As debates about robo-advisors continue to rage on, it’s hard not to flash back to similar stages for innovations that transformed other industries or daily life. For example, there was a time when social media was viewed as a fad. While some of the early entrants in this space lacked longevity (MySpace comes to mind), their breakthrough innovation paved the way for other services such as Facebook and Twitter, companies that have amassed broad adoption.
Was it critical to embrace first-generation social media services? Clearly not, but these first-generation services gave consumers a taste of what’s possible in the digital world and offered various lessons for future providers to consider. And has social media replaced in-person interactions when building relationships? Generally not, especially for the more important relationships in one’s life.
Advisors and financial institutions should keep these things in mind as they monitor and research the robo space. Given the assets robo-advisors have gathered to date and the rate of growth most are experiencing, it is only prudent to be considering a robo strategy. Even if fully automated advice isn’t appropriate for your clients or your practice, technology can augment your client relationships and improve your margins. Exactly what to do inevitably will vary by firm, and it’s important not to rush to market with something that may not be right for your clients or practice. The challenge and the opportunity for advisors is to think about how to best meet the current and future investment needs of your clients and how to scale your business without decreasing client service or increasing operational risk. In our experience, here are five critical questions that advisors should consider as they develop a robo strategy.
1. What is your value proposition?
Many firms that provide robo technology to advisors also provide investment services directly to consumers. Are your client relationships strong enough and is your value proposition differentiated enough to retain your clients over time? Advisors should be thinking about this as a general matter, but it’s even more important if you are going to steer clients to an external robo service. Which leads to the next question…
2. Who owns the client?
Some robos structure contracts such that they control the client advisory agreement and effectively own the client. At the onset, this might seem a trivial matter. After all, many advisors are seeking to use a robo to service their smallest accounts. But advisors need to consider their long term business strategy when choosing a robo. Today’s small accounts are tomorrow’s core book of business. Robos continue to evolve their services, so this is an important area to consider during the due diligence phase.
3. Are you prepared to meet the evolving needs of your clients and scale your overall practice?