Is domain knowledge a pre-requisite to being a successful project manager in today’s wealth management industry?

Is SME knowledge necessary in some or all cases?

Can generic Project Management skills only, work in our industry?


Project Management Skills are generic, they can apply to any industry?

When we start out on our journey as project managers, we are taught that project manager skills are generic – they apply to whatever the business involves, and they are therefore interchangeable between businesses.

Are the generic PM skills themselves enough?

My opinion is domain knowledge is not only helpful but important, but I stop short of this needing to be SME knowledge. We have gone beyond the point where pure PM skills alone are sufficient.

What do I base my opinion on?

My 30 years as a project manager in asset management and transfer agency, means I’ve picked up a fair bit of knowledge along the way. I would not however say I am a subject matter expert in any aspect – I have a wide-reaching all-round domain knowledge.

When starting a new engagement or project, the position you start from is paramount. Especially in the consultancy space. It’s important to quickly build up a relationship and rapport with your sponsor and stakeholders. Being able to understand their world and ‘speak their language’ is key to being able to do that.

To successfully project manage also requires abilities to listen, facilitate, manage, and challenge views by asking questions. Often the very act of asking these questions can result in useful debate, during which it’s important for the project manager to remain impartial.

Sometimes having too much SME knowledge of a subject can be at odds to being a good Project Manager.

Are my views shared more widely?

I asked one of our Associates, who is a SME in the regulatory world and currently running a project, for his views on this topic:

He said “it’s a definite advantage to understand the regulatory environment, how regulators work and what the current regulatory focus is. It enables the PM to ‘speak the same language’. I think credibility is important and having a regulatory background makes for more efficiency within the project. So yes, I do think it’s necessary to have the relevant background, especially when working in the regulatory project space. I don’t however feel it necessary to be an SME on the specific subject.”


Having a background in the relevant area is an advantage but is it absolutely necessary?

I asked a COO at one of our clients, who currently works with several of Simplify Consulting’s Project Managers, for his thoughts. His personal view was that it shouldn’t in theory need be a pre-requisite since pure project Management skills are generic, however the reality is a need for efficiency and the ability to “hit the ground running”.  The wealth management industry in general is becoming more and more of a specialist knowledge environment. With this in mind, it is therefore unlikely that a Project Manager with no relevant experience in the domain area would be considered suitable.

As a consultancy company what is our experience?

Our Business Managers’ experience is that almost all requests which come to us at Simplify for Project Management consultants will include some requirements outside of just the pure PM skills.

There are cases where this is specific to the type of project being undertaken. For example, in the case of an outsourcing or migration project.

Most often the requirement is for someone who can be credible in the area they will be working in, can understand the terminology and environment and will be able to engage quickly with the relevant stakeholders.

Wealth Management experience is invaluable in support of efficient change execution

From the people I spoke to whilst researching this subject (and there are many more than are referenced here), It became clear to me that my own thoughts are echoed throughout the industry. Domain knowledge (but not SME knowledge) is not just an advantage, in most cases it is considered a necessity for a project manager.

Efficiencies and expectations are set based on a certain level of knowledge and understanding within change management and Project Managers are no exception to this.

Here at Simplify Consulting we have a large number of project managers, who among them possess a wide variety of knowledge and skills in many different areas of the Wealth Management sector.

If you need a focused, dedicated PM with the relevant background and domain knowledge to help you with your projects or programmes, we can almost certainly help you. Please get in touch with us at


Sheila Sambrook

Head of Delivery