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Advisor Insights

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Don’t fear digital

An increasing number of advisors are using technology to boost their business and their connection with clients.

By: BRYAN BORZYKOWSKI

Date: February 2, 2016

 

Canadians are a Web-savvy bunch – we’re the number-one Internet users in the world, according to ComScore – yet many financial firms have had trouble getting their clients and advisors to make use of their tech-related tools.

That’s finally starting to change.

Three years ago there was essentially no mobile traffic to Fidelity Investments’ website, says Gregory De Rocher, Director of Digital Marketing at Fidelity Investments Canada, but now 21 per cent of all Web traffic is coming from mobile phones.

As well, hits to the company’s website in general increased by nearly 40 per cent between October 2014 and October 2015, he adds.

The reason for the increase in activity is twofold: People are becoming more comfortable using Web-based financial tools, and Fidelity, like other companies in the same sector, is now creating more online applications to help advisors and investors with their portfolios.

For instance, Fidelity has a volatility website that shows advisors how markets react under different conditions. Hits to that page jumped during the recent market swings, says Mr. De Rocher.

The company also has a site called “My Book,” where planners can view client information such as asset details, RRIF status, fund holdings and much more. Fidelity’s website has retirement and tax calculators that anyone can use, too.

The advisors who will get ahead will be the ones who make use of these various online applications, says Mr. De Rocher. Clients now expect their advisors to be technologically savvy, but these offerings can actually give advisors an edge over their competition.

“If I were an advisor today, I’d use any tool available to me,” says Mr. De Rocher. “I’d want to use anything that gives me a competitive advantage, but also helps provide clients with a better experience and better advice.”

Boosting business

Technology can do more than just help advisors provide better service, it can also help boost business. When it comes to social media specifically, according to an Accenture report, 73 per cent of advisors feel that social media has led to an increase in client transactions. The same percentage said that social media has led to an increase in assets under management, while 77 per cent indicated that online networks have helped with client retention.

Another Accenture survey found that demand for new investing tools is rising. According to the report, which surveyed European investors, 27 per cent of respondents switched firms to take advantage of a new digital tool or service. About a quarter of high-net-worth investors said that they would consider switching firms if their current institution didn’t provide useful tools. The report also found that digital tools focusing on long-term goals, retirement planning, estate planning and asset allocation were considered “difference makers” to investors.

Embracing change

With more investors demanding more technology from their advisors and institutions, financial firms have had to embrace the digital world, whether they like it or not. Fortunately, many are enthusiastically jumping on the bandwagon, but that’s only been the case recently.

Firms have generally been afraid of the impact digital change would have on the industry, says Kendra Thompson, managing director and North America lead of Accenture Wealth Management Services.

“They were threatened by technology, and that’s been a part of the reason why wealth management firms have been late to adopt technology,” she says.

The fear was that investors would just go out on their own and use third-party sites and tools. While some technology firms have entered the financial space and are gaining market share, advisors, more often than not, have figured out that they can use many of these new digital offerings to their advantage, explains Ms. Thompson.

“Advisors are seeing how tools can support them,” she says. “Advisors have pretty much bought in, and they’re viewing technology and digital tools as a way to define success and drive loyalty.”

Closer contact

While clients will only become wiser technologically, their desire for advice isn’t going to wane. Some may take a more active role in their portfolios; others will still want a professional to oversee their savings. Technology, though, will make the entire process that much more engaging, and it will give advisors insights that they could never have gotten before.

For instance, Fidelity has a secure video system – “Skype on steroids,” says Mr. De Rocher – that allows advisors to speak directly to portfolio managers. The managers are in a studio, while the advisors tune in and can talk in real time to those managers. The advisor and the manager can then get back to work right after the chat ends.

That reduces travel time for both parties, who typically would have to meet at a road show or another in-person event.

“That saves us a lot of money [on travel], but it also helps increase engagement with advisors,” he says.

How technology will be incorporated into the advisor and client’s day-to-day lives is still to be determined, but for the professionals and firms that embrace digital, exciting times are ahead.

“There’s never been a better time in this business,” says Mr. De Rocher. “We don’t have to teach people what a pull-down menu is anymore. Everyone’s digital, and it’s going to be a huge part of what we’re going to be doing.”

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