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When introduced a decade ago, robo advisors were touted as automated tools that would quickly replace most financial advisors.

Instead, wealth management companies are using digital advice products in concert with their personnel after executives realized that the robos could allow advisors to focus on "big picture" issues.

“What it does is give our advisors the capacity to go up market and deal with the big issues such as, 'How do I retire? How do I plan for that?’ ” Leonard Golub, managing director and market head for the UBS wealth advice center, said at SourceMedia’s In|Vest conference this week.

Golub said he underestimated the ability of an automated product to enhance advisors' client interactions and to bring more business to the firm.

“The digital tool drives growth,” he said. “It allows financial advisors to give more holistic advice. They’re talking about broader issues for clients and that can translate into bringing outside assets into UBS.”

At the same time, digital platforms have forced wealth management firms to up their game, Golub said.

“Digital has brought the walls down between companies,” he said. “Clients can push a button to move assets around, so you better be able to deliver a good experience.”

While the focus on good customer experience is a well-worn trope in financial services at this point, it is still driving product development at UBS and many other banks.

“It’s not about an app, but about the experience we’re creating,” Kraleigh Woodford, managing director and head of digital client experience for UBS Wealth Management, said during a fireside chat about the firm’s latest mobile efforts.

In April, UBS launched an iPad app to make it easier for clients to manage their investments on the go.

The app helps users track their net worth while providing spending analysis tools and the ability to visualize and achieve financial milestones such as retirement savings.

Woodford said the app has won multiple “innovation” awards though downplayed the idea that it’s a revolutionary product.

“What was most innovative about what we did was go back to basics,” she said. “We built something that was designed to be used by both our clients and advisors.”

That’s an approach more organizations are taking as they build and improve upon digital advice tools.

As Wells Fargo Advisors built its digital platform, it knew “the role of the advisor would be front and center,” said Patrick Rodman, senior vice president and director of advice offering, digital and automated investing.

Rodman said Wells needed that approach because it knew some clients have “high anxiety” when dealing with financial issues and might be overwhelmed initially on a digital platform.

“The role of the advisor is to shepherd them through that experience,” he said.

Rodman noted that Wells just finished conducting focus groups about the digital platform and found that while some clients expect to “never engage with a financial advisor, they have comfort that they’re available.”

“Because we’ve set this up with access to a financial advisor," he said, "we’ve reached clients that we might not have with only a pure digital product.”

This article originally appeared in American Banker.
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Robo advisors Digital banking Automated investing Investment technology UBS Wealth Management Wells Fargo In|Vest Conference