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RIAs Embrace Technological Advances

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More and more independent registered investment advisors are adapting their businesses to fit an increasingly mobile and tech-savvy world, according to results of a survey of registrants at Schwab Advisor Services’ SOLUTIONS workshops this past summer.

Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of Schwab Advisor Services, stopped by ThinkAdvisor’s New York office to discuss survey results and the impact technology can have on an advisor’s business and the client experience.

More than half (53%) of RIA staff now view technology as a front-office function.

“For many years, I think most RIAs thought of it as a back-office function,” Hathi said. “They realize now they need to create this much more interactive experience with their investor because that’s what [investors] are seeing in every other aspect of their life, and if they don’t create that experience then they’re going to be seen as dated or old school.”

Schwab’s SOLUTIONS workshops were one-day, technology-focused events offered in 12 cities in July and August. The survey is a result of responses from more than 1,000 RIA firm staffers across all participating cities.

“It’s pretty profound that we’re finally getting over half of them saying it’s a front-office function because, you know, they used to think of it as a portfolio management system [or] ‘it will help me run my office,’” Hathi said. “They’re not thinking of the interaction with the client.”

With mobile technology gaining prominence, survey results showed that more than two-thirds of participants said they either already feel mobile technology’s impact at their firm or that they expect to within the next three years.

“I think [mobile technology] has been a big driver,” Hathi said. “[I]f I could show to my investor that through their mobile device they can actually approve a wire, that’s a really cool experience and, by the way, it’s more efficient … and we remind them that we believe it’s much more secure.”

Some of the benefits of mobile technology that provide the most value to clients are the ability to look up account information (35%), send alerts and electronic approvals (28%), and deliver reports and documents (19%), according to the survey results.

“We spent a lot of time on the electronic signature and the electronic authorization capabilities because it is so different from the paper world for many of them,” she said, adding that this was the top-rated session with more than 1,300 of the nearly 1,700 total participants attending.

Already, Hathi said more than 20% of this year’s SOLUTIONS attendees have adopted electronic authorization technology, which was just launched this summer.

“In technology, you don’t always get adoption that quickly with RIAs …” she said. “To get to over 20% this quickly really speaks to how much demand there is and how excited they are to create this new way of working with their clients.”

Other findings from the 2014 SOLUTIONS survey:

  • Participants reported spending the most time on data management, followed by integrating systems (trading and rebalancing), creating dashboards, building reports for client presentations and billing.
  • Half of those surveyed said they do not use any social media. Of those who do, LinkedIn is the most widely used, with 26% of respondents using the platform exclusively and 71% of the users doing so at least once a week.
  • Advisors’ clients appear to be embracing a technology-enhanced service experience if it is made available to them. According to the survey, 60% of participants reported that clients have been adapting to new service approaches and technology solutions as the firm has made them available.

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