Wells Fargo Advisors recently announced plans to partner with the tech firm SigFig to develop a robo offering. This news came several months after UBS’ wealth-management group in the Americas formed a deal with SigFig to work on different digital tools for its reps and advisory business.
The partnership should let Wells Fargo Advisors offer clients “tailored portfolios” online and a service for “emerging investors who want trusted investment advice and a holistic financial experience in the digital space,” it says. (Wells Fargo’s roughly 15,100 advisors and 3,900 licensed bankers have some $1.5 trillion in client assets.)
“Given the scale of Wells Fargo, this partnership will help SigFig continue to significantly expand our mission of providing high-quality investment advice to investors of all wealth and income levels,” explained SigFig CEO Mike Sha, in a statement at the time.
Devon McConnell, head of digital at Wells Fargo Advisors, describes the thinking behind these efforts and what the firm’s advisors (and clients) can expect when it comes to technology in the interview that follows.
What is Wells Fargo Advisors’ view on client expectations regarding technology (online, mobile, etc.) for the next, say, year or two? What is it doing to meet those client expectations?
McConnell: Clients compare our digital experiences, products and services to those in the other areas of their lives — Google, Amazon and other technology companies. The bar is high and keeps getting higher for us to meet their needs and expectations, which is why we’ve invested more in technology in the last two years than we have in the past decade.
This year, we launched a new, digital experience for full-service brokerage clients and WellsTrade self-directed clients on WellsFargoAdvisors.com. This redesign makes online investing more streamlined and seamless across mobile and desktop platforms, with improved navigation and easier access to all aspects of a client’s portfolio as well as research from the Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
Clients also have the ability to send secure messages to their financial advisors through the site.
As we look ahead, we are focusing on ways to leverage technology and digital experiences to deepen client relationships, such as collaborative online planning tools.
Likewise, what does Wells Fargo Advisors believe advisors most want for both their office and mobile technology over the next year or two? How is it trying to meet those advisor expectations?
McConnell: We know digital tools and technology are gaining in importance for our advisors and clients. In a Wells Fargo/Gallup survey this summer, more than half of investors said they would trust the advice of a tech-savvy advisor more than advice from a less tech-savvy advisor, and 63% of investors under 50 say they are more likely to trust an advisor who offers them access to sophisticated digital tools.
To help ensure Wells Fargo Advisors continue to meet client needs, we have made significant investments in the past two years in new mobile and desktop capabilities that help advisors quickly analyze and respond to client questions. Client Dashboard is the latest in a series of technologies, including the Smart2Go mobile app and the Envision Plan to Pie enhancement.
These technology solutions help financial advisors efficiently manage their practices, have meaningful conversations with clients and ultimately grow their businesses.
In the next few years, we plan to continue enhancing and investing in collaborative business applications — such as screen-sharing and co-browsing features, Live Meetings, and desktop and tablet instant messaging — that can serve as an extension to the overall client experience.
Is there a specific expectation for how active advisors should be on social media? If so, why is that expectation in place, and how are advisors doing in terms of meeting that expectation?
McConnell: We encourage advisors interested in social media to participate in our interactive social media program, which is currently helping more than 2,400 financial advisors compliantly share content and engage with clients and prospects via Twitter and LinkedIn.
We follow the trends in engagement and know that more than 12,000 of our financial advisors use LinkedIn, which we believe is a benefit to clients who prefer to engage through social media.
What is the overall philosophy with regards to technology in the long term for Wells Fargo Advisors?
McConnell: Ultimately, our long-term objective is to meet our clients when and where our clients need us, and provide investment options that meet the needs of all clients.
Technologically, this means delivering competitive and compelling products and digital experiences, which leverage our strong base of talent, processes and platforms. From here we evolve it further to leverage best practices, all to provide our clients and advisors with the best experience possible.
What is Wells Fargo Advisors thinking about in terms of robo-advisors, automation, artificial intelligence and the like for the next five years or so?
McConnell: At our core, Wells Fargo Advisors is a full-service investment firm, and we remain strongly committed to that model. Over the next five to 10 years, we do see an opportunity for so-called robo-advisors and other AI capabilities to complement our existing business and reach the unmet market demands of emerging investors and others who are comfortable with online services, yet may not need or be ready for full-service advice.
Next year, we plan to pilot a digital advisory offering for clients, working with SigFig’s advanced technology, analytics and mobile tools to support our clients’ needs. We are excited about this collaboration, and we expect further automation and AI capabilities to evolve through it overtime.
Are there any more thoughts on advisors, clients and technology strategy at Wells Fargo Advisors that you would like to share?
McConnell: Our industry is changing, but we are well-positioned to provide our clients with best-in-class digital products and experiences, especially with the investments we have made in recent years.
We know investors at all wealth and income levels expect some type of digital experience from their financial services provider, and we now have the capabilities to arm our advisors with tools to strengthen client relationships by collaborating in new ways.
At the same time, new technologies, such as digital advisory, are emerging and complement the traditional model to reach a whole new generation of investors. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry and with Wells Fargo Advisors.