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Six Signs Your Financial Services Firm May Be Anti-Innovation

Want to be on the forefront of the future of financial advice? Make sure your firm is not doing these.

By Nick Richtsmeier

The digitization of financial services is upon us and with it comes an opportunity to grow—not just in our use of technology, but also in the way we serve clients. In this age of hybrid financial advice, where clients wish to experience the same autonomy they have on Amazon with the customized advice they get from their therapist, we have a lot of growing to do in the industry to meet these demands. Innovation is the key and technology is just a piece of the puzzle.

If you find yourself wanting to be on the forefront of the next wave of opportunity as a financial advisor and are in search of new power tools to serve your clients, you’d best be on the lookout for these anti-innovation signs inside your four walls. How many do you recognize?

  1. Paper Is King. Still see stacks of paper files everywhere? Don’t have the ability to have clients sign account applications using industry-standard protocols like DocuSign? Does the highest-paid guy in the office still do everything on a legal pad? This may be signs of an anti-innovation culture. There’s nothing wrong with a sturdy pad of paper (I carry one with me always), but client communication should be fast, easy and searchable. Paper, when used, should be short-lived and quickly scanned and destroyed. Eliminating clutter in financial services is essential for good decision making and fiduciary-style advice.
  2. Everything Is Proprietary. Let’s just say this: unless you work for Google or Apple, it’s highly unlikely that your firm is staffed with endless teams of coders and innovators. Firms that require you to only use proprietary systems that don’t integrate with some of the best Software-as-a-Service suppliers out there (think Salesforce, Orion, DocuPace, Yodle) are probably using archaic technology. Great firms are bringing these services together into single sign-on environments where data can be found in one place, though it’s accessed through a variety of different best-in-class providers.
  3. By the Gut. We’ve all worked at that firm where a few big personalities make every decision on gut feeling, particularly in the hiring department. Innovative firms know that they need fresh ideas, which means they need to go looking for unfamiliar talent. Usually our guts like what’s already familiar. Innovative hiring and culture-making requires unbiased tools that put our guts in check, and force hiring managers to see things they would normally miss.
  4. All the Old Stories. If you listen carefully at the office happy hour, you can hear innovation-killers everywhere. If every time the group gets together it’s a rehashing of the good old days, if new staff members are expected to sit in silence while the old dogs relive the past, you probably aren’t thinking forward. Nostalgia is great at family dinners and with old friends, but as a regular meal in corporate settings it can be a killer. When’s the last time a new hire told a great story about the changes they wanted to see in the future at your firm? And when was the last time that story was met with a welcome reception by the guys (unfortunately, usually guys) with VP in their titles? That gets me to No. 5.
  5. Where Are the Women? We all know the unfortunate reputation of financial services as being a boys’ club. And the reputation is well-deserved. My friend Adam Hawk, who successfully coaches finserv executives, was once coaching a leader on improving the culture for women in his firm by instituting training and growth opportunities specifically aimed at female advisors and their unique goals and needs. The leader responded as so many would, “Shouldn’t we train everybody?” Adam replied, gently, “You have one of 16 managers who are female and one of 11 partners who are women, do you really think men need help getting ahead in this company?” I know a lot of us dudes don’t want to talk about this, but it matters. Some of the best and most innovative ideas in our industry are coming from women who see the needs of clients differently than us guys who’ve done it the same old way.  
  6. All or Nothing. This one’s a little counter-intuitive so bear with me. A lot of financial services companies are trying to roll out new technologies and show off their investments in innovation. This seems like a good thing. But how new ideas get rolled out matters, and I’ve learned this one the hard way. Companies that force new tech, new processes, new tools onto their advisor teams all at once kill adoption. In the end, each innovation ends up on the barely used pile, because advisors weren’t part of the process, there wasn’t a beta test to work out the kinks, and speed was prioritized over ease of adoption. In the end, new ideas only matter if they are used as intended, and one of the fastest ways to make your company allergic to the new is to force it down their throats.

I know these six signs so well because I’ve lived them. I know what it’s like to work in environments like the above, and I also know what it’s like to work through these issues. Find partners across your firm who want to make things better the slow and smart way. And if you can’t find partners, maybe—just maybe—it’s time to find a more innovation-friendly firm.


Nick Richtsmeier is chief innovation officer at Trilogy Financial and chief operating officer of its independent Registered Investment Advisor, Trilogy Capital. Richtsmeier, based in Denver, can be reached at [email protected] or (303) 583-6069.

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