Commonwealth plans to expand on several of its VIP, technology and other initiatives for financial advisors in 2021 and beyond, executives from the company told reporters Thursday during a “State of Commonwealth: Connecting through Change” virtual briefing.
Over the next two years, the firm is focusing its investments on five themes: Client engagement, financial planning, advisors’ growth, ease and efficiency, and advisors’ ability to work from anywhere, according to Kol Chu Birke, managing principal of technology and corporate strategy.
Work from anywhere initiatives will include the continued use of Zoom, virtual private networks, Microsoft Office 365 options including Teams, and Shield 2.0, the latest iteration of its cybersecurity tool that he said will be a “lighter, more convenient, easier to use version” to keep advisors protected.
Client engagement enhancements, meanwhile, will include more capabilities for its Investor360 client portal for the web and mobile devices. “We are completely overhauling it” with a “new look and feel,” Birke said, adding: “We’re embedding all of our planning tools into that” and adding “true digital onboarding,” real-time functionality and additional multifactor authentication for protection.
Ease and efficiency initiatives will include a beta rollout for an enhanced version of its Client360 tool that unifies advisors’ tech tools, he said, noting the firm is “about halfway through” with that project.
Commonwealth is looking to step up its recruiting of breakaway financial advisors in 2021, especially those leaving wirehouse firms Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS, Andrew Daniels, managing principal of business development, recently told ThinkAdvisor.
As part of that push, the firm is stepping up its outsourcing efforts, Daniels said Thursday. “We believe that there are absolutely cultural, positive advisors in the wirehouse world breaking away today who would value our outsourcing model because they are in fact today almost 100% outsourcing,” he told reporters.
“We think we have a fantastic platform for them in the independent space to continue as an outsourcer but grow in an environment where they can flex their creativity, they can have a voice, they can be part of a community that has a value system that they identify with,” he explained.
So “with that in mind, we’ve made a very concerted effort starting right now and flowing into 2021 and beyond to modify some of our economics so that they have a less complicated, sort of independent matrix in which to infuse themselves to make the transition here both economically and operationally easier to do,” he said.
The initiative includes an investment by Commonwealth in “soft-landing resources to facilitate them in their transition,” as well as real estate, enhanced legal and tax guidance, and human resources services to help them establish independent practices, he said.
“Certainly, connecting in 2020 has been harder” for advisors as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and most people working remotely, Trap Kloman, president and chief operating officer, noted. But the firm “gave every advisor a secure Zoom license so they can work with their clients,” he said.
Commonwealth also recently launched Commonwealth Connect, so advisors “can stay in touch with each other, which is a critical part of an advisor’s learning and growth and value when they choose who [they] work with,” Kloman pointed out.
Commonwealth Connect, part of the firm’s advisor growth initiatives, is its “first digital platform focused exclusively on fostering connections among advisors affiliated with the firm,” it said when announcing the platform Tuesday.
The new platform “builds on the firm’s strong community foundation by allowing its network of more than 2,000 advisors to find each other based on location, niche clientele, interests and hobbies,” it said.
Commonwealth Brand Studio
The company, meanwhile, is “going to start to take” its Commonwealth Brand Studio marketing initiative “to scale in 2021,” Kloman said, adding the firm has received “great feedback” on it from advisors so far.
Commonwealth has been providing “extensive marketing services to our advisors for quite some time, particularly in the area of website development, content creation and sharing, and collateral creation,” Brian Sullivan, chief marketing officer of Commonwealth Financial Network, told ThinkAdvisor after the briefing.
“What Brand Studio is doing is consolidating our existing services into a centralized, easy-to-find portal, while also offering a location for advisors to access new and expanded services we are rolling out now and in the future,” Sullivan explained.
Brand Studio also “gives advisors the opportunity to gain more in-depth access to marketing strategy and consulting services to aid them in crafting the best marketing plan for their needs,” he said.
Brand Studio is “launching this month for early access advisors,” he noted, explaining: “We use early access to onboard advisors most interested in this resource first and get feedback quickly, rather than waiting for everything to be done and rolling it out to our entire community at once.”
The initial early access advisors are “a group of roughly 150 advisors who communicated an interest in working with us early on as we piloted several of our new and expanded services,” Sullivan said.
Looking ahead, “once we have properly extended the Brand Studio to these initial advisors, we will begin expanding the service to take on new advisors,” he said, explaining: “We will be scaling deliberately to ensure we maintain a high level of service and support our advisors have come to expect from Commonwealth before growing too rapidly. … We want to begin onboarding all advisors by the end of the first quarter 2021.”
Also on Tap
“To compete in today’s marketplace, our advisors need to think strategically and have a strong brand,” Sullivan also said. “To help them establish that solid foundation, we are rolling out several value-added services starting in January 2021 to our early access advisors.”
- A Strategy Builder tool to think through target market, value proposition and marketing resource needs.
- A Learning Center to understand key marketing concepts and how to best identify outsourcing resources or to do it yourself.
- Expanded services for advisor brand development, including:
- Marketing strategy
- Logo development
- Brand positioning and messaging
- Expanded website development
After spinning off its Advisor360° fintech platform as an independent company that has grown to more than 500 employees, Commonwealth now also has aggressive plans to expand its technology initiatives over the next five years, according to Birke. Deeper investments will include machine learning, data science, business intelligence and automation, he said.
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