The financial advisory industry is in the midst of a transformation due to challenges from increasing consolidation, changing client needs, new technologies and a growing shortage of talent, according to the Pershing CEO Lisa Dolly.
Dolly highlighted these four trends as one of several keynote speakers at the June 6-8 Pershing Insite conference in Orlando, Florida, which attracted over 2,000 registered investment advisor and other attendees. BNY Mellon-owned Pershing, she and other executives pointed out at the event, now has some $615 billion of RIA assets on its platform.
Bigger is better. “We should expect there will be much greater concentration of assets in fewer broker/dealers and RIAs,” said Dolly.
Consolidation in the industry will continue as firms look to add efficiencies and private equity firms continue to finance acquisitions, especially of RIAs with $1 billion or more in assets under management. They certainly have the money for it — $1.7 trillion in assets that are uninvested, according to Dolly.
Life management trumps investment management. Clients want their financial advisors to provide more than asset management.
They want help with their earnings — careers — and spending — “holistic planning,” the CEO explained. They essentially want advisors who can successfully address the anxiety they experience over multiple money matters.
Technology has yet to be exploited. “Our industry is lagging way behind” in the use of automation, robotics, self-service, artificial intelligence and biometrics, said Dolly, noting the benefits of each.
AI, for example, can help predict client behavior, and biometrics, by improving personal recognition capabilities of software, can provide more cybersecurity. “Technological advances will happen … disrupting and improving the industry,” she explained.
The talent shortage will become much more severe. “We have an aging workforce and firms are struggling to attract talent,” Dolly said.
“We should expect labor costs to increase and a significant need for technology to solve that problem,” which also will cost firms, she added. On the labor front, the executive anticipates stronger demand not only for advisors but also for data engineers, regulatory experts and financial analysts.
Beyond these growing trends, the industry is at root about the people it serves, according to Dolly. “They will forget what you said, forget what you did but never forget how you made them feel.”
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?”
Tech Tips Another Pershing speaker — 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 let 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 Capacity & the Right Personnel But do firms have the capacity to serve their clients well while also adopting more digital technologies that 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 clients 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.”
Dynasty Development In other news, Dynasty Financial Partners says it is launching a new group to help partner firms of registered investment advisors with more than $1 billion in client assets. The Dynasty Enterprise Group will focus on the business growth opportunities and challenges facing larger RIAs and be led by Ed Friedman and Gordon Ross.
The group is set to stage its first best-practices workshops this month. The series of events aim to help firms with at least $1 billion boost the scale and efficiency of their businesses, according to Dynasty, which supports a middle- and back-office platform for 45 RIAs and over $30 billion in assets under advisement.
“It is no secret that the tectonic plates beneath our industry are shifting, and that both advisors and client assets continue to migrate towards independence,” said Dynasty President and CEO Shirl Penney, in a statement. “DEG’s mission is to help billion-dollar-plus RIAs check all these boxes so that they may reach $5 billion, $10 billion and beyond.”
The firm says that five of its member RIAs are now part of DEG, such as Summit Trail Advisors, which has some $5 billion in client assets. (Other Dynasty partners have over $1 billion in assets but are not yet working with the new unit.)
Friedman has been Dynasty’s director of strategic relations for the past four and a-half years, according to his LinkedIn profile; prior to that, he worked for rival HighTower Advisors for about three years. He spent the bulk of his career, 1995 to 2008, as a branch manager for Morgan Stanley.
For his part, Ross has been with Dynasty since 2015. Earlier, he worked for BBR Partners (2012-2014) and Atlantic Trust (2010-2012) in the U.S. and Bestinvest in London (2001-2008), his LinkedIn profile states.
“In working with the industry’s elite independent advisory firms, we at Dynasty have been given a glimpse into how the DNA of a RIA evolves as it approaches and surpasses the $1 billion AUM threshold,” explained Dynasty COO Ed Swenson, in a statement. “We have tapped Ed and Gordon to run this specialized division because their combined experience working with some of the industry’s most well-run advisory practices will enable them to provide customized services to these larger RIAs, helping them further professionalize, scale and grow their businesses.”
Bernice Napach is a senior writer at ThinkAdvisor and can be reached at email@example.com. Janet Levaux is editor-in-chief of Investment Advisor and Research on Wealth. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.