Broker-dealers and RIAs are grappling with how to best develop and invest in technology to aid their advisors and clients. Edward Jones Principal Vinny Ferrari, whose technology expertise includes 22 years working on Wall Street, knows these challenges well.
He recently discussed how Edward Jones — which includes about 15,950 advisors — relies on advisor teams to provide critical feedback on what would make their work processes easier. This includes being able to work more on mobile devices and using social media to maintain regular contact with clients.
What is your firm’s view on client expectations regarding technology (online, mobile, etc.) for the next, say, year or two? And what is it doing to meet those client expectations?
Clients’ expectations of how they use technology to connect with their branch teams (the financial advisor and branch office administrators) continue to increase. Our competitive advantage has always been the trusted relationships between our branch teams and their clients, and technology solutions must continue to evolve to ensure technology is a true extension of that relationship.
To exceed clients’ changing needs, we are investing in systems and tools that deepen that relationship, while providing convenience and greater access to information. Clients also expect a consistent experience across multiple channels.
We’ve always excelled at the in-person experience, but their web, mobile and social experiences matter too and technology is integral to matching that in-person experience with what those other channels can provide.
What does your firm 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?
Our financial advisors want the freedom and flexibility to serve clients from anywhere. While the branch office is often convenient for clients, other times they may want to meet at a coffee shop or via web conference.
Our goal is to support the relationship wherever and whenever it’s convenient for the client with the industry’s best tools. While our financial advisors are already doing this, we’re making it even easier to access and use our entire suite of tools remotely — from a phone, tablet or laptop — so they can share meaningful information with clients while away from the office.
What new technologies, platforms, applications or other innovations has your firm introduced in the past 6–12 months? And why did it make these innovations?
We’ve been intensely focused on enhancing our tools to deliver a more consistent and deep experience for clients, particularly in light of evolving regulatory requirements. It’s always been imperative for financial advisors to understand the client’s full financial picture and to make recommendations that align to their interest first; and we keep making it easier to do just that. While every client’s preferences — from appointment type to contact method — can be different, our process for engaging deeply with the client during an appointment is consistent and our tools support that process more than ever before.
Do you all have a tech-focused committee of advisors, and what does it do? Likewise, how does your firm regularly solicit and integrate advisor feedback on technology?
Yes, we have two main groups: our Regional Technology Advisor (RTA) group of more than 250 branch teams and our Client Solutions Leader (CSL) group of more than 250 branch teams serve as our sounding board when we introduce technology improvements as well as serving as advocates these changes to the rest of the field.
We engage regularly with our CSLs and RTAs and solicit feedback via online surveys. On a monthly basis, we meet with many of these branch teams via web conferences in which we share some of our planned enhancements and get their feedback to shape our strategy. They have the opportunity to share their “pain points” so we can understand how technology may be able to help solve problems, too.
We’ve also stepped up our user experience game and we’re asking for input earlier in the development process, which is allowing for better designs and processes for our branch teams and clients.
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?
Our most successful, social media-enabled financial advisors are finding ways to integrate social/digital touch points into their day-to-day contact strategy and practice management — and we’re certainly sharing best practices for social from our leading financial advisors with the rest of the field.
By finding logical, strategic places in their day to engage in certain social media activities, it can become automatic; and that’s really the ultimate goal. The best advisors won’t spend more than five to 10 minutes at a single time engaged in social media; however, they may end up at the end of the day with four of those brief sessions complementing their other relationship-deepening strategies.
What is the overall philosophy with regards to technology in the long term for your firm?
Edward Jones delivers a high-touch, high-tech experience; our technology is designed to support the relationship between a client and a branch team and our consistently top-ranked rating in JD Power helps to validate how our branch teams view our technology.
Our philosophy is really built around that relationship and it’s at the center of everything we design. The role of technology has expanded significantly though — especially in the last several years.
Gone are the days where technology was simply a way to make the firm’s operations more efficient. Now, we must continue to invest in keeping our technology nimble given the importance of technology in the client experience.
What is your firm thinking about in terms of robo-advisors, automation, artificial intelligence and the like for the next five years or so?
There’s no question that each of these technologies is going to have a significant, and different, impact on the industry. For example, we’ve seen some impressive innovation from robo-advisors in recent years, most notably in digital workflow associated with client acquisition and onboarding. For us, our goal is to think deeply about the application of these technologies in the context of our strategy — serving serious, individual long-term investors through face-to-face relationships with financial advisors. Where we see opportunities to enhance those relationships with these technologies, we’ll definitely be pushing forward, however, that will likely look different than many of our competitors.
What new developments is your firm working on in terms of technology and portfolio management/wealth management that you can discuss?
We have some of the most robust, well-integrated tools in the industry. These tools help our financial advisors create portfolios for new and existing clients, identify which client portfolios are outside of our analysts’ guidance and automatically or manually rebalance portfolios. Interestingly, while simple portfolio tools once provided firms a competitive advantage, portfolio construction has become quite commoditized — leaving strong, trusted relationships between clients and branch teams as a key competitive advantage.
We are improving our portfolio tools, adding data analytics, and improving the integration of these tools so we can ensure that the relationship between clients and branch teams continues to be the key competitive advantage of our firm.
Are there any more thoughts on advisors, clients and technology strategy at your firm that you would like to share?
Supporting the relationship between clients and their Edward Jones advisor shapes nearly every aspect of our business — and technology is no exception.
We’re committed to improving the tools that our clients and branch teams use each day. In our model, our financial advisors provide trusted advice through a high-touch and very high-tech platform and our clients find this valuable.