Internet Watch: Teaching Brokers New Tricks

Wall Street has spent huge amounts of money on new technology. But if brokers don't use it, it's a waste. Firms are being challenged to come up with new, innovative training programs that are relevant and appealing to their reps. We use a lot of success stories of brokers who have made money or gotten additional assets through e-mail or portfolio reports online, says Lorraine Cronin, Prudential Securities'

Wall Street has spent huge amounts of money on new technology. But if brokers don't use it, it's a waste.

Firms are being challenged to come up with new, innovative training programs that are relevant and appealing to their reps.

“We use a lot of success stories of brokers who have made money or gotten additional assets through e-mail or portfolio reports online,” says Lorraine Cronin, Prudential Securities' senior vice president with responsibility for branch technology.

Firm officials say the key is talking business, not talking tech. And do it fast and on point.

“If [brokers] see the value of technology in assisting them in their business, they will use it.”
Lorraine Cronin, Prudential Securities

Focused on Business Benefits

“We found that when we tried to teach brokers technology, their noses crinkled up,” says Charles Van Gronigen, director of training at A.G. Edwards. “They might have come, but they were bored.”

Therefore, Edwards decided that tech training should not be a stand-alone item. It is now part of the education offered on other business areas. For instance, Edwards' course on estate planning now includes instruction on the relevant software.

Before Edwards rolled out its new workstations in March 2000, the firm spent a year in the field finding out what brokers and support staff wanted. They didn't want training; they wanted quick answers to questions on the spot.

Working with IBM, Edwards created roughly 130 “nuggets” — two- or three-minute video/audio clips played on the firm's workstations. The nuggets answer specific questions such as “How do I do a net-worth statement?” Van Gronigen says. “People love that somebody actually talks them through it, they can watch it happen and then get on with it.”

Likewise, Salomon Smith Barney plans to place an e-learning training program on every desktop in the firm within six to nine months, says Matt Johnston, director of advanced business development. SSB reps will be able to access video, audio and text whenever they need it, he says.

SSB also incorporates tech training into all of its advanced education sessions. “[Brokers will see] how technology can be used to create more efficiencies and more proactive client service,” Johnston says.

But as any Wall Streeter knows, fear also sells. So SSB tries to create a little anxiety at the notion of “trying to do today's business with yesterday's technology,” Johnston says. “If we continually carry that message, we begin to convert those who are slow to convert.”

Hands-On Helps

Prudential, meanwhile, has tested another premise: Brokers have an easier time learning a new application if each is outfitted with his or her own laptop. In pilot programs on the East and West Coasts, reps used laptops when trainers led sessions in the branches.

In the past, Prudential's trainers would conduct a demonstration on one workstation with several people watching. Then brokers would go back to their desktops and try it themselves. “Even though we were there to help them, those who didn't have hands-on training had a tougher time acclimating to the new application,” Cronin says.

It's also difficult for brokers to take time to learn something new. Prudential just transferred its client database applications to a browser environment, which enables the broker to see what the client views. It's a nice feature, but it's also a major transition from the firm's old, DOS-based system, Cronin says.

That's why Prudential tests new applications with a focus group of 25 to 30 brokers at different production and computer literacy levels, Cronin says. “If [brokers] see the value of technology in assisting them in their business, they will use it,” she says. “But if it's going to be difficult and not intuitive, you will meet resistance every time.”

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