Why technology is not just for lower net-worth clients

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Technology offerings such as robo-advice are usually regarded as tools to assist with clients with lower net-worth. This idea should be challenged.

Every time someone mentions robo-advice, it inevitably follows with ‘and it’s a great solution for your C and D clients’.

When someone says this, I always think, have you asked a C or D client? Because firstly, they probably don’t want to be known as C or D clients, and secondly, why do we assume that someone with less assets is going to be pleased to be passed from a real person to a computer?

My annoyance aside, what does interest me about this kind of thing are the underlying assumptions. I suspect some of the underlying assumptions include:

– Clients with less assets have less complicated advice needs; and

– Technology has no place in the interactions between advisers and high value clients.

The first is just ridiculous, but the second is worth considering. Is this in fact the case? I put to you, good people, that until recently this assumption has been true, but ‘times they are a changing’ as they say and now, it’s time to re-evaluate that idea.

We’ve all been through it – being told that a new technology will make things so much better, only to find out that it in fact makes things worse.

Technology not thought through properly, technology not implemented properly, technology that’s not fit for purpose, technology that only does half the job, technology that promises the world and delivers… an atlas.

Today though, things are finally different. There’s technology available that really does make things better.

My CRM actually tells me who is due a phone call rather than just collecting information, my integration app makes sure I never have to update an email address across said CRM, Outlook and Mailchimp; the world is looking up.

Let’s consider a historical example.

Ten years ago, it was considered quite normal for advisers to ‘not allow’ their clients to have online access to their account information. Why was this? Well, there was an assumption that clients, especially wealthy ones, wouldn’t want online access and would prefer to speak to their adviser every time they had a question.

There was another assumption that if the client used an online service to check their account balance or complete menial tasks, that somehow that would reduce the value that the adviser provided.

These days, we know both of those assumptions are incorrect. Not only are wealthy people happy to use technology, they do so just as much (if not more) than their less cashed up friends.

Interestingly, the assumption about wealth and (not needing/using) technology is still so strong, that there are numerous research projects on the topic that continue to this day, and in terms of value, it’s a benefit not a detractor to be able to quickly check an account balance or transaction online.

These days, all the platforms, financial planning software providers and even industry super funds include online access for clients as a standard feature. Hard to believe how much this has changed in just 10 years.

There are still some gaps though. Let’s consider data collection for instance.

Early in my financial services career, I was given the task of updating the Securitor fact find.

We used to print it and send out packs of 100 to advisers – how quaint! At the time, I remember reading it and thinking, “far out, I wouldn’t want to try to fill this out”.

These days, fact finds can easily be 40 pages long, and with so much pressure on fees and requirement to ‘demonstrate value’, most of the advisers I know fill it in themselves, in a two-three-hour meeting with their clients.

In the cold light of day, this does seem like a massive waste of everyone’s time. I completely understand that advisers don’t want to send indecipherable documents to potential clients (because they will probably never come back), but there simply has to be a better way, and I’ve been working on this ‘better way’ for about three years now.

Henry Ford is supposed to have said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”.

I figured out early on that I couldn’t just build a ‘faster horse’.

A crappy form is still a crappy form, even if you squash it back down to 20 pages or use a fancy online system that serves up one question at a time.

In order to deliver something really valuable, for both advisers and clients, a rethink would be required.

Many, many note pads and scribbled pictures later, I finally came up with a series of designs, and after kissing many IT frogs (that’s a whole other blog post!) I met the people who are now building the product.

It’s an online fact find, easy to use, fun to complete, doesn’t ask any stupid questions, and gets the advice relationship off to a great start. And it will be ready for beta testing in a few months’ time.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well I want to suggest that there are many, many areas where our assumptions mean that we overlook opportunities.

By questioning our assumptions, we can find new ways to solve old problems, turn problems into opportunities, and deliver on the idea of fabulous, personalised, financial advice that delivers more and costs less. Seem impossible? Maybe not.

Sarah Penn, managing director, Mayflower Consulting

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