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Robo-Advisors: What You Can Learn From Their Technology

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There has been plenty of discussion this year about the influence and impact of robo-advisors on our profession. When raising the subject with independent registered advisors, you hear a variety of responses regarding the competitive threat of robo-advisors to their practices. No matter where you stand on this issue, there are a number of areas where you can learn from their technology. After all, without great technology, it would be challenging for a robo-advisor platform to be successful.

The first area where robo-advisors generally excel is their overall website experience, especially as it relates to describing their offering to prospects. I am not talking only about marketing, but about knowing what it is you do. Given the design of their businesses, if the robo-advisors’ websites don’t clearly describe their unique value proposition, it is highly unlikely they will convert the prospect into a client.

Too often advisors say their website doesn’t matter in converting prospects to clients. This leads me to a question: Do you really know how many prospects are looking at your website before they contact you to schedule an appointment? Positioning your website competitively is increasingly important, especially when you have robo-advisors that might offer or at least look like they offer services similar to your firm.

Robo-advisors also communicate with their clients through multiple delivery channels. Considering that robo-advisors do not have a physical office location, their “storefront” is the various ways they leverage their website and communication channels in the virtual world. It is important to recognize the influence the delivery method has on the success of the message.

One best practice I suggest is to realize that email should not be your only delivery method. For example, there are opportunities to use Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and even standard text messages to communicate with your clients. Are you hosting an event? Consider sending a brief text message on the day of the event reminding attendees of the starting time and address. Once at the event, take a quick photo and send it out using Twitter. Some advisors are already excelling with these best practice ideas, and they are expanding their firm’s brand.

Pictures, graphs, pictures, graphs and more pictures and graphs. This is how robo-advisors leverage their reporting solutions to better explain activity and returns to their clients. The good news for advisors is the list of solutions that offer this functionality is quickly growing. Financial planning programs like MoneyGuidePro and Finance Logix, and reporting solutions like Black Diamond and Orion, are examples of companies focused on delivering these capabilities.

Finally, if you had to pick only one area to learn from the technology capabilities of robo-advisors, it should be in rebalancing client portfolios.

Without a scalable and efficient rebalancing process, it would be very challenging for a robo-advisor to achieve success. In order to accomplish this goal, you need money, time and flexibility in designing a scalable rebalancing process. This is not about the specific product you select, but the process itself and how you address the “one-off” situations that get in the way of a truly scalable process. If your firm first evaluated rebalancing systems several years ago and decided that they were not for you, it is time to take another look. Providers like Tamarac, Total Rebalancer Expert and systems offered directly by custodians have all introduced new functionality and features over the past year.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that you can make regarding robo-advisors is to ignore them completely. At a minimum, they’re raising the bar of what your clients expect from your technology solutions. Your next prospect might be coming from a robo-advisor. Robo-advisors are very different from traditional advisors, but it is not a given that their technology should be more advanced than yours.


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