Headshots of Judy Marlinski, head of Product and Advisor Solutions at Fidelity, and Lauren Wilkinson, vice president of Advisor Technology Solutions at Charles Schwab Judy Marlinski of Fidelity (left) and Lauren Wilkinson of Charles Schwab

Advisors and clients are increasingly adopting digital tools and those advisors who aren’t embracing them are missing an opportunity, according to executives from Fidelity, Charles Schwab and Conneqtor who spoke recently at Riskalyze’s online Fearless Week conference.

Fidelity’s Focus

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced investors to get used to communicating using video chat and other technology, Judy Marlinski, head of Product and Advisor Solutions at Fidelity, noted Thursday.

That transition hasn’t been simple. After all, it’s an “instantaneous real-time world that suddenly became never-ending,” which has created a “certain fatigue … that we really had to start to adjust to,” she said.

Fidelity became 99% remote within just a week or two of the pandemic lockdown in the U.S., Marlinski said, predicting the concept of “remote-first is not going away.”

“It no longer matters that you sit side by side” with clients as long as you can convey empathy through video and other tools available to advisors, she said, adding: “This is really an opportunity for firms to think about service models and really gaining the trust of clients.”

She agreed with Riskalyze CEO Aaron Klein that advisors who learn to thrive now by embracing all these changes are likely to figure out how to make this a broader opportunity for growth.

Fidelity also is seeing more digital tool adoption, which accelerated since the start of the pandemic, she said. As an example, Marlinski noted the firm saw a 103% increase in the adoption of e-signature capabilities.

The firm is also seeing an opportunity for advisors in digital prospecting for clients, she said. With that in mind, Fidelity created a playbook for advisors to give them tips on how to improve their digital presence, including how to improve their social media reach, create email marketing campaigns and optimize their websites.

Schwab’s Insights

Schwab has continued to see “great adoption” of its Digital Account Open tool specifically, according to Lauren Wilkinson, vice president of Advisor Technology Solutions at the firm.

“Over a third of Schwab firms are now using Digital Account Open, and for those firms who are using it, they’re seeing a big improvement in their process,” she said, adding it’s also helping to reduce mistakes.

Meanwhile, integration of the Schwab Advisor Service platform with best-of-breed third-party products continues to be an area of focus for the firm,  Wilkinson said, noting 150 third parties have now integrated with its platform.

As Schwab plans to integrate TD Ameritrade’s technology with its own, she noted: “We will be bringing over iRebal and thinkpipes as part of the transaction because we know that those are excellent capabilities and it’s just a great example of how we’re thinking about that best of both worlds technology combination.”

Notably, Wilkinson didn’t mention thinkorswim, which was the most prominent TD tech that Schwab recently announced will be part of what it offers clients of independent advisors and other investors following its acquisition of its former rival, set to wrap up by year-end.

“More details will come as we have them and we certainly will be as transparent as we can as we make more technology decisions through the deal,” she added.

Conneqtor’s Advice

“We’ve got this massive change of technology” that’s been going on, but many advisors are “still stuck in 1985” and are either resistant to change or wait too long to embrace it, according to Derek Notman, founder of Conneqtor, an educational technology firm that provides advisors with lead generation and digital marketing assistance, along with virtual practice management training.

Young advisors are still being taught to cold call prospects, place newspaper ads and hold dinner events to try to gain new clients, hold in-person meetings on nights and weekends at clients’ homes, and run a brick-and-mortar operation, he said.

However, those traditional practices are increasingly fading away. Most investors now go online when they research for anything they are interested in and even doctors have gone virtual now, Notman noted.

“We have to embrace this change,” the executive told viewers, warning: “We can’t just put our heads in the sand and think it’s all going to go away. … If we don’t embrace these waves of change, we’re going to become … a fad” — nothing more than “financial advisor dinosaurs, and we all know what happened to the dinosaurs.”

However, “the silver lining is the pandemic is starting to force it,” he added.

The shift to remote, virtual work is a “global megatrend” that was underway already before 2020 — “the pandemic that we’re in drastically sped up this change,” Notman said.

The financial advisor of the future will have “location independence” and have either a virtual or semi-virtual practice, with a “robust digital footprint,” he said. “They’re going to be able to drive leads coming to them by taking advantage of all the different ways that they can market themselves” using technology.