The Thundering Herd has a new advisor-prospect matching tool. On Tuesday, Merrill Wealth Management launched Merrill Advisor Match, its new research-based, digital platform for connecting investors seeking financial advice with a Merrill financial advisor.
“This is a tool years in the making and the product of exhaustive user testing,” said Jennifer Auerbach Rodriguez, head of client acquisition, retention and strategic growth initiatives at Merrill.
“When we started on this, we wanted to make sure the questions we were asking a prospect or client were based on research and we identified some of the core characteristics of successful advisor relationships,” she said.
To help highlight the need for better matching tools, Merrill announced the results of a recent survey of just over 2,300 mass affluent U.S. adults aged 18 to 99 with investable assets of $250,000 or more.
Among the reasons respondents chose for not working with an advisor, 22% responded they did not know how to find the right advisor, 14% said reaching out to an advisor for the first time is intimidating and 10% indicated it was difficult to find an advisor who understands their unique needs.
The survey results showed theses issues are even more pronounced within diverse communities and among younger individuals.
For example, the survey found that 32% of affluent Hispanics and 27% of affluent Black/African Americans don’t know how to find the right advisor and 23% of affluent Hispanics and 21% of affluent LGBTQ+ individuals responded they find it intimidating to reach out to an advisor for the first time.
Simply put, the new tool seeks to address these issues by matching prospective clients with advisors that share compatible communication styles and personalities. It will also help investors find an advisor that has a guidance style that appeals to them.
The new matching tool, which asks 17 questions, replaces a geography-based one that had no underlying intelligence built into it.
With the new tool, prospects begin by completing a simple, interactive questionnaire based on in-depth interviews, focus groups and quantitative surveys between advisors and clients.
Matches are based on several dimensions that are explored through the questionnaire, which include personality traits—introvert or extrovert—the client’s approach to problem solving, to how a prospective client would like to meet and interact with their advisor and how often, preference on how they communicate with their advisor, as well as how decisions about investing and planning are made.
WealthManagement.com received a demonstration of the technology and observed the psychology-based approach to how several of questions were asked.
This approach includes a mix of design styles for the inputs. For example, on a question about the client’s preferences for their advisor’s engagement style and how social they wanted the relationship to be, the tool employed a slider. At one end of the slider was “Let’s keep it all business” with the other end indicating clients want a more social relationship.
Other questions were multiple choice: “If something complex needs to be repaired in your house, how do you usually respond?” Answers ranged from “try to fix myself” to “call a professional” with several responses in between aimed at assessing a prospect’s preferred problem-solving style.
In the end, the prospect is left with a list of up to five matches, all within 20 miles.
On the results page, a prospect can change their geographic preference to “open to anywhere” if meeting in-person is deemed unnecessary.
Rodriguez said that launching the tool is just the beginning.
“We will learn a ton about how people will interact with the questions, whether they go all the way through or do they drop out early?” which Rodriguez said would help with refinement of the tool.
Wally Okby, analyst and strategic advisor for the wealth management division at Aite-Novarica Group, who was also briefed on the tool, said the questionnaire angle was a good one.
“This is lightyears ahead of typing in a zip-code and I think the matching process will provide a better way of finding an advisor, but I’m surprised it has taken this long to see this sort of offering,” he said.
“Will it be as good for advisors as a referral from another client, only time will tell,” Okby said.