As if technology wasn’t important enough before the COVID-19 pandemic, it certainly shined over the past few months as the world learned to work, stay in touch, teach, learn—you name it—in new ways with technology at the center of it all. Wealth management firms are leveraging technology more than ever before: in an April 2020 Fidelity Financial Advisor Community Study, three in five advisors reported an increase in their firms’ digital capabilities since January.
In my recent conversations with clients and others in the financial services industry, two topics come up frequently in relation to technology—how working remotely has changed the way firms and advisors think about technology, and how firms can optimize their platforms long term. Here are a few considerations for firms going forward:
How has the remote work environment changed the way advisors think about technology?
Digital tool adoption accelerated
It comes down to the Digital Quotient – or DQ. Developed by McKinsey & Co., DQ is the metric for the digital maturity of a company based on its practices related to digital strategy, capabilities, organization and culture (that last one being the most important part in my experience). As our way of working changed over the past few months, the best positioned firms were already moving in the right direction with their “digital transformation” and had digital tools in place to enable advisors and associates to work remotely—such as e-signature, cloud services, mobile capabilities and videoconferencing. But, not all firms were embracing— meaning truly getting the most out of—the technology they had, and that is where we have seen a shift in both mindset and action.
The sudden change to remote work placed a spotlight on the importance of using technology to empower the work firms do, which in turn moved accelerating their DQ to the very top of firms’ “to do” lists.
An opportunity emerged to showcase the value technology brings to relationships
In my experience, one of the main reasons some firms had not fully embraced technology was concern around disrupting the client relationship. But that changed for many when the shift to working remotely gave both advisors and investors a clear understanding of the positive role technology can play in relationships, and that integrating these tools could be done quite easily. With this new way of working, the need was now there for advisors and clients to work together and leverage technology in a way that benefited all involved.
And that coordination will need to continue—in a May 2020 Fidelity Financial Advisor Community Study, according to advisors, only about one-third of clients were eager for in-person contact to resume. With that in mind, creating a plan to better optimize a firm’s technology platform is more important than ever. And when in-person meetings do resume, resist reverting to the "old" way of doing things and instead continue to couple technology and the “human touch” to make those meetings more meaningful.
How can firms optimize their technology in the long term?
Moving forward, the focus on embracing technology and using it to empower and inform associates and clients needs to continue. To do this, firms, and the industry as a whole for that matter, will need to begin considering how they can use a whole arsenal of solutions—AI, virtual reality, chat, augmented reality, biometrics, video and voice—to create meaningful remote experiences. For example, from an artificial intelligence perspective, we are working with a multi-billion-dollar wealth management firm to leverage data analytics to determine investor or advisor attrition risk. This helps the firm understand where it may need to make additional efforts to deepen relationships, and ensure it is providing the best experience possible. There are also tools like Fidelity’s Wealthscape Virtual Assistant (which provides advisors with answers to everyday questions about using the platform) that leverage AI to predict user needs based on their activity on the platform, improving the advisor experience and helping them work more efficiently.
Creating a plan around how your firm can continue to drive a culture of innovation is key—consider how your firm can continue to embrace technology’s benefits to help:
Focus on the end-client experience to deepen relationships and position your firm for growth
The coupling of high-touch advice with digitization could open the door to truly scale and tailor advice, to supplement client meetings with digital touchpoints, and to exchange information efficiently with geography less of a limiting factor. Consider usability—such as remote access, intuitive interfaces and low bandwidth demands—to ensure that the services and value you provide to your clients is easy and accessible.
Where appropriate, look for opportunities to manage and strengthen existing relationships with clients in virtual formats. One firm we work with—with more than $500 million in assets under management—optimized video meetings using Zoom to include additional family members such as children or parents, deepening the relationship and forming new, multi-generational connections. Also consider exploring more personal touchpoints with clients as well, such as virtual yoga or cooking classes. And, those personal touchpoints don’t need to be limited to clients—another firm we work with that has $200 million in assets under management hosts an open video meeting for a few hours each morning where associates can check in and ask questions as needed—mimicking an “in office” atmosphere and creating a sense of community. We have seen firms use a variety of videoconferencing tools—including Zoom, GoToMeeting, BlueJeans and Microsoft Teams, just to name a few. Whatever the specific tool, video can be a great resource to keep existing relationships going strong and foster new ones along the way.
Increase scale and efficiency to focus on the more human-delivered elements of value
Scale and access to advanced digital technology will become increasingly important as virtual formats are leveraged more frequently. Focus on getting the most out of your technology tools by increasing user adoption, deepening integrations and implementing streamlined workflows. Many firms, especially larger ones with centralized operations, are building workflows into their CRM systems. For example, at one firm with $2 billion in assets under management advisors and affiliated representatives leverage the same tools to submit requests for account opening, money movement and account maintenance through the CRM, which get channeled to the appropriate centralized team and are executed in a timely manner. The status and workflow queue can be viewed by all parties, leading to greater efficiency, which has been especially useful in a virtual environment. Harnessing the full strength of your firm’s technology stack will empower advisors to spend more time building relationships and adding value for clients, like helping them achieve life goals and peace of mind.
Also incorporate collaboration tools, mobile apps and client portals that increase efficiency and help deliver a “human touch,” even in a remote environment. For example, virtual whiteboarding and screen sharing can foster better collaboration and help make clients feel like they are in the room with their advisor.
And, be sure to help your clients understand all the ways they can benefit from technology, by offering things like paperless reporting and online learning—for example, one firm we work with that has $600 million in assets under management communicates the benefits of its online portal to clients, highlighting its use not only for reporting, but for uses such as communication with their advisors, documentation and financial plan review and viewing an aggregate of their total assets.
With all of this in mind, now is the time to look to the future, not return to the “old” way of doing things. While it’s true many firms improved their “tech game” as a result of the pandemic, the ones who will continue to thrive are those who maintain a focus on DQ by embracing technology, innovating and continuing to search for better ways to serve their clients and associates.
Tricia Haskins is vice president, digital strategy and platform consulting, Fidelity Institutional.