Amid continuing broker protocol talks and regulatory changes, technology has emerged as an important, yet relatively unnoticed factor that shapes the recruiting landscape of the advising industry.
It has a two-way impact: With technology, firms aim to hire less and do more, while advisors looking to switch firms often can’t accept a downgrade in digital support.
Greg Friedman, a CFP and the founder and chief executive of Private Ocean in San Rafael, California, says that technology allows his firm to increase staff slower than the overall growth rate of the company, a key to maintaining profitability.
The independent firm had 23 employees when it managed $720 million in 2014 and has only expanded to 26 people as its assets under management reached $1.2 billion today.
“Salaries are going up, and costs are going up. You can’t just keep adding,” Friedman says.
“We had one single guy trading for $300 million, and still one person trading for $1.2 billion,” he says.
Private Ocean uses technology to automate routine tasks, such as opening new accounts, producing annual reviews and rebalancing a portfolio. Adding staff at a slow rate, the firm encourages lifelong learning for their employees.
“It’s not about working longer hours. It’s about working smarter,” Friedman says.
To stay at the forefront of technology, firms are also reconsidering the type of talent that they are seeking.
For example, Morgan Stanley posted job listings in May for hundreds of “digital advisor associates,” a newly created position. Responsibilities of the role include managing social media, the website and other client communication.
Meanwhile, the wirehouse has been cutting back on recruiting advisors.
“Financial advisors are not chief technology advisors. The personality traits that make them successful as an advisor is not the same trait that makes them integrate technology solutions,” says Evan LaHuta, managing director of client experience at Pershing Advisor Solutions in Jersey City, New Jersey.
“[Firms] are hiring the kind of talent that can bring them together,” he says.
For advisors, technology is one of the deal-moving factors when they pick their next employer.
Rob Blevins, president of recruiting firm Rowlette in Dublin, Ohio, comments on its importance.
“On a scale from one to five, I’d say five,” he says. “If [advisors] are coming from a firm with good tech support, they don’t want to go backward.”
For example, remote access is one of the most popular technologies among advisors.
“If they are with clients at home or meeting for coffee, being able to pull out an iPad and show them [their accounts]” would be helpful, Blevins says.
Technology also helps independent firms compete for talent against wirehouses, he says.
With the growing choice of tech providers and lowering costs of infrastructure, registered investment advisors can offer equal or even better and more customized technology than wirehouses.
“I think if you go back 15 to 20 years, it’d be rare to see an advisor leaving Merrill Lynch to go to an independent broker-dealer,” Blevins says. “Now because of technology, it’s leveled the playing field.”
This story is part of a 30-30 series on how technology is changing your practice.