Over the past two decades as clients and the financial industry itself shifted online, advisors embraced education and learning as a powerful tool capable of attracting new prospects, transforming existing prospects to clients and keeping current clients engaged. The move from “lunch-and-learn” sessions and seminars to blogs, podcasts and online videos reinvigorated advisors’ focus on education.
Now, a fintech firm is taking a similar focus on providing its clients – who happen to be financial advisors – with opportunities to bolster their own knowledge about its technology. Knowing how software works before implementing it and understanding all of its features before using it with the end client can be the difference in an advisory firm’s success said Emily Wilcox, Chief Operating Officer at Practifi.
“We’ve gotten literal direct feedback about what makes a technology provider stand out – and that has led us to believe that the client needs to get the information before they have to use the system” said Wilcox. “The only way to do that is through a really robust learning and development function.”
For fintechs, learning and development tools can be a huge differentiator, said Wilcox. After all, advisory firms are likely to be more responsive to technology that is designed to help clients learn.
“As a client, if you’re buying software, you’re investing in a product that is going to evolve,” said Wilcox, noting that advisor-facing software today is expected to continuously evolve and update, particularly if it is offered via the software-as-a-service (SaaS) mode of distribution.
If technology keeps evolving, the learning and development experiences that fintechs offer advisory firms must be continuous – as Wilcox says, “It can’t just be set it and forget it.”
Even today, many legacy technology companies fall short in client education when they are changing or growing their platforms, said Wilcox ushering in new features or releases with little more than publicity and release notes.
“Releases should include things designed to expand a client’s knowledge base and even include marketing information about what’s coming,” said Wilcox. “Video content should ideally include something about why this feature should be valuable to the client.”
Let’s face it—advisors are almost always faced with learning incredibly challenging software, especially when they are changing firms, newly hired, or changing their own firms’ technology stacks.
“We can look at learning and development in a couple of ways,” said Wilcox. “When you’re client-facing, there’s a real differentiation between describing your products and assisting clients with learning and getting their best value out of it. That’s something we take really seriously.”
It’s hard to quantify, but there is a clear link between trained, informed technology users and the efficiencies they can create from technology—the better educated the user, the better their use of technology and the more successful their business.
But from a broader perspective, Wilcox says that offering learning and development features alongside technology has become an expectation of software users.
“I think that learning and development has become a consumer demand,” said Wilcox. “Advisors and anyone working with them usually have a lot of complex technology that they rely on a day-to-day basis. If we can’t understand how it all works – and how it all works together and how technologies talk to each other – it will cost our clients. It will cost us. It’s so important. That’s why we see ourselves as a partner in this industry.”
Thus, in 2021, learning and development has been a point of emphasis for Practifi, said Wilcox, who is helping to helm the company’s efforts as part of her work enhancing the business management platform’s user experience.
Through her conversations with Practifi’s users, prospects and other technology partners, Wilcox found that when it comes to education, form is as important as content. This is an outgrowth of numerous theories that attempt to explain discrepancies in peoples’ learning by creating models based on the style or modality of someone’s learning, often distilled down to a simplified dichotomy of auditory versus visualizing learners.
“Too often, along the way they experience content that won’t help them and that is difficult to digest and that’s the opposite of what you want to happen,” said Wilcox.
That’s why a firm with a strong focus on learning has to take a multidisciplinary, multimedia approach, said Wilcox, as no two advisors learn in exactly the same way.
Wilcox likened the learning experience to a compelling “curated journey.”
“We need to be able to meet our clients – the advisory firms using Practifi and the practitioners within those firms – where they want us to meet them,” said Wilcox. “So we put information in front of them in all sorts of different formats. Some people like to sit down and listen to a webinar. Some want to watch a tutorial. Some people like to read through the information. Others really want in-person help. Offering different media helps advisors learn the way they like to learn, and it helps us provide them with content we want them to understand.”
Content should also be made available in short, easily digestible segments and as long-form chunks of information, said Wilcox, as different clients will have different preferences for how to receive information. Most importantly, the learning experience must be made simple and easy for everybody engaging in it.
At Practifi, learning and development mesh with the firm’s existing emphasis on client success.
Not only does the education of clients and prospective users help create more advisors who can get the most out of Practifi and ease the work of the company’s Client Success team, but the information discovered by Client Success Managers can also be fed into the learning and development features, creating more targeted education for users and a learning feedback loop very similar to the software development cycle.
“Client success and learning operate hand-in-hand,” said Wilcox. “They work closely together internally and externally. Client success is on the front line helping clients get the most out of Practifi and looking at how Practifi works in a client’s business. Learning capabilities are delivering content and training.
“It behooves any technology provider to do this for their clients. You don’t want to make it hard work. Curating learning experiences for the client has become incredibly important.”