As financial advisory firms seek to differentiate themselves by focusing on "client experiences," the industry will represent a barbell—low-cost, mass-market RIAs with high volumes at one end, and premium providers focusing on niches at the other. Firms in the middle will be squeezed out, said Stephanie Bogan, senior vice president of client experience and training at United Capital Financial Advisors.
Advisors will continue to face both pricing and delivery pressures, Bogan said, during Schwab’s annual IMPACT conference in Washington, D.C. on Monday. The fintech revolution—the proliferation of online advice platforms such as Wealthfront and Betterment—won’t put advisors out of business, but some of these platforms will fundamentally change the business model.
At one point Wealthfront had no clients over the age of 50; one year later, 10 percent of their clients were 50 or older, Bogan said. With these online advice platforms, the advice won’t be as good, and the personalization won’t be there. But they will make pricing more competitive. As consumers get more things online, they expect to have products and services delivered to them better and faster.
Dave Welling, senior vice president and general manager of Advent’s Black Diamond, said the pricing pressure has hit the custodians, the trading fees, the retail side and the tech vendors, but it hasn’t hit advisors yet. Rather than thinking about the online advice sites as a threat, advisors should think about what they can learn from them from a technology standpoint, Welling said. Advisors can look to these platforms to improve how they communicate with clients going forward—i.e., the iPad, a client portal, or virtual messaging.
As service providers, advisors emphasize an expert-driven, paternalistic model. But consumers don’t want that any more. They want to make the decisions, Bogan said. When the client makes the decisions, they own the outcome of those decisions. To improve that client experience, advisors should work to step aside, be the trainer, and shift from a “delegation” model to a “participation” model.
Advisors can also overcome the pressures by making the client experience tangible, Bogan said. What advisors do is special, but people don’t see it as a product. The average consumer believes financial planning is a cross between a dental exam, a math class and marriage counseling. But if advisors make it tangible, clients will better understand the value they’re getting and will be stickier.
Bogan said advisors can operate in the middle part of the spectrum and serve a broader client segment if they can scale their business by creating a consistent, repeatable and technology-driven experience. In other words, let technology do the heavy lifting, not the people.