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How Digital Do You Want to Be?

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Just how digital do you want to be? 

Planning firms need to sit down and carefully examine how far they want to go — or don’t want to go — in transforming their firms into digital operations, two Pershing executives told attendees today at the inaugural InVest Conference in midtown Manhattan.

“Everyone races to have a digital component, but they haven’t figured out their entire value” proposition, says Kim Dellarocca, a Pershing managing director.

Ram Nagappan, Pershing's CIO, elaborates, “In order to digitally enable your organizations,  you have to figure out: Do you want to be completely self-service, do you want to be in the hybrid model (with traditional and digital tools) or do you want to be high-touch, high-tech?”


To frame advisors’ thinking around this large and complex issue Pershing put together three classifications of digital change to illustrate how a firm can move along the spectrum from somewhat digital to very digital indeed.

Those categories and their associated changes are:

Level 1 — Foundational 

At this level, a firm has:

Online and mobile access to client accounts and its website

Workflow automation

Self-service tasks available for clients

Paperless processing 

Account aggregation.

Level 2 — Value-adding 

At this level, more advanced firms will have:

Automated client engagement

Video and chat capability with clients and employees

Document sharing

Digital advice.

Level 3 — Forward-thinking

Here, future-focused firms will embrace:

The Internet of things. Think of each client document as a “thing” — much like the products or devices more typically referred to in discussions of this subject — that can be dynamically tracked and accounted for, Nagappan says.  

Cloud computing

Service available on devices that aren’t just mobile, but also wearable.

The ability to work with clients who have or want to use cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Some firms may choose not to digitize much or even at all, Nagappan says. This is fine, he says, as long as they realize that this will prevent them from reaping many operational, strategic and client-service benefits.

And, if you don’t change, be prepared to hear complaints not only from customers, but also from employees, who will increasingly demand digitization to increase their productivity, he says.

Some firms opt to entirely digitize their back office in such a way that the process is invisible to clients, Dellarocca says.


However you do it, if you do embark on a digital transformation, wrap it up in 24 months, Nagappan says, because technology changes so quickly.  

To usher in change at Pershing itself, he says, the organization uses a “reverse mentoring” program in which millennials, who are more comfortable with technology, mentor their baby boomer and Generation X colleagues.

Another reason to go digital is to serve the increasing number of high-net-worth clients who expect it, Nagappan says, pointing out that a large percentage of billionaires made their fortunes in Silicon Valley. 

“You really will get a much better client experience when you digitize,” Nagappan says. “Don’t rush. Plan well. Digital transformation is here to stay.”

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