Best practices for leveraging tech during the coronavirus era
The bad news for wealth managers looking to score a “first-mover advantage” on technology to improve your firm’s client experience: That ship has sailed. The best time to invest in a next-generation digital wealth management platform was sometime last decade.
But the good news is that being a “second mover” can have its advantages, too, particularly amid industrywide changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic that couldn’t have been imagined a year — never mind a decade — ago.
Integrating both new and existing technologies into firms can quickly breathe new life into tired sales and distribution models and automate inefficient processes, helping to ensure they are equipped to deal with the short- and long-term effects COVID-19 pandemic.
But as wealth managers rush to reinvent themselves as bionic advisors, they must also take care not to overlook their clients’ demands for greater personalization and engagement (more on that later)
There is one obvious place for wealth managers to start in the COVID-19 era: video. Social distancing measures have made it impossible for the typical advisor to conduct business as usual. That is because the sales and distribution model that connects Wall Street products and services to the mass-affluent client are based on face-to-face conversations, But whether the arena for such in-person advice was the branch office, the client’s home or the golf course clubhouse, those meetings will likely not continue as before, even after the pandemic has passed.
To ensure continuity in engagement and advice, some wealth managers have invested in videoconferencing software like Zoom and Webex. Nobody would argue that the setup is perfect — advisors need to stay vigilant to potential security, privacy and compliance risks, and also beware of the “Zoom fatigue” phenomenon. But in the current crisis, video technology has definitely allowed managers to execute plans, rebalance portfolios and advise jittery clients countless times.
In the months ahead, wealth managers will need to fine-tune their video strategies. For example, some clients weary of videoconferencing will prefer easy-to-read documents delivered via email rather than time-consuming calls, while others will welcome the option of joining webinars that share wealth advice in a less intense, one-on-one way.
Seize the moment
With the coronavirus pandemic affecting every aspect of the financial services workplace environment, there is also an opportunity to accelerate the move to a paperless office. Form-filling is still part of every stage of the client lifecycle, from discovering and prospecting all the way through to onboarding, servicing and retaining.
While rudimentary machine learning technology, which can prepopulate fields in onboarding forms and robotic process automation (RPA) technology, which saves files, transfers data and sends emails has been around for a while, there is no better time for the wealth manager to introduce such automation of these processes into their firms. The immediate incentive may be the pandemic, but the result will be less repetitive, soulless work in the short term and actionable insights galore in the long run.
That is because new technology automatically gathers and analyzes mountains of data as it works in the background. For example, an ordinary compliance mailing has evolved from a monthly paper document to a highly interactive, personalized website experience that is launched from an SMS or email. Behind that mailing is an avalanche of data and powerful analytics that can churn out client insights for a firm’s front, middle and back offices. These insights allow a manager to offer a client more value-added products and services, which, in turn brings in even more data, setting in motion a kind of virtuous cycle of upgraded client experience.
Automate but personalize
But there is a fine line between honing the client experience and delivering generic advice. Clients will continue to demand a high degree of personalization in all of their service relationships, and won’t hesitate to leave managers who don’t deliver the goods.
This is especially true of millennials, a generation standing to inherit $30 trillion to 40 trillion over the next 15 years. This cohort craves personalization, but also expects everything to be delivered digitally — whether by mobile, email or text platforms. And they have high standards.
The typical wealth manager will not solve the riddle of millennials, or chance upon the Goldilocks recipe for a hybrid advice model overnight, but there is no better time to start than now.