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The Evolution of the Client Financial Advisor
As we explored in our recent white paper, “The Future of Advisory: Exploring the Impact of Robo on Wealth Management,” the advent of online automated advisory services is finding a receptive audience amongst a digitally aware and active client population. The white paper focuses on the client advisor as a key part of the response of incumbent banks to the robo-advisor phenomenon, highlighting the need for robo as an augmentation of the advisor-led process, rather than a wholesale replacement for human interaction.
Our own experience shows that there is no single, one-size-fits-all service offering available to assist advisors in managing customer interactions. In this blog, we will look at some of the drivers and pain points in the advisory process, as well as suggest some options and techniques that can be adopted for improvement.
Drivers & Pain Points
The financial crisis has been a public relations disaster for banks, resulting in intense regulatory and media focus on consumer protection. It has eroded trust, and the industry is now seeing significant growth in the number of “validators” – those who seek professional advice, do their own research, and seek additional opinions – and a corresponding drop in the numbers of delegators or self-directed clients.
Surrounding this all-encompassing change brought on by the financial crisis are numerous pain points for client advisors. Here are a few of those pain points, along with some insight into what is driving them:
- Increased regulation and internal processes place stringent demands on how and where advice may be offered, the products that can be recommended, and the due diligence and record-keeping required around every client interaction. Severe penalties can be applied in case of any breaches, which affects advisors personally and can hurt the business in general.
- New competitors and digital disruption are applying external pressure, as eCommerce applications, social media, and the ease with which services can be consumed and switched create a challenging environment for the traditional, conservative business offering. The expectation is that services of all types should be available whenever, wherever, and via whatever channel a consumer feels is most convenient.
- Real-time ubiquity and the obsession with connected and mobile devices is redefining almost every industry. It creates new demands on banks, who cannot afford to have lengthy service outages or restricted availability windows as required by many legacy systems, while also setting expectations of real-time and ad-hoc views of positions, market impact, risk, and recommendations. For advisors, the problem is how to be (or, at least, appear to be) available around the clock for a client base that expects instant, continuous service.
- Client expectations and needs are changing because of demographic and societal shifts, as well as technological advancement. We see the rise of the younger client, who is characterized as a millennial, digital native, and user of ubiquitous technology. Today, half of high-net-worth individuals are interested in using automated advisory services, with nearly two-thirds expecting to access their portfolio over a variety of different channels[i]. At the same time, only a very small proportion of clients are comfortable with a digital-only service model, while personal interaction can occur remotely as well as face-to-face.
- An unprecedented inter-generational wealth transfer is taking place, with growth in the numbers of young entrepreneurs and more than $30 trillion of assets being inherited by the next generation over the next 30 years[ii]. The challenge for the client advisor is to attract these recipients of wealth in a crowded market place. The focus must be on providing the simplified and attractive experiences that these younger investors expect as they plan their life goals.
Overall, these challenges present some amazing opportunities for banks and other advisory organizations to make a real impact on both their businesses and their customers. Solving these challenges quickly and efficiently is critical as the role of the client advisor continues to evolve.
Options for Improving Client Advisory
With the many challenges facing incumbent client advisors, one area in which the new robo-advisors have excelled is in streamlining the cumbersome processes of account opening, transfers, and account servicing, which has set the bar high for incumbents. Clearly, as shown in the previous section, there is more work to do than just simplifying account opening and maintenance. Here are some of the options for improving client advisory:
- Enhancing collaboration with clients to evolve the advisory role: The advisor is the key differentiator compared with automated services, but typically has at best rudimentary systems available to manage the relationship. Banks should maximize value by equipping them with advanced tools to manage recommendations, segments, campaigns, response and interaction status, and more. Finding ways to safely integrate mainstream video, instant messaging, and social collaboration tools into advisory use cases would help the advisor participate in the client’s ecosystem more naturally, differentiating services and providing competitive advantage.
- Meeting the trend for validation and social interaction: By coupling advisory services with support for peer-group validation, feedback, and interaction, client advisors can safely offer new services while managing regulatory risk.
- Staying away from automated recommendations via online interaction: Recommendations are a pillar of almost all online interactions, but not in the world of wealth management. Wary of regulators and the risks of inappropriate advice, it has been easier to simply ignore the mainstream analytics supporting eCommerce. However, opportunities exist for those banks looking beyond the confines of machine-driven investment advice. Forming a complete picture of a client, including online activity, demographics, life goals, investment objectives and experience, risk appetite, and more could support very detailed segmentation and peer group analysis. Recommendations made on this basis may include less sensitive research, news and other content, events, marketing, and any relevant material highlighting opportunities to trigger advisor interaction.
- Prioritizing timeliness, data transparency, and reacting to financial events: This is the foundation of a modern online service, and seeing an up-to-date view of a portfolio is a basic client expectation. The ability for a client to receive immediate alerts in response to market and news events that highlights risk and performance impact with associated recommendations is an important capability. For the advisor, having a way to manage these alerts across an entire client book, prioritize follow-ups, drive client interaction over relevant channels, and track responses to resolution would be an important differentiator.
Following through on some of these potential solutions could become an immediate differentiator for your advisory’s service offering. You don’t have to go full robo to start offering clients better service, so incremental change is a solid gameplan for the short-term.
Conclusion: A Best-of-Both-Worlds Approach
There are a number of ways that the advisor’s role can be enhanced to more effectively compete with automated services. If provided with tools that are carefully aligned to the unique priorities of a bank’s service offering, product set, and business priorities, the client advisor can evolve to become the orchestrator of a digital environment, focusing on providing value through client interaction rather than manually trying to identify critical details from a flood of data. In conclusion, your best option is likely a best-of-both-worlds approach that builds on the strengths of traditional advisory with robo capabilities.
To learn more about EPAM’s fintech capabilities, explore our Financial Services industry page for a great selection of content that covers the technology and regulatory challenges facing your business. If you have any questions, comments, or would like to schedule a free consultation, please contact me directly via email at Panos_Archondakis@epam.com.