The Jedi Masters of Client Experience

In our industry, enterprise tools are archaic and hard to use, so the bar is set very low. There’s tons of opportunities for new entrants that can deliver better advisor experience.

— Mike Sha , CEO, SigFig

David Canter, Executive VP, Head of the RIASegment, Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions, and Mike Sha, CEO and co-founder of digital advice technology vendor SigFig, may not have trained as a Jedi for 800 years, but they are leading members of the Wealth Management High Council and experts in optimizing Customer Experience (CX).

At the recent InvestWest Conference, I sat down with David and Mike to ask them about training young RIA firms, clearing your mind, simplifying your solutions, and looking into the ever-shifting future of the advice industry. 

Within, you must look.

“You will find only what you bring in.” – Yoda, legendary Jedi Masterfinancial advisor client experience

Any advisory firm that wants to improve their CX must begin by looking at themselves and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. David explained that he when works with a new RIA, he starts with four questions to help understand their needs:

  • Who is your target market?
  • What are your capabilities?
  • How are you organized as a business to propound that into the marketplace?
  • What is your technology infrastructure to power it? 

After evaluating the responses, he asks a fifth question: what is your unfair advantage? What is it about the blending of those elements that makes your business difficult to replicate?  Businesses that focus on that have more sustainability, he stated. (See #ItzOnWealthTech Ep 17: How Advisors Can Find Their ‘Unfair Advantage’ with Tricia Haskins)

“Looking? Found someone you have, eh?” – Yoda

Often businesses can get caught up in their own course and mission, looking around for ways to expand and improve, and forget to start first with the needs of their customer. Mike described how his time working at Amazon encouraged him to think of running a company rooted in the concept of starting with the customer. In the wealth management industry, he finds that it is often the needs of the business that are recognized and addressed first, and believes that this notion needs to evolve.

Clear, your solutions must be.

“Many truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Yoda

It’s not just customer experience which needs some extra thought. Most technology providers in the industry are essentially legacy software companies that built their core businesses in the era of the transition from file cabinets to mainframes, Mike noted. People who worked at these firms assumed that all software needed a training plan. But we have seem that it is possible to greatly simplifying the design of software to increase its usability over time. “Did you get trained to use your iPhone?” he asked rhetorically. 

While some support will always be needed for software, by creating solutions that are simple and straight-forward enough that they do not require training, firms can ensure that their solutions remain durable and retain high usability over time.

“Size matters not.” – Yoda

Reducing scope is easier said than done. Software developers have been known to “guild the lilly” or add more features than requested to make it look nicer. This can sometimes overwhelm clients, who do not need or know how to deal with that many options. “There’s a natural gravitational pull towards complexity because there’s such a range of client needs,” Mike explained. The most successful technology firms have figured out a way to make something that’s complex feel simple, or actually be simple, he noted. (See Why “Build It And They Will Come” Doesn’t Work With Advisor Technology)

Change, you must accept.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.”- Yoda

David heralded in the new year by discussing the main changes expected in the next decade. He wagered that there will be an increase in transparency across the board; of fees, of how products come together, and of conflicts. He also foresees a rise in the intertwining of health and wealth, pointing out that advisors are ill-equipped to deal with the age of longevity where a couple in retirement will have to expend $285,000 on healthcare costs on average. Continued growth in the importance of integration was his third prediction.

Integrations have been difficult for legacy firms that built their core systems on mainframes that focused on reliability over client experience, Mike pointed out.  SigFig has always been client-driven, so they were able to attract different programming talent to develop a great client experience, he stated.

“Warrior you are? War does not make one great.” – Yoda

How will the advice industry continue to thrive in the future? Mike believes that through CX, advisors can help to improve consumer’s habits and choices. The ultimate long term value add for advisors is their ability to change client behavior.  This is where SigFig started out. They built a portfolio tracking application that was, at one point, following around half a trillion dollars of assets. The data they collected told them one thing: “the average self-directed investor is not doing a good job.” (See Advisor-Managed Portfolios Knocked Out by Home Office Performance – Cerulli)

Mike predicted that the more the industry can help guide clients to make good choices, the longer that the traditional human advice industry can exist and deliver value. This informs the perspective he takes when working on advisor technology, which he put as, “how can we help our advisors help their clients?”

“Lost a planet Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing!” – Yoda

There was a Fidelity study about the best performing accounts, which found that the accounts that performed best were the ones the client had forgotten they held and therefore left it alone for a long period of time. Mike supported this finding with research from SigFig, which found that the level of ‘stickiness’ of a customer— how much engagement there was with the accounts— was directly inversely correlated with the performance of their accounts, going against the traditional investment advisor view that strove for more customer interaction.

Master yourself, you must.

“Control, control, you must learn control!” – Yoda

Doing a few things expertly and cleanly is much more effective than trying to do everything in one place. When asked about one of my favorite trends, which I call ‘appification’ of advisor tools, Mike responded that, “One of the pieces of advice we give over and over again is to just start by identifying the few things that advisors do most on their phones and perfecting those use cases.” Mike advises that it is best not to try and “replicate 17,000 different things that their desktop solution can already do and try to jam it all in”.

No matter how many applications are on the market, there always seems to be room for one more! I have seen this time and time again when a new company contacts me to review their new software that is going to revolutionize “X” segment of the market. I’ve stopped saying that there’s too many players in a space. My new outlook is that advisors like shiny new toys and some will try anything that comes out with a different interface or a different process for doing some part of what they’re doing now.

At the same time it is becoming harder for advisors to keep up with the latest technology in any area due to the explosion of new entrants. They’re overwhelmed and it’s not going to get any easier as software continues to get cheaper to build and entrepreneurs keep finding new ways to skin the same cat.  When will see the Baby Yoda of wealth management applications hit the market? An application that unexpectedly takes the market by storm and goes viral?

The Jedi Masters of Client Experience

by Craig Iskowitz