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Delivering on Digital at Morgan Stanley

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Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s technology-related projects are making headlines. With nearly 15,800 advisors and $2.2 trillion in client assets, the wirehouse is working with tech partners like Hearsay Systems and Twilio to give its registered reps — who have average yearly fees and commissions of close to $1.03 million — more ways to interact with clients.

Naureen Hassan, chief digital officer of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, and Chris Randazzo, chief information officer, recently shared some of the thinking and details behind the unit’s mobile plans, social-media strategy and emphasis on innovation as it aims to stay ahead of the competition.

What is your firm’s overall philosophy with regard to technology in the long term?

Randazzo: We are seeing dramatic changes across all aspects of our business — shifting demographics, new competitors emerging, client expectations being set outside the industry, endless access to information and unsurpassed speed of innovation. In delivering the full breadth of Morgan Stanley’s technology resources to meet these evolving client needs, we deploy a competitive advantage that is hard to match.

Emerging technologies are influencing all aspects of our technology solutions from shared infrastructure to internal and external client interactions, and we are making aggressive advances to deliver a great client experience across all platforms. Our mobile-first development philosophy ensures that we are designing with client flexibility at the forefront.

Cloud is allowing us to nimbly respond to market swings, and decreasing our time-to-market on innovative new solutions. Digital, together with social technologies, is allowing us to enter new markets and improve the productivity, experience and interactions for our clients.

Automation is tightening our workflows while driving consistency and efficiency of process. Analytics and data are fueling enhanced decision making through advanced quantitative analysis techniques. And artificial intelligence is allowing us to extend to sentiment analysis and algorithmic learning methodologies to create limitless possibilities in decision making.

How is the firm meeting client expectations?

Hassan: Clients expectations are changing. They expect their interactions with their financial advisor to be as easy as it is to order a taxi or order groceries online. They have access to more information than they ever had in their lives, and we believe in providing them with the tools, products and capabilities that deliver Morgan Stanley to them in the way they want to consume.

To meet those expectations, we’re enhancing the way clients can communicate with advisors, such as implementing texting capabilities. And while texting sounds simple, there’s a lot of regulatory oversight involved.

With that in mind, we’ve signed a partnership with Twilio in order to bring texting to our financial advisors and our clients. Similarly, we are investing in video chat capabilities, so clients can check in with their advisors from anywhere they may be.

How is the firm meeting advisor expectations?

Hassan: Much like our clients, our advisors are looking for ease of use and having the information they want at their fingertips, regardless of where they are. In order to meet those expectations, this past quarter we released a mobile version of our core advisor desktop platform.

The newest version allows for advisors to see all their information at their fingertips, on their iPad, wherever they are, whenever they want. That has been extremely popular with our advisors.

We are also leveraging data to help advisors engage not only with more clients but also more effectively. Rather than sending clients an email the day after Brexit with a macro analysis, which feels generic, we are building a system that can assess a situation for each client in an automated fashion.

Our advisors will be able to engage with their clients — and a greater number of clients than they currently reach — with the ability to deliver more timely and relevant advice to scale.

What is the role of advisor feedback, and how is it integrated into what the firm does?

Hassan: Working together and obtaining feedback from advisors is a crucial part of the technology build-out at Morgan Stanley. We have a Digital Advisory Council whose sole focus is to provide the digital team input on what they and their clients would like to see from a technological perspective.

Additionally, we have a broader Financial Advisory Council, and both of these make up our pilot groups. They provide the digital team feedback on prioritization, input into usability and are an invaluable part of our development process.

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?

Hassan: We’ve been big believers in social media for quite some time, which is driven by our commitment to deepening the advisor-client relationship. Back in 2011, Morgan Stanley was the first major wealth manager to allow its advisors to use Twitter.

While we don’t have specific expectations for advisors on social media, we have found that those who are more active are also more engaged with their clients, and understand more about their clients’ life events.

In a survey of our advisors who use social media, 83% said LinkedIn has positively impacted their relationships with clients and/or prospects. We encourage their social media efforts, and we aspire to enable them to make it easy to do.

We believe in providing advisors with the best social media tools to help them communicate with clients on those platforms. We recently partnered with Hearsay Systems, which provides advisors with deeper analytics on what their clients are engaging with, as well as mobile capabilities to allow them to post on the go.

What is your firm thinking about in terms of robo-advisors, automation, artificial intelligence and the like for the next five years or so?

Randazzo: Our strategy is driven by our core belief that the financial advisor is at the center of our business; we view technology as an enabler for our financial advisors to deliver an exceptional client experience.

The industry is in a period of explosive growth, with systems and data being connected in ways that have never before been seen. Now and in years to come, we see artificial intelligence allowing us to bring literacy to big data — turning content into context and deriving insights to deliver value for our business.

We are creating an experience that’s much more connected to how an advisor thinks and works; a platform that makes them more productive, gives them time back, and helps them service our clients’ needs.

We are leveraging innovative technologies like machine learning, natural language processing, neural networks, artificial intelligence and automation to build intelligent systems that are intuitive, providing information that is meaningful and actionable and making our advisors more efficient while enhancing the advisor-client relationship.

Overall, our goal is to harness the power of innovative technologies to enter new markets, deepen the advisor-client relationship and become even more central to clients’ financial lives. All with the intent of serving our clients better.

Are there any more thoughts on advisors, clients and technology strategy at your firm that you would like to share?

Hassan: Technology is critically important to our business, and will drive the future of Morgan Stanley in many ways. At the same time, we deeply believe the human component of financial advice will always be highly valued.

Our technology initiatives combine those two themes to strengthen the client-advisor relationship. Our digital efforts can be broken down into three areas: driving client engagement, targeting new client segments and modernizing core branch processes.

We want to empower our clients with the choice of how they wish to work with their advisor. Whether they work with them over the phone, in person, through text, email or video chat, they should have seamless and personalized experience with our advisors.

Our goal is to build intelligent applications that give advisors the one thing they all need, and that’s time. By making them more effective, we are allowing them to increase their focus on value-adding services that solve their clients’ financial life goals, and enabling them with new ways to drive client acquisition and engagement across their business.


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