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As firms increasingly look for ways to move their client experience online, a well-defined client portal acting as the foundation of the digital relationship is critical.

Using a client portal as the firm’s digital storefront allows you to centralize your team’s ability to manage expectations for service, improve engagement with clients, simplify clients’ financial lives, deliver information and provide a sense of control for clients.

In a situation like COVID-19, where remote work and meetings are essential to continuing business, a client portal helps to fill communication gaps that might otherwise occur between advisor and client.

There are many portal options for advisory firms today; it’s likely you’re using multiple technology providers that each offer their own version.

Pick the Right Portal 

Before you even consider portal options, you need to define your type of firm.

Are you investment-led or planning-driven? The experience you want to deliver, and what you want clients to focus on in your interactions with them, will differ based on your answer to this question.

Some portal providers make it easier than others to put the financial plan front and center. Others prioritize performance and holdings. You want to align the client experience with where you want their focus to be.

Once you’ve settled on the type of firm you run and where you want clients to put their attention, follow these steps to choose the best portal to accommodate that vision.

1. Define the Purpose: What will clients get out of it? Is your primary goal to centralize communications, deliver client updates, or allow clients access to reports and financial plans?

You need to design the portal for how you want clients to use it. The features important to you will be an extension of your firm type.

2. Identify the Impact: Start with your clients, but also look at how a portal can impact your internal workflows.

Do you need it to help you with data gathering, account aggregation, and other ways to make your life easier? A good portal should make your team more efficient.

3. Analyze Current Options: It’s likely you work with tech vendors who offer a portal, so you don’t need to go out and look for a custom solution. Review their limitations, integrations, and features and then tally them up.

By following these three steps, you’ll select a portal that serves your team and your clients well.

Choose the one that gives you the most robust experience and settle on just one option. Your clients need only one central way to communicate with your firm and access their digital documents.

Get Clients to Use It 

Once you’ve chosen a portal, you have to get people to use it, or else it’s just an expensive digital door stop instead of a digital storefront.

Use these practical ideas to get your team and clients excited about how the portal will shape your digital experience and make your service better.

1. Train Your Team: Before you can communicate with clients, explain to your team how the portal makes their jobs easier. Then get everyone on the same page about how to explain the benefits of the portal to your clients in the next step.

2. Communicate the Benefits: Your communication with clients should focus on “why” they should use the portal. Making your life easier is irrelevant to your client. Talk to them about how the portal makes their life easier.

3. Keep Talking About It: Setting expectations for how to use the portal begins with clear and consistent communication. In the end, clients will do what you train them to do.

If you train them to consistently to use the portal, they will. Be clear that your portal is the best way to engage with your firm and share information.

When you hold meetings, use the portal to show reports and documents. You can also send regular emails and updates with a “Did You Know?” section to help clients understand what they can do in the portal.

Portal adoption and usage will be an ongoing effort at your firm; you won’t be able to get all clients using it at once in a week after launch. Be consistent and persistent if you want success. The earlier you introduce the portal in a relationship, the better off you will be.

Being proactive to changes in your technology will keep your firm on the leading edge instead of falling behind the consumer expectations curve.

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Jarrod Upton, MBA, MS, CFP, is Chief Operations and Senior Consultant at Herbers & Company, an independent management consultancy for financial advisory firms. He can be reached at www.HerbersCo.com.