Advisors' tech priorities -- and needs -- have shifted dramatically over the last 18 months, says Steven Crosby, head of PricewaterhouseCooper’s U.S. wealth management unit.

For wealth advisors, client data is replacing transactional processing as a technology priority, he says. “The industry grew up with transaction processing,” said Crosby, a managing director at the global accounting, research and consulting powerhouse. “But in the last 18 months we’ve seen a shift away to more emphasis on being increasingly data-centric.”


In part, Crosby says, this is because of an ongoing shift toward closer advisor-client relationships. Wealth managers need to "quantify" the trust clients are willing to place in them, Crosby says. “Aging baby boomers will need a lot of advice,” he explained. “They need to be prepared more than ever as they face retirement, and financial advisors have to think creatively. You can’t do the customer experience properly without having data on the customers. And technology is now shaping the customer experience.”

Crosby made the comments in an exclusive interview with Financial Planning as he is finalizing research for the 2013 edition of PwC’s bi-annual Global Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey, due out this summer.


The “metamorphosis” of the independent advisor business from solo and ensemble firms to multi-state companies is another key change Crosby noted since the firm's 2011 survey.

Firms striving for a regional, if not a national footprint, are basing their business model on scale and succession planning, Crosby says. To compete in this expanded market, firms would need to employ at least around 60 advisors and be able to provide research, trading models and an array of open-architecture products, he adds.

Some conclusions from the 2011 report, such as the shortage of talent and the need for greater operational efficiency, appear to remain in place.

The talent shortage, especially at firms serving high and ultrahigh net-worth clients, was highlighted most recently in a Family Office Exchange report last month.

“It’s a real challenge,” Crosby says. “Where does the new talent come from? Firms are going to have to invest in training, or they may have to turn to an apprentice system. It takes a special breed of cat to [work with wealthy clients] and do it well.

“There’s the personal aspect, but these advisors must also have the ability to have a macro-economic discussion with the patriarch or matriarch of a family and give them context,” he continues. “They also have to have the ability to appreciate different cultures. That’s a key part of it.”

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