Why the Future of Technology is Bright for Financial and Insurance Advisors
by Jonathan Bega
So, this is the fourth blog in our series on technology and financial advisors. For part one, on building a great online presence, go here. For part two, on the most important similarity that great financial advisors have, click here. Finally, part three, on how technology is the key for financial advisors to grow their books, can be found here.
Last week, I spent a lot of time deconstructing PWC’s Sink or Swim report. I highly recommend you read it (and my blog post about it), but if you don’t have a chance, let me quickly summarize. The PWC report looked at the challenges facing financial advisors. They surveyed 1010 high net worth individuals, and 100 wealth managers. What they found did not paint a pretty picture. Wealth managers were failing to meet their clients’ needs, particularly in the realm of technology. Because of this, they were struggling to keep clients happy. Very few clients were willing to refer their wealth managers to friends, and quite a few were open to trying robo-advisors in the future. This was a bleak picture. The one saving grace was that rapport insulated wealth managers from losing clients. That is, building strong relationships with their clients kept clients happy and wealth managers in business. I also discussed how the problems facing wealth managers would be doubly true for financial advisors dealing with less affluent clients. Wealth managers would have more resources to spend on administrative help, and high net worth individuals would be less price sensitive.
This week, I want to write a much more positive blog. In it, I’m going to once more discuss the Sink or Swim report, but focus on what technologies are right around the corner to help financial advisors with their businesses. I know, this is unique. After all, everything you’ve been reading about technology is probably doom and gloom. Robo-advisors stealing your business, millennials demanding new technology, and insurance suppliers going straight to the consumer. It’s a scary time to be an advisor. But there is a silver lining to technology for advisors and we are going to focus on it today! To do so, I’m going to quickly summarize PWC’s viewpoint of immediately upcoming technologies. Then I’m going to discuss the rockstar assistant and how technology can emulate him or her.
A caveat first: I do have a bit of an ulterior motive here. While reading the report’s predictions of future technologies, I realized that it was listing out exactly what we were doing here at Finaeo. That is, I while reading the report, it was as if I was checking off boxes of what Finaeo could currently do and what was on our product roadmap. It was an incredibly exciting moment – it’s always nice when a massive consulting firm validates what you’ve been building. One of our advisors, after sending him the report, straight up (jokingly) asked me if we had paid PWC to produce it. As such, even though I generally avoid trying to sell on this blog, there will be some mention of Finaeo here. I apologize in advance for that. That being said, I wouldn’t be writing this blog (or working here) if I didn’t truly believe in Finaeo.
The PWC Report: What’s Around the Corner
In the immediate term, PWC discusses two key changes. The first is digitizing the back-office. The purpose of this digitization is to build operational efficiencies. As the report points out, less than half of wealth managers spend the majority of their time with clients. The rest of the time is spent on administrative tasks, compliance, and reporting. Think about the split of your day. The most valuable part of your job is client-facing. It’s the meeting, be it a brief phone call or a long lunch. Yet, there is quite a bit of work surrounding every meeting. Before the meeting, you’re sending out an agenda and confirmation email. After the meeting, you need to fill out notes, both for compliance purposes and to make sure you don’t forget important aspects about your client. You have to send a thank you note the next morning, and then make sure you keep track of your promised follow-ups. For every one hour an advisor spends at a meeting, administration takes an equal or greater amount of time. And that’s time wasted. It’s time you can’t use to generate new sales or work with the client to develop a stronger relationship.
The big technological opportunity here is finding ways to reduce that burden. It is figuring out how to move a client or prospect through the administrative aspects of the job without sacrificing compliance or forgetting key details? In my previous article on process, I discussed the wealth management firm that had 17 employees but only three financial advisors. The other 14 were assistants who helped keep the business flowing. They prepped advisors before meetings and took care of the notes and follow-ups after. The goal of any technology, therefore, is to emulate this. It is to help every financial advisor, no matter how big or small, feel like he or she has an army of assistants streamlining every interaction.
Let’s turn back to the report. The second thing that the PWC report discussed in the immediate term was a client-facing interface. That is, an online portal for clients to log in and be able to interact with their advisors through. This includes real-time portfolio reporting, video-conferencing with advisors, educational content based on personalized interests / needs, and being able to view assets, both financial and personal (e.g., art). This aspect ties strongly into PWC’s theme that the current environment for clients is not technology-friendly, while clients are. Clients are looking for easier methods to organize their documents, understand their financial health, and connect with their advisors. Advisors need to start listening!
A brief detour
Now, I’d like to quickly discuss the technological landscape as I’ve found it over my last half year at Finaeo. That is, what is being used by advisors and can it fit the bill of what PWC is looking for? Turning first to client portals, I have seen a few but they are few and far between. Occasionally, a firm will have a way for clients to see their investments. These will be quarterly reports, as opposed to real-time results. I have yet to see any video conferencing or chat functionality built into a platform like this. Nor is there any form of personalized educational content on these systems. Simply, they are generally web portals that allow advisors to store and share pre-generated documents. A nice first step, but a far cry from the interactivity and personalization that clients are beginning to demand.
In terms of back-office administration, the closest thing I have personally seen is the CRM (customer relationship manager). For those of you who are unfamiliar, CRMs are back-office tools that help advisors organize their client relationships. I actually surveyed about 30 advisors on their habits with CRMs. The top used CRMs by advisors were Goldmine, Maximizer, Pareto, and Salesforce. However, none of these platforms had more than 13% of the market, and a solid 40% of advisors were not using CRMs at all. Instead, they relied on pen, paper, and Excel. The problems with CRMs, which I heard over and over, were that they were overly complex, took too much time to administer, and were not useful outside of the office. Yet, the value of CRMs can only be unlocked by keeping it up to date. A CRM is pretty useless if you forget to tell it that your new client has a daughter named Margot. It is equally useless if you have a meeting on Tuesday morning and only remember to update it next week. By then, much of what you ideally would want to remember about the client has been long forgotten. This used to happen to me all the time. I would take a number of meetings early in the week and by the time I got to updating my CRM, it was Friday afternoon and I couldn’t recall important details. I would have my notes to refer to, but more often than not, they were scribbled messes. Besides, it’s very hard to take detailed notes during a meeting while maintaining rapport. It’s awkward. Ultimately, then, CRMs are often antithetical to streamlining operations and reducing administrative burden. Used properly, they require hours of time weekly to keep updated. Likewise, lacking in good mobile functionality, they force you to go back to the office every time you want to update, which may simply be impossible if you are going to meetings back-to-back outside of the office.
Overall then, it’s very clear that the tools currently out there for financial advisors leave a lot to be desired. It is not shocking that the uptake of technology has been slow – the existing stuff isn’t very good! Therefore, I’d like to spend some time discussing what an idealized technology for advisors would looks like. But before that, let’s turn to the rockstar assistant.
The rockstar assistant
Have you ever had a rockstar assistant? If so, you know what it truly means to have back-office efficiency. In a previous blog about the difference between your sales funnel and sales pipeline, I talked about low-value tasks that get in the way of an advisor devoting himself or herself to strengthening client relationships. The rockstar assistant is the person that makes sure you are 100% focused on adding value to the client. This rockstar assistant takes away all the administrative troubles, preps you before meetings, updates client information after meetings, and keeps you on task in-between. The rockstar assistant makes sure that clients and follow-ups are never forgotten.
So as I was reading about the immediate future of PWC, I couldn’t help but think that the report was describing the rockstar assistant. The problem, naturally, is that this is all a bit of a Herculean task for a single person to do. As mentioned above, the best example I have personally seen of this required 14 assistants for three wealth managers. Likewise, Aly, the CEO at Finaeo, used to have two assistants. One who would prep him before client meetings and one who would work with him after. Therefore, when I think of the tasks a rockstar assistant completes, I realize it usually cannot be done by a single person. Often it takes a team of competent administrators to get it right. And as a financial advisor, this is an expensive proposition.
Digitizing the rockstar assistant, one meeting at a time
Regardless of the limitations, let’s imagine what a rockstar assistant would do for you in the context of a single meeting. During the morning of the meeting, your rockstar assistant would send out a confirmation email for the meeting on your behalf to the client and remind you to send out an agenda (or send out a templated agenda for you). Ten minutes before the meeting, your rockstar assistant would brief you on the client – personal information like the spouse’s name, where the client works, which products you have sold the client, and when and where your last interaction was. Now you’re going into your meeting prepared and you feel on top of the world. Your client loves the fact that you remembered all these little details from your last interaction. You feed off of it, building great rapport.
After the meeting, your rockstar assistant immediately prompts you for a summary of the meeting while it’s still fresh in your mind, taking notes as you speak. This is hugely valuable, both in terms of compliance and in terms of not forgetting details of the meeting. Your rockstar assistant can now take these notes and convert them into information about your client (personal notes you’ll want to remember during your next meeting, like asking about your client’s trip to Naples), as well as generate a list of follow-up tasks for you to do. The next morning, your rockstar assistant reminds you to send a thank you note outlining your follow-up tasks, and keeps all of your tasks organized so you don’t forget anything. When possible, your rockstar assistant automates various touch points for you through templated emails.
Over the next few months, your rockstar assistant also keeps your client informed. Every time the client is curious about how the portfolio is doing, your rockstar assistant produces real-time reports. Your rockstar assistant also helps book meetings on your behalf with the client, and proactively sends your client articles of interest, and educational content personalized towards them.
Okay, sounds pretty great, right? Now I want you to reread the above three paragraphs, except replace the word “rockstar” with the word “mobile.” No, no, go ahead. I’ll wait.
Did you read it?
Pretty cool, huh? This is what we are doing with Finaeo. We are building the world’s first mobile assistant. The assistant in your pocket. Everything described above can be streamlined through technology. Using voice-to-text memos and intelligence, we want to become your rockstar assistant. This assistant in your pocket, then, saves the you hours of administrative headache. It ensures that compliance records are created, that details on client aren’t forgotten, and that follow-ups from the meeting are remembered. It helps make sure that clients do not slip through the cracks so you can continue to grow your business. It helps automate emails and touch points, augmenting your ability to spend time building meaningful relationships. Through a client portal, it keeps you consistently top of mind with your client, strengthening your value proposition. Ultimately, it both saves you time and lets you focus that time on high-value activities. Think about how many clients that will save in a year. Think about how much more business you could win.
This, to me, is the future. This, to me, is how financial advisors will operate their businesses, and grow their books, over the next five years. This, to me, is what Finaeo is all about. And, according to the PWC report, it’s exactly what the market needs.
I’m excited. I hope you are too!
Imagine your ideal assistant. What would he or she do for you to turn them into a rockstar in your mind? Think over these tasks. Which could be done by a digital assistant, and which would require a human touch? Leave a message or contact us with some suggestions. We’re always looking to get smarter! And, as always, if you like our blog, please subscribe!