The prospect of long-awaited better times and a growth-focused era is showing promise as we finally see some relief from the relentlessness of this global pandemic. While it is my personal wish that Zoom happy hours at wealth management firms land in the Covid-19 history bin, we have to give it up for video conferencing and virtual meetings.
In the early months, many wealth management firms experienced technical obstacles as employees transitioned from office headquarters to being fully remote. Yet, necessity led to resourcefulness and challenges were relatively short-lived.
Not exempt from the turbulence and impact, financial advisers must surely be contemplating the shifts that enabled continuity and sparked growth, still indispensable in a post-pandemic world. It’s about choices; face-to-face meetings will again be an option, but virtual has been test-driven and is a great alternative. Motivated by need, behaviors among consumers changed with increased adoption of fintech and mobile banking apps.
There is one break in the clouds that has emerged from this time — the rapid advancement of technology that is now better serving consumers of wealth management and a presumption of continuous forward movement. As new generations of investors enter the scene, demand for advisory services will rise, as will expectations about what advisers can deliver. Understanding, harnessing and mastering these shifts will be key to adviser growth in the decade ahead.
FINANCIAL ADVISER VS. STOCK PICKER
With an ever-growing array of low-cost digital advisory and retail investing options emerging for do-it-yourselfers, the perceived value of advisers who lead with stock selection and portfolio creation is waning. Consumers are increasingly seeking out advisers who can answer the fundamental question of whether an investment goal can or will be realistically achieved.
Advisers who continue to limit their scope may lose ground to their competitor counterparts offering more holistic and outcome-oriented approaches. There are many factors driving this shift — the decline of company pensions, extreme capital market and geopolitical volatility, and persistent doubt looming around the long-term solvency of Social Security. Increasingly, clients are seeking out financial advisers who offer empathy and sincerity and can restore informed confidence that brighter financial days lie ahead.
PERSONALIZED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES
To thrive, versatility and expansion of purpose is mission critical for today’s financial advisers; investors want a coach who can provide comprehensive services and support to fit their unique life needs. Advisers must also be poised to provide personalized context and commentary on how the capital markets and global environment tangibly impact their clients’ goals, dreams and long-term investing aspirations. As this is a colossal ask, many advisers are electing to focus their time on client service and delegating stock selection to third-party asset management firms and investment strategists. In this scenario, investors can receive answers to their critical top-of-mind questions, enabling advisers to focus on delivery of advice that can yield better outcomes.
There’s no doubt that investors today expect a very different experience from what advisers once provided. We know why — daily digital interactions with platforms like Amazon, Spotify and Netflix are now commonplace.
Consumers are accustomed to highly personalized, intuitive experiences. These non-financial platforms have arguably done more to influence the expectations of investors than any platform in fintech today.
Advisory clients want access to solutions and investment recommendations that are grounded in their individual concerns, societal causes and core values. Consumer demand for this type of personalized advice can easily outstrip an adviser’s capacity unless new technologies and smart approaches that help automate aspects of the personalization process are adopted.
In the same way Netflix provides recommendations based on a viewer’s history, advisory platforms serving up solutions informed by data that reflects a client’s uniquely personal story will become the norm in the near future.
The third major trend in wealth management is the one that enables and drives the first two: the rise of true client-centric wealth technology. The direction of financial technology over the years has gone from providing back- and middle-office solutions to a front-office focus that prioritizes the adviser/client relationship. Fintech platforms are now implementing AI to automate much of the time-consuming manual work of wealth management, freeing up advisers to focus on data-driven solutions and direct client conversations. And this facilitates democratization — what was once known as white glove service, exclusive to high net worth investors, can now be accessible to others. But to achieve this, advisers and firms must modernize their IT infrastructure, automate core processes that generate data for analysis and use AI to minimize human effort.
Employing fintech does not end with the back- and middle-office processes. Advisers also need to home in on front-office, client-focused digital offerings. Partnering with fintech firms is a logical option for advisers who lack in-house wealthtech capabilities. In parallel, they should also assess internal capabilities, with an eye on developing their human capital.
Apps will be crucial for advisers as they aim to enhance and digitize the investor experience. Apps that can be easily accessed via mobile devices also allow for omni-channel client experiences and a sense that their portfolio and its manager are available at the swipe of a screen.
According to J.D. Power, clients who interact with their adviser’s app are more satisfied than clients who don’t use an app or who don’t have one available to them. However, the quality of the app is vitally important; firms and advisers must offer apps that deliver robust experiences, and are secure and easy to use. The research also shows clients are least satisfied with wealth manager apps versus those offered in other areas of financial services, such as credit card providers, banks and insurance companies. Getting the app experience right will go a long way in building and retaining client relationships.
From automating processes and accumulating meaningful data, to formulating insights and planning for specific client goals, technology investment and adoption is key to advisers’ getting out front with a commitment to customized, concierge-level service for every client. The future of wealth management is about creating empathetic experiences for investors. After the year plus we’ve all had, I believe those in the noble profession of wealth management and advisory get it.