Bill Winterberg Bill Winterberg.

As financial advisory firms embrace technology to stay competitive and enhance in-house operations and relationships with clients, they should consider this: “Technology is the great equalizer among firms big and small,” according to Evan LaHuta, head of client experience at BNY Mellon. “Everyone starts to look the same, so how do you add value?”

That was the focus of a panel LaHuta led at last week’s Pershing Insite 2018 conference on how to use digital technology to transform an advisory business.

What Does Your Business Sound Like?

Bill Winterberg, founder of FPPad.com, a consulting firm that helps advisors adopt technology in their practices, suggested that advisory practices embrace easy-to-use technologies to stay in touch with clients, including:

  • Flash briefings, audio content that plays on smart speakers like Alexa. Advisors can discuss the local real estate market or other topics and “become part of a client’s everyday routine.” All it takes, said Winterberg, is a telephone microphone and using services like storyline.com, which publishes flash briefings for free. “It’s a new way to meet client expectations.”
  • Video content on YouTube to communicate with clients and others and publicize your views. Typical YouTube content consists of speeches and other presentations, many with visual aids like charts and graphs.
  • Secure CRM software that allows, for example, clients to transmit documents to your office using their phones. Winterberg recalled a story about Galen Herbst de Cortina, a young financial advisor and online gamer, who lets clients send him their latest contracts with sponsors by taking a photo of the contract on their smartphone, then sending it via text or email. Many banks allow clients to deposit their checks that way.
  • Finding a niche: De Cortina also exemplifies this recommendation from Winterberg. As an online gamer, he noticed that fellow gamers had no way to allocate their winnings to save for their financial future, so he became a financial advisor specializing in that client market.

Video conferencing and text messaging were also mentioned as ways advisory firms can enhance their relationships with clients and eliminate the “friction” — Winterberg’s word — of using paper.

Having the Capacity and the Right Personnel

But do firms have the capacity to serve their clients well while also adopting more digital technologies what will change the way they do business, require training of personnel but ultimately enhance client services?

“A digital conductor will be needed,” and possibly other changes in personnel as well, said Michelle Feinstein, director of product strategy and client engagement for technology solutions at Pershing.

“Look at your organization and its talent pool. Do you have the right mix?” asked Feinstein. Are there people familiar with artificial intelligence; application programming interfaces, which allow different apps to communicate with one another; and blockchain?

She recommended that any new technology introduced by an advisory firm be rolled out for use on multiple devices — desktops, laptops, iPads and cell phones — to satisfy users’ preferences, and include an integration piece and client service model.

In addition to using technology to better serve clients and increase efficiencies, firms can employ technology to mine data for their own purposes. Data on clients and on personnel can be analyzed not only to improve service and efficiencies but to provide clues about when a client or an advisor is likely to leave a firm.

“Data can help me survey client without doing a survey,” said Veronica Schenkelberg, executive director and strategy officer at BBVA Securities, who was also on the panel. “It can help us predict life events [about clients], and help with client attrition and segmentation.”

She said the biggest challenge for her firm is educating advisors about any new technology tool “because if they try and don’t like it, they’ll never go back to it.”

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