Are you Greg?

Greg has been a financial adviser for 22 years, and he’s a good one. He has an established, but still growing, book of business. He appreciates automation — his clients love the new client portal his firm rolled out a few years ago, his portfolio rebalancing workflow is mostly automated, and fully paperless account opening and asset transfers are right around the corner.

But Greg isn't concerned about technology. What keeps him up at night is his relationship with his existing clients. In particular, establishing and maintaining the trust that he’s doing the right work on their behalf.

He also knows how it feels before a client leaves. The signs are a feeling of disconnectedness, that he doesn’t know what the client wants and that the client doesn’t trust that he’s valuable. And it’s not just Greg. A 2014 Vanguard-Spectrem study found that the four top reasons clients would leave an adviser were all communication-related — not performance or advice-related.

Doctors have a rubric for trust called “The Three As” which are: Availability, affability, and ability, in that order. Greg takes the same approach, knowing that being available to his clients is the most important thing he can do.

He does his best to prevent that disconnected feeling by trying to speak to his clients frequently. But it’s not that easy. His clients’ time is valuable and so is his. Like everyone, he’s done generically-prompted chats. “Hi, I just wanted to catch up. Here’s how your portfolio has done over the last six months. Any questions? Here are some new services our firm is offering.” It’s mostly adequate, but it really bothers him that sometimes he feels like the client thinks he’s wasting their time.

He also knows that his clients aren’t passive consumers of his advice — they have ideas and concerns of their own. In our own survey of affluent investors, a full 87% of respondents wanted to be actively involved in their investments in some fashion.

So Greg’s very favorite conversations are the ones that address known client concerns — whether it’s that a client wants to start saving for college or that they’re worried about inflation. Those conversations are almost certain to engage his clients’ interest and lead to a deeper relationship.

And if a client doesn’t have questions of their own, Greg likes to do homework on a client file and reach out with a couple topics that he thinks are going to be relevant to that particular client. Conversations with a personalized agenda are almost always winners — he knows that he’s demonstrated availability, affability and his ability.

The only problem with these customized chats is the time and skill they require. Whether analyzing a specific stated client concern or identifying potential issues, prep requires a process that simultaneously accounts for:

· Fast-moving market and economic news
· Each client’s profile and existing portfolio
· Portfolio analytics
· The practice’s planning and investing strategies
· Potential actions or avenues of discussion

This is not work for the summer intern. If Greg were to try to do this himself for all 120 clients every quarter, that would take 100% of his own time.

Greg and his team aren’t without tools, of course. CRM systems and portfolio accounting systems do a good job of organizing the facts about a client and their portfolio. Data providers like Morningstar put portfolio analysis just a click away. Digital services, including well-configured Google News alerts and Twitter feeds, keep Greg informed. Financial planning software allows him to illustrate impacts on a client’s financial goals.

But synthesizing all those pieces of information into prompts and ideas for client conversations is still manual, and often happens on the fly, inside Greg’s head.

TOOLS FOR CONFIDENCE
A more recent generation of technology is just starting to transform the work of figuring out what to say to a client, so Greg can always be prepared and confident.

Intelligent content marketing services like Vestorly are providing ever-smarter streams of third party content to advisers that can be used to sustain client awareness and spark valuable discussions.

Natural language analysis platforms like Narrative Science and Automated Insights aren’t just writing your weekly fantasy football commentary — they’re starting to save serious time by automatically writing monthly portfolio commentary using patterns in historical return data.

Sales AI and CRM from technology behemoths like IBM Watson and Salesforce are starting to automatically identify events in clients’ lives and prompt advisers when conversations are warranted by keeping an eye on transaction records and social media.

Automated investment assistants (like we are building at Polly Portfolio) review a client portfolio through the lens of both the advisers’ investment strategy and current news headlines to facilitate timely and personalized conversations about how a client is currently invested.

What these solutions have in common is that they each, in their own way, directly support the heart of being a financial adviser. Being a financial adviser is not just about opening accounts or tax optimizing or booking trades (which are all fine things). It’s about two people, an adviser and a client, having a conversation about the client’s financial life. And yet, for that conversation to be the best that it can be, technology needs to play a role.