Texting and Secure Portals: How Savvy Family Offices Talk to Clients

How many of us regularly send text messages? Most of us are active users of mobile devices including iPads, other tablets and smartphones, and our clients are, too. In fact it is common for people to use more than one device for an activity (i.e., multi-screens) such as checking a bank balance on a smartphone and then switching to a larger-screen tablet to make a transfer between accounts. 

Given the many ways that we like to communicate as individuals it is surprising that advisors don’t use current technology more often to facilitate two-way communication with their clients and also between family members. You use this technology. Your clients use it. Why not use it to deepen client relationships? If you think that such tools are used primarily by the next generation, consider the following crisis management situation.

A law firm needs to reach family members in the midst of a crisis in order to coordinate communication and mitigate any possible exposure. Family members are in different countries and time zones. Bill Wyman, CEO of Summitas, tells me that in this situation text messaging is being used effectively to alert family members to a situation and direct them to securely log into a private portal, via a tablet or mobile device, to share information and deal with the crisis. “People might look at their personal email once a day but texting facilitates a much more immediate reaction,” says Bill. (Summitas is a technology platform for the high-net-worth individual, family office, multi-family office and related institutional market segments.)

Alternatively, imagine that family members participate in a trust committee that has to be responsive to an education distribution request. Bill says that a family office may use text messaging to alert family members that their approval is required for a distribution. Once they receive the alert they’ll give their permission using a secure portal.

“We’ve found that very few family office clients want to log into a portal on a regular basis just to view their net worth,” says Bill. He adds that most clients want an effective family portal to help with keeping communications open yet secure on more critical matters such as a family’s philanthropic activities or business. 

Client needs now go way beyond simple presentation of consolidated statements via an online portal.  Let’s face it : “Robo-advisor” firms have already made portals with holistic views of financial portfolios a standard for investors. In fact, there’s a lot that advisors can learn from robo-advisors.

Multi-generation families with sophisticated financial needs also have multifaceted communication needs.  Technology-savvy family offices are now utilizing private, concierge-level social networking and communication that allows for two-way dialogues and provides even more value add. “It encourages upstream communication as well, not just a family office passing on information to the family”, Bill says.

We have heard from many independent financial advisors recently about their desire to provide their clients with consolidated financial views via a portal, including positions and transactions on managed assets as well as outside assets such as 401(k) accounts. Many mass affluent investors already have access to this functionality from their bank or other financial institutions. High-net-worth investors can log into portals offered by their advisors who use account aggregation capabilities to power these solutions.

At the other end of the wealth management spectrum, savvy family offices are leap-frogging these presentation capabilities by providing portals that preserve family legacies, facilitate communication and generally help modern families deal with all family matters.  

As the wealth management industry begins to learn from the early success of “robo advisors” it should also look at the success of its family offices. There is a lot to learn from their high-touch approach.

 

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