Engaging high-net-worth clients digitally can be a delicate balance for advisory firms.

However, wealthy clients demand an enhanced digital experience, says Kraleigh Woodford, managing director and head of digital client experience for UBS WM USA, speaking at SourceMedia’s In|Vest conference in New York.

HNW clients "need a lot more complexity" than a mass affluent audience, Woodford said.

"Their expectations of what they're experiencing and seeing in the digital channel is not just focused on investment performance and portfolio, but is actually much broader," she explained. "It's about total wealth and often that leads into planning and advice as part of the digital experience."

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HNW clients demanding an enhanced digital experience
Needs of wealthy clients are "a lot more complex," says Kraleigh Woodford, managing director and head of digital client experience at UBS Wealth Management.

Wealthy clients, for example, are likely to work closely with attorneys, accountants and, in some cases, family office employees.

Advisory firms must keep in mind how the people their HNW clients employ will be digitally engaged, said Deborah Waters, global head of private bank operations and technology for Citibank.

"You have to think about how the delegates of HNW clients can work with the client digitally," Waters said.

Advisory firms can't lose sight of the fact that a digital experience must work easily and "feel human," says Kraleigh Woodford, managing director and head of digital client experience for UBS WM USA.
A digital experience must work easily and "feel human," says Kraleigh Woodford, managing director at UBS WM USA. Patrick McLain

Despite the complex needs of wealthy clients, advisory firms can't lose sight of the fact that a digital experience for must work easily and "feel human," Woodford warned.

"Clients expect digital to work," Woodford told the In|Vest audience. "When they're engaging, they're all looking for a human angle. And we're not being judged on what other banks are doing. We're being compared to Amazon and Google."

What's more, anxiety will accompany a digital transformation, Waters pointed put.

"You have to acknowledge the anxiety," Waters said, "and ask how you can make digital use as simple as what Apple does. Simplicity is key to what we're doing here."

As a result, advisory wealth managers were advised to tread carefully when engaging digitally with HNW clients.

"You can't ignore age," Woodford explained. "Older clients will eventually use digital, just not at first. It's potentially disruptive, and they're going to need more handholding."

Wealth managers also have to make digital adjustments internally, Waters pointed out.

"Firms have to change how they think about the back office and operations," she said. "They have to assess how digital engagement applies to their processes."

For all the digital progress being made, wealthy clients aren't ready to completely jettison the financial planning services of their human advisors, Woodford and Waters agreed.

"Financial planning is still an offline conversation," Woodford said. "You can start the planning process digitally, but sophisticated clients still want to have conversations with their advisors."

Charles Paikert

Charles Paikert

Charles Paikert is a senior editor at Financial Planning. Follow him on Twitter at @paikert.