From the April 2017 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Raymond James Is Ready to Robo

Tash Elwyn, who leads the firm's employee advisors, describes the digital solution being built

Raymond James' employee advisors are led by Tash Elwyn. (Photo: Calista Chandler) Raymond James' employee advisors are led by Tash Elwyn. (Photo: Calista Chandler)

Raymond James, which works with over 7,000 independent and employee advisors in the U.S. and several other countries, recently announced plans to launch its own robo advisor. Advisors will get a preview of it over the next few months, with a pilot rollout and then a branch launch set for later this year.

To get a better sense of the thinking behind the technology project, we spoke with Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates, the firm's employee channel. He has been with the St. Petersburg, Florida-based firm since 1993, when he came on board as an advisor trainee.

Can you tell us a bit about the robo feature of the new platform? How will advisors use the robo to work with clients?

Elwyn: Our philosophy at Raymond James has always been to support the advisor-client relationship and give advisors options based on how they choose to run their businesses. Many in the industry have introduced robo advisors to disintermediate financial advisors, but our digital platform uses robo-like technology while keeping the advisor-client relationship at its core.

Our strategy was to bridge an already powerful advisor-centric technology infrastructure with collaborative and client-facing digital tools that together comprise our Connected Advisor digital advice platform. Our advisors are able to use these tools to work with clients at all stages of the relationship — from automating onboarding to collaborating with clients to offering more sophisticated support in addressing clients’ increasingly complex needs.

There will be an online information-gathering option for clients that will help streamline the account opening process for both advisors and clients. The automation will help create efficiencies within an advisor's practice and allow for more time to build relationships.

Existing collaboration tools include secure mobile client account information for advisors to access anywhere and respond more quickly to client questions, as well as Vault, a secure, cloud-based file-sharing solution accessible via advisors’ websites or via Investor Access, our client account access portal.

Other existing tools include Client Reporting, e-Signature and Goal Planning & Monitoring, Raymond James’ retirement planning software. The digital touchpoints of Connected Advisor will aid in discovery and data collection, proposal review, account opening, electronic agreements, monitoring and more.

In the current environment, advisors need to differentiate themselves with high-value services that address clients’ complex needs, so we’re focusing on technology to support our advisors with best practices and sophisticated client insights. We’ll harness data to provide insights around client needs, which will help advisors optimize financial outcomes and manage risk.

Why did Raymond James decide to design the robo-like feature alone vs. using a partner?

Elwyn: Integration is an important consideration in all of our technology offerings, and having an in-house digital platform allows us to ensure the data is accurate, the tools are fully integrated and the navigation is seamless. We have the resources and capabilities to build what we need, specific to our advisors and in keeping with our culture, so we decided it would be best to build the platform in-house.

Is Connected Advisor designed to help advisors bring in new — perhaps younger, tech-savvy and even female clients?

Elwyn: Connected Advisor is designed to assist advisors in addressing current and evolving client needs, while also expanding their offerings to new clients. The financial landscape facing the next generation of clients is different than the one their parents or grandparents faced when they began accumulating wealth, their expectations for communication are different, and — in many ways — they are different. But what research tells us is that across generations, when individuals are facing more complex situations, they tend to turn to an expert for help.

Connected Advisor creates greater ability for advisors to serve smaller accounts, through investment platforms such as our Freedom Foundation and efficiencies with onboarding and servicing, so they can build relationships with these clients over time, but also will provide data insights to help advisors even better support clients with the most complex needs.

How will Connected Advisor help advisors work with other clients, like pre-retirees and those in retirement?

Elwyn: While traditional robo technology can help with asset allocation, we know that as clients draw closer and closer to retirement age, their needs become increasingly complex. Connected Advisor's sophisticated tools, like Goal Planning & Monitoring, help advisors manage risk as clients near retirement and will help them find new opportunities within a client's retirement plan.

How about the data-mining and other data features of Connected Advisor? Can you provide some ideas on how advisors will use these innovations?

Elwyn: Connected Advisor's “opportunities” capabilities will provide data-driven insights about their clients and prospects. Armed with these insights and best practices from other advisors, advisors can tailor solutions to the unique and evolving needs of clients and make better-informed decisions about how to best serve them.

For example, a data-driven insight might allow an advisor who learned more about a new estate-planning law at a conference to easily identify all the clients in her practice that the law would impact and then provide tools, marketing and communications to support discussions to meet the clients’ needs. Similarly, using our client center, the advisor could look for opportunities for each of the clients she is planning on meeting in the coming two weeks to help provide ideas for review sessions.

What's next for Raymond James and technology, after this rollout is complete in ’17?

Elwyn: Raymond James is committed to being an industry leader in advisor-oriented technology and overall support, and that means continually evolving and enhancing our features to meet the future needs of our advisors and clients. While many functionalities of Connected Advisor are already in place or being rolled out this year, it's a significant, multi-year strategy that we’ll continue to evolve.

We’re never focused on an end date, but rather we’re always innovating to meet clients’ and advisors’ needs. As the advisors and the clients of the future adapt and evolve, our technology is going to as well.

How does your Technology Advisory Council help the firm prioritize innovations and give critical feedback before and during rollout?

Elwyn: Our Technology Advisory Council offers guidance to and works closely with executive leadership and our Technology group during all stages of our rollouts — from the planning stage, through the testing stage, to the final product, and after rollouts, with ongoing enhancements.

Each year we welcome our Technology Advisory Council advisors to the home office to review our portfolio of projects. Based on what they are seeing in their own practices, their needs and the needs of their staff and clients, they set the priority for all of our technology initiatives for the coming year.

After prioritization, we have regular calls with the council to review systems and functionalities and to ensure our technology is being built from the perspective of the advisor and not the IT department. We also have pilot groups, which include both advisor and branch professional participants, to provide feedback based on real-life experiences.

Finally, how are advisors tapped to be on the council? Are they rotated out every few years, so new advisors can come in and join the council?

Elwyn: Advisors on our Technology Advisory Council have been recommended by management or are advisors who our internal teams have identified as actively engaged technology users. Each year we have about 18-20 advisors, and we rotate about a third off each year, to ensure an influx of new ideas while maintaining some consistency year over year.

It's really important to us that we have a council that is representative of our entire advisor population, so the council includes advisors from all affiliation options, with different business models, coming from a variety of previous firms and varying in tenure. It's a very diverse group, ranging in age, gender and race, and includes both tech-savvy advisors as well as those who wouldn't consider themselves technical, but who can articulate what their needs are for working with their clients and managing their business.

We have found the council to be invaluable in the development, implementation and refinement of our advisor technologies.

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