The risk for banks rushing headlong into digitization is that older, high-net-worth clients and some wealth advisers not yet ready for change might feel lost.

To ensure that customers and staff can keep pace with new features, City National Bank is taking a page from major tech companies, adopting a staggered, calendar-tied approach to development, says Michael Cordas, the firm’s senior vice president of enterprise business transformation, process and workflow.

“One of the things we are doing is implementing a master calendar of cadence and adding governance to that,” Cordas told the audience at InVest 2018. “Stakeholders can come together and say, ‘You may be done; you may be ready to push this (new tech feature) but where does it fit?’”

This master calendar determines when new features will be released with input from end users, including advisers, so that changes will be more readily accepted, Cordas explains.

“Typically in an organization, there are leaders of ideas and efforts who are pushers," he says. "They are pushing initiatives to get implemented as quickly as possible."

But with the governance feature, parties can provides input before a new feature is rolled out. It not only acts in a similar manner to a traffic light on a busy street, but also brings transparency to the digital transformation process, Cordas says.

Michael Cordas, senior vice president of enterprise business transformation at City National Bank
City National Bank is taking a page from major tech companies to manage how and when it adds digital features, says Michael Cordas, the firm’s senior vice president of enterprise business transformation, process and workflow.


Los Angeles-based CNB, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, kickstarted their digital transformation process about three and a half years ago by first tackling its paper library. Aggressive efforts have cut down paper forms by 50%. Electronic signatures have gone from zero to 50% in some divisions of CNB.

“We have taken the adage that paper is the enemy of good. We were very paper-form driven. It used to take two forms to use the restroom at CNB,” says Cordas.

For wealth management, CNB announced last year it would use the SEI Wealth Platform to provide an integrated digital experience for advisors and clients.

Another aspect CNB is transforming: the branch experience. The firm tapped the same design team that created the iconic look of the Apple store to reimagine CNB locations, Cordas says. It is aspiring to combine the customer experience of visiting an Apple store along with a personal shopping experience somewhere like at Neiman Marcus — but with advisors and bankers. Cordas did not elaborate further on what that entailed.

However, while CNB and others remain committed to digital transformation, a study from OppenheimerFunds, released in June, shows that high-net-worth investors are more interested in good investment performance. This quality is the top priority, or near the top, across different generations from millennials to the silent generation, says Christina Boris, vice president and client research director at OppenheimerFunds, who presented the findings following Cordas’ talk.

Surveyed advisors ranked transparency as the top quality that they believe investors are seeking. Advisors also ranked access to digital services as number five. For surveyed investors, the importance of access to digital services ranks lower at 13 out of 15 characteristics.

The same survey also points out that high-net-worth millennials are more likely to already be working with, or are open to using, a robo advisor.

But as institutions and advisors serving different age groups try to figure out their clients’ appetite for digital, they shouldn’t segment clients by age when it comes to digital services, argues April Rudin, founder and president of the Rudin Group, marketing consultancy for financial services and wealth management firms.

“Older people are aging in place, want to be connected and sometimes can’t get to meetings, can’t get to their banks, and are increasingly becoming highly connected,” she says. “Some younger people want to have a more personal connection with their advisor.”

Advisors are projecting what they think clients want instead of allowing clients to choose a digital or a more traditional experience, Rudin says.

“You should offer different channels and let people choose,” says Rudin. “Give the people what they want."

Sharon Adarlo

Sharon Adarlo is a Financial Planning contributing writer. She has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera America and The Daily Beast. Most recently, she wrote about science and engineering for Princeton University.