By David Knoch, Docupace
Each year, the Financial Services Institute (FSI) OneVoice event brings together industry leaders from independent wealth management firms and the third-party solutions providers that support them, including fintech firms.
In addition to the passion for FSI’s worth advocacy mission that bind us all under a common goal, firm executives and their business partners were demonstrably eager to be in front of old friends and making new ones.
At this week’s OneVoice event, held in Orlando Florida, discussions that were both part of the formal agenda and informally among attendees contained a truly elevated sense of purpose and urgency on a wide range of topics – Including technology.
If you weren’t able to attend either the in-person event or virtual sessions at OneVoice, here are the top four take-aways from conversations about the intersection of wealth management and technology.
1. It’s all about building a fully integrated customer experience.
I get it! This statement has become a tired buzzword over the years versus an actual aspiration.
But as with so many other parts of our economy, the pandemic spotlighted a recurring structural issue in the independent wealth management space that has held firms back from being able to offer an integrated experience. In particular, historic severe under-investment in back-office processes and technologies, relative to investment in the front office, magnified by the growing technology debt of legacy back office decisions, often hidden from view.
Many independent wealth management firms offer a convincing image and impression of seamlessness in operations and onboarding, both for financial advisor recruits, and for the new clients that financial advisors bring aboard.
The problems start, however, when the various parts of the customer experience life cycle – frequently starting from the onboarding experience for both financial advisors and their new clients – are based on separate parts of a firm’s legacy operating and technology structures.
When these different elements of the business aren’t digitized and don’t connect smoothly with one another, you get very dissatisfied advisors and end clients.
Main stage discussions, breakouts and hallway conversations all carried their own messaging around this accelerating need for fully integrated front and back offices.
2. Firms that aren’t maximizing the digitization and automation of compliance supervision are opening the door to outsized risks.
Up until the pandemic hit, discussions about the digitization and automation of compliance supervision always revolved around voluntary goals. If we wanted to take this approach, we could generate cost savings. Or if we took this approach, we could grow on a more scalable basis.
COVID-19 has ended the voluntary tone of these conversations. In its place, are questions where answers are required sooner rather than later.
How do we conduct compliance audits in a world where COVID continues to flare up intermittently? Are all of our data feeds aggregated? Does the home office or its OSJs have immediate access to cloud-based files for all financial advisors?
Put simply, wealth management firms are largely accepting the fact that maintaining a highly manual compliance approach that is reliant on paperwork and in-person visits isn’t tenable.
3. The independent wealth management space is fast becoming a land of the haves and have-nots with digitized marketing tools and strategies – And being left behind means saying good-bye to growth.
Until the recent mass migration into a heavily virtual work environment, many independent wealth management firms held back on investing in digitized marketing capabilities, assuming that time was on their side – And then, last year, it suddenly wasn’t.
These firms experienced lagging growth – and in some instances, a contraction of business – while seeing competitors who had embraced the adoption of new digital marketing tools and strategies surge ahead.
Coming out of the pandemic, when it comes to marketing efforts to support financial advisor recruiting, or to support the organic growth efforts of existing advisors, firms that were late to the game with digital marketing are feeling the pressure to modernize in this area. Even more, firms with nascent analog marketing processes and disciplines are finding themselves having the dual transformation burden of having to proceduralize before they can digitize.
4. Yes, remote work is here to stay, but not at the levels many expected, and with many open questions about the details that only a stronger digitization and workflow strategy across the board can accommodate.
During the peak of the pandemic, it wasn’t unusual to hear industry pundits talking about how independent wealth management firms would likely go completely virtual with their staff and field force. There were also the outliers who didn’t hesitate to extoll the virtues of a full return to a traditional office environment as soon as possible.
Interestingly enough, while most firms have landed somewhere in the middle, that middle has not skewed nearly as much towards a “majority virtual” workforce that many envisioned.
And because this is the case, it has had the effect of allowing many firms to be more relaxed about entertaining employee requests to be fully remote, as there doesn’t appear to be a massive rush to the exits when it comes to committing to being in the office for at least some of the time.
With the recent COVID-19 variants driving additional concerns, many firms are continuing to take both a “wait and see” and a people-first approach before formalizing any return-to-work plans on a broad basis.
While this ambiguity might be welcomed by many employees who enjoy the current flexibility, it does raise long-term organizational questions, including whether certain functions – like compliance or operations – must remain in the office while other functions can be more remote friendly.
Another question is whether virtual work should be an option only for employees who have gained a certain level of experience and expertise, as on the job training tends to be more challenging when people are working from home.
Embedded in these questions is a noble goal, shared by many, to maintain a uniform culture while not creating “have’s” and “have nots” based on their required or chosen work arrangements. To advance this goal, should we be doing more to create choice across the entire enterprise? And when will technology enable to us to eliminate the role-based discussions around whether office work is required that affects so many in operations?
These open questions have escalated the recognition among firms that a broad-based digitization and workflow automation strategy is urgently needed to accommodate the broad range of scenarios for where the future of work might land.
Don’t Assume Time is On Your Side
“Time Is On Your Side” might be a catchy Rolling Stones song, but it has proven to be a less than desirable strategy when it comes to modernizing, digitizing and automating the multiple operations, technologies and platforms currently utilized by independent wealth management firms.
While the mood coming out of the worst of the pandemic is undoubtedly optimistic, the high spirits and high energy that we feel as an industry should also be mirrored by realistic efforts to help firms and their advisors adopt, upgrade and integrate technology to stay ahead of the curve.
David Knoch is CEO of Docupace Technologies (https://www.docupace.com/), the provider of comprehensive digitization and workflow automation solutions for the independent wealth management space.