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New Fidelity fintech slashes clients’ information overload by 20%

In the high-stakes digital home improvement contest among RIAs and broker-dealers, Fidelity’s first big project this year is replacing the custodial giant’s front door.

Hundreds of broker-dealers and thousands of RIAs who work with Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions are getting faster account onboarding through the Boston-based firm’s Wealthscape financial advisor technology platform, Fidelity said on Jan. 27. The firm made the announcement ahead of FSI’s OneVoice conference, which is attended by nearly all of the largest IBDs.

As part of a phased rollout of the new onboarding process and other digital service features slated for 2020 and into next year, Fidelity says it has cut the volume of information clients must review in account opening by 20% and the number of electronic pages to two from nine.

Fidelity’s rollout comes as rival custodians like BNY Mellon’s Pershing unveils its own artificial intelligence tech tools. LPL Financial, a self-clearing IBD, spent $150 million on fintech in 2019. Commonwealth Financial Network — itself a Fidelity client — is now selling the IBD’s advisor software to other firms through a fintech firm its partners launched last year.

In a blind, third-party survey of 486 advisors for Fidelity in November, 56% answered “agree” or “strongly agree” when asked how much they agreed with the statement, “The time I need to spend on account opening paperwork at my firm cuts into valuable client face time.”

Custodians and their client firms started cutting steps from onboarding a few years ago. The integration of electronic signature tools eliminated the need to sign various forms in person, according to fintech strategy consultant Gavin Spitzner of Wealth Consulting Partners.

“Digital account onboarding has been an evolution,” Spitzner says. “It makes advisors’ lives a lot easier, it simplifies the office function and, ultimately, it’s a better client experience.”

Fidelity launched Wealthscape in 2016 to serve as the “one single front door” into its earlier Streetscape and WealthCentral advisor workstations. A year earlier — when the custodian’s parent acquired planning software firm eMoney Advisor for a reported $250 million — Fidelity noted that the firm has an annual tech budget of some $2.5 billion across the entire firm.

Asked for updated or specific figures for the custodian, spokeswoman Rachel Shaffer said Fidelity spends billions on tech each year across the company. In October, Fidelity also unveiled customized modeling on its Automated Managed Platform for custodial client firms.

In its announcement, Fidelity said it is focused on saving advisors’ time. Lisa Burns, Fidelity Institutional’s head of platform strategy, also noted end-client expectations around tech.

“Now, more than ever, both advisors and the investors they work with are comparing wealth management technology to their last best experience — whether that be with a ride-sharing app, an entertainment portal, shopping on their phones, you name it — so expectations are really high,” Burns said in an emailed statement.

The rollout, which has already begun, is expected to last into next year, Fidelity said. Automated form population, a focus on concise snapshots of relevant data and a new interface enabled Fidelity to reduce by 40% the fields required to be filled out by advisors.

The new paperless process includes individual accounts, authorizations for asset transfers, bundles of transactions into a single client approval email. Fidelity also plans to launch new processes for other types of registrations, such as prime brokerage, margin loans and beneficiary designations.

Representatives for the firm said there were no exact timelines for the other tech tools it introduced at FSI’s conference. The new features it’s currently developing in pilots consist of chat and virtual assistant programs, enhanced platform searches and more embedded instructions to help drive adoption and understanding of the tech among advisors and clients.

The Wealthscape Integration Xchange, a digital store used by client BDs and RIAs to adapt tech to their specific platforms, is also adding new APIs that will help the firms customize the advisor workstation to their specific company.

“Enhancing our digital capabilities to save advisors time and help them work more efficiently is a priority for us, and is part of Fidelity’s continuous investment in its technology enterprise-wide,” spokeswoman Shaffer said in an email.

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