The space also allows clients to carry out in-depth user testing and rapid prototyping. This fast-paced exploration of ideas means that clients can increase the speed to market - and value - of their new products. A Sydney version of LinkLabs will be opened as part of the refurbishment of our George Street offices in the second half of 2017.
Link Group is constantly looking for better, more efficient ways of doing existing tasks. We now incorporate chatbots into the customer interfaces of some of Link Group’s key client portals. Chatbots are sophisticated computer programs that can simulate human conversation patterns. They can answer frequently asked questions and thereby free up human operators to respond to more complex queries. Another example of our willingness to find new ways of engaging with clients is the virtual reality tours that we provide of our Rhodes facility in Sydney. Participants can take the tour from any remote location where a virtual headset is available.
Our suite of digital tools helps our clients to maintain brand differentiation by allowing them to offer bespoke services to their customers/stakeholders. Link Group’s SuperMentor service, for example, is a digital advice platform rolled out in FY2017 to provide online superannuation advice and motivate fund members to learn more about their super. The tool offers a personalised to-do list, goal setting, education, four categories of advice, and real-time tracking of progress. Similarly, our Net Wealth Tracker is a tool that enables superannuation fund members to view their net wealth position via Link Group’s member portal. Members can view balances from a range of financial institutions in a single view, a convenience that enables increased fund-member engagement and retention.
In February 2017, Link Group announced a partnership with Stone & Chalk, which is a not-for-profit fintech hub that supports over 90 start-ups and their 300 staff. The hub’s focus is on helping potentially high-growth ventures to commercialise and rapidly scale through collaboration programs with corporate partners. The partnership will provide Link Group with greater access to the community of financial technology start-ups, opening opportunities for us to share industry experience and expertise.
The Technology and Innovation Committee of the Link Group Board was established in 2015 and continues to provide innovation leadership. The Committee monitors technological changes, innovations and trends in the marketplace, as well as the potential these have for application within the Company. It meets with technology experts and technology partners. The Committee also makes recommendations to the Board on Link Group’s technology strategies, and on their alignment with the Company’s overall strategy and objectives.
Link Group won Financial Services App of the Year at the 2017 Financial Standard MAX Awards for an employer app it developed in partnership with Cbus. The app was launched in December 2016 and allows small business operators to make super contributions, add new employees, generate receipts, and manage account administration, all from the convenience of a mobile phone. Meanwhile, our forward-thinking approach also earned us a place in Australian Anthill magazine’s SMART 100 list of the most innovative companies.