"When advisors see great technology, they want it. We build it, but they don't really use it."
— Dean Zayed, CEO and Founder of Brookstone Capital Management
Unlike the mysterious voice from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams that said, "if you build it, they will come", financial advisors do not always embrace new technology. As Zayed aptly points out, the lack of advisor adoption of new technology is a dirty little secret in the investment advisory business.
Even though providing the best service to clients is the ultimate goal, their need should not be the only ones driving technology decisions. To weave new technology into services wired by traditional frameworks, everyone — from the CEO on down — needs to have their voices heard.
Increasing Adoption Rate
At the Orion Advisors Ascent conference, Dean Zayed was joined by Aaron Schaben, EVP at Carson Wealth Management and Mark Dupont, SVP of Focus Financial Partners, for a panel called RIA Differentiators. The low adoption rate of new technology among advisors headlined the discussion.
All three of these companies are Orion clients and are happy with their technology, but Zayed shared that they have not seen expected adoption rates in non-Orion applications.
Buy-in at the CEO level is required to improve adoption rates, Schaben proposed. The increase in usage of specific technology can be incorporate into the firm's key performance indicators (KPIs) because "what gets measured, gets done", he noted.
Focus Financial, which partners with 55 RIAs, uses game and reward-based systems to drive technology adoption and has seen much better results, according to Dupont. One technique they discovered was only enabling 20% of the functionality in new software to start, then adding more in successive phases. This helps avoid overwhelming advisors who usually don't have time for long training sessions.
Technology changes could also be tough on legacy employees, Zayed countered. Those who have been with the firm for ages and who are the embodiment of the client-advisor relationships could feel left behind if they are slow to adopt new tools. (See 7 Impressions from the Orion Advisor Conference)
Build the Connection
When hybrid RIA/TAMP Brookstone Capital was preparing to introduce a digital advice offering, Zayed reported that the results were positive, albeit not as imagined. After pouring money into testing and advisor training, the experiment morphed into an opportunity to improve the firm's new account onboarding process by partnering with human advisors, rather than replacing them.
In a client-advisor relationship, technology is rarely the defining factor, Zayed insisted. Building the connection is critical and Brookstone uses their CRM to touch each client at least 10-15 times a year.
Client technology adoption is also a metric that must be monitored and is an important part of overall satisfaction. Most firms do not have a clear roadmap to increase client usage of technology, Schaben noted. While 90% of advisors can describe their client-facing tools, only 30% know what the adoption rate is among their clients.
Advanced software capabilities can improve client satisfactions, but advisors should guide them from the beginning by consistently reinforcing the value provided, Schaben recommended. Otherwise, clients might be tempted to switch to another firm that does a better job of dressing up and demonstrating the exact same technology offering, he warned. (See Redtail vs Salesforce FSC: Which is the best CRM for Financial Advisors?)
To further improve technology adoption rates, firms should look past the financial industry to the consumer space where expectations of cohesive, seamless experiences are born. The capabilities of voice-activated assistants like Google Home and Amazon's Alexa is highly advanced with high usability. This is why mobile-enabled, 24/7, on-demand service is now a basic client expectation, Dupont claimed.
This is important considering 46% of Millennials would consider purchasing investment advice from one of the consumer technology players without even knowing the cost. The level of trust between these brands and their customers runs deep and should be a warning to the advisory industry.
Advisors should not be not afraid of Google, Apple or Amazon coming into our space, Zayed claimed, because ours is a relationship business. Firms need to continue strengthening their bonds with clients so they cannot be replaced, he stressed. (See Can Big Data Make Risk Tolerance Questionnaires Obsolete?)
Data is the Key
Part of the secret sauce behind the success of consumer technology firms is their use of data to better understand the needs of their target audience. Advisors are at a disadvantage here and need to expend some extra effort to reach out to clients and prospects to learn more about how their lives have changed in the past few years, Schaben recommended.
New AI-based solutions could help in this area by providing insights into client behavior and how they might react to volatile market conditions. Focus Financial is evaluating business intelligence software that work across the enterprise, DuPont noted, and could help spot trends in client behavior and alert advisors to take action. (See A Consultant's View on the Leading Vendors in AI for Wealth Management)
Incentives Meets Strategy
When boutique private equity shop Focus Financial does lift-outs of successful wirehouse teams, the number one request is for an end-to-end, seamless experience from CRM through financial planning and through the rest of the wealth management process, Dupont reported. But providing this is difficult for the 50% of wealth management firms that don't have a strategic technology plan, he observed.
Advisory firms can no longer depend on one person to be the innovation lead. Everyone on the team needs to help tech-enable the firm. This could involve counting all the different browser tabs an advisor has to open just to complete a client onboarding. Is it possible to consolidate this into a single dashboard? As Dupont fervidly told advisors "You have to make it easier to work with you."
Consistent messaging on all platforms is also critical to the adoption rate. Clients are interested in the service not the technology. So across the value spectrum of the firm's client, advisor and marketing experience, the service should be the primary differentiator instead of technology. All developed under the umbrella of deepening the client-advisor relationship. (See 4 Secrets of Successful RIA Rollups)
Technology can be used to add layers to that very relationship. While introducing new technology, an important firm objective must be bringing the client to the firm's domain and then keeping him or her there while expanding the client's data warehouse at the firm. For instance, if the client has a child departing for college, the advisor could design and send a newsletter with a 10-point listicle of aiding the financial aspects of that transition. It will not be surprising if AI fills that gap, but for now the personal touch from the advisor can enhance the moments that matter and positively impact clients.
Regularly surveying clients and posting results to advisors could amplify new technology adoption rate. Clients need to know their feedback is important, Schaben explained. Carson Group, which has almost $7 billion in AUM, sets up separate advisory councils to an keep the firm well-versed in client expectations and behavior.
It is clear that increasing advisors' adoption rate of new technology is a shared responsibility. If the innovation officer sources and develops new technology, then the CEO must merge adoption and implementation analytics into business metrics. Similarly, the onus of using this technology should not lie solely on clients, the advisor must bring the technology to them and demonstrate how the client's financial lives will be made easier because of it.
The adoption of new technology among advisory firms is not as elusive as it might seem to be. Strategy, incentive, and steady implementation could lower the hurdles among stakeholders.