Recent Accenture research revealed that 40-60 percent of today’s onboarding tasks could be automated with digital technologies. Many wealth management firms have taken some small steps to digitize their operations, but they may not be taking full advantage of all the digital opportunities available. In this interview, Mike Marsiglio, senior manager at Accenture and Philip Wilkins, director at Agreement Express address five questions to help firms digitize their internal processes to support client centric-onboarding and improve their time to market.
Q1: Wealth management firms have been long functioning with a product-centric approach to their onboarding process. In your opinion, what is challenging this traditional approach today, and what are future-forward wealth management firms doing instead?
[Mike Marsiglio] We see more and more wealth management firms shifting their onboarding process to a client lifecycle management type of approach. With this method, firms are more likely to capture information and conduct goals-based planning at the prospecting phase in order to determine the products and services that could meet investors’ goals.
There has also been a focus to re-tool financial advisors with best-in-class customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities in order to retain clients. Many firms are shifting from in-house or homegrown systems to fintech or vendor apps that are specifically designed to manage relationships while running analytics to gain insights and offer tailored services.
[Philip Wilkins] Wealth management firms today are shifting from a product-centric approach to a client-centric approach. In our experience, the onboarding process is typically driven by the investment strategy. As the advisor develops an investment strategy for a client, the forms and paperwork required to fulfill that strategy start to accumulate. When the burden to complete the paperwork falls to the client, the quality of their experience decreases – as does time to revenue for the wealth firm.
A customer-centric approach is understanding how to deliver a frictionless experience to the customer to make their onboarding seem practically invisible, while still collecting the necessary information needed to fuel the middle office and backend office requirements. For example, by understanding what information is required to fulfill the client’s investment strategy (which often encompasses product offerings from multiple custodians), and being able to collect the data only once through a convenient, simple and digital landing page that in turn takes the data and automatically populates all of the necessary account forms digitally behind the scenes.
Q2: How important is it to have the right talent leading your onboarding initiative and how should firms with limited resources manage their approach?
[Phil] Chuck Thomas, Gartner Research Director, Wealth and Asset Management Industry Advisory Services, said it best “Onboarding is the first step in the client’s relationship with the wealth management firm.” When you think about the right person to lead the initiative, it often gets assigned to someone in operations or IT, but it’s worthwhile to consider involving someone who is focused on client experience within the firm. Remember, it’s not just about a technology solution, it’s how you welcome a new client into your firm’s family.
[Mike] It is vital to dedicate a leader to own the client experience with onboarding being one piece of the puzzle. He or she should have a tight pulse on client feedback, gain consensus across products and channels and operate as the “client ambassador” to the firm. Wealth firms should continue to leverage external insights and expertise in order to avoid a myopic view of client needs.
Q3: When making a technology investment, which tasks are essential to automate to help ensure that you’re improving the customer experience?
[Phil] The question I would guide a firm to ask themselves is “Where does the rubber meet the road?” Look at where your clients will interact with the technology and make sure that experience is exceptional. According to our latest onboarding survey, 88 percent of wealth management firms believe their onboarding process is not convenient for their clients. In our experience, signing is the most common scenario where clients will interact with an onboarding solution. I recommend looking for technology that can provide flexibility for your clients, whether it’s providing a tablet signing experience in the office or enabling seamless and secure signing on a mobile device, it should be effortless for clients.
[Mike] Investment in technologies that removes friction and the breakdown of information is key to improving client experience. For example, firms can pre-populate information that the client has already provided to the firm and make this available across multiple lines of business. Automating data validations in real-time (e.g. KYC, AML, FATCA, etc.) and enabling e-signature could also provide a more seamless client experience. In fact, more than half of financial advisors surveyed report a significant impact of e-signature on practice operations.
Source: Aite Group’s online survey of 400 U.S.-based financial advisors, Q2 2016
Q4: How important is it to establish onboarding key performance indicators (KPIs)?
[Mike] Onboarding is the first experience after a client has chosen to do business with the wealth management firm. It is vital to measure that this process is effective and efficient in order to continuously improve client relationships and identify areas for improvement in the entire process.
Once a client makes the decision to invest with your firm, time is your enemy – the longer and more painful the onboarding process is, the bigger is the risk the client will abandon the process and take their money elsewhere.
[Phil] Our survey uncovered that some 53 percent of wealth management firms are unable to provide accurate reporting for key onboarding metrics, while an additional 37 percent are unsure about their ability. What that tells me is many wealth management firms don’t know if there are efficiencies that can be gained in their onboarding process, or what steps are taking too long. You don’t know what you can’t measure, and without full visibility into your onboarding process, identifying bottlenecks and making improvements will be difficult.
Q5: Which KPIs should wealth management firms be tracking?
[Phil] Time to revenue or how long it takes from the time you prospect a new client to the time the account is funded. That time interval is an important metric. We know from our survey that only 10 percent of wealth management firms are looking at their historical data to inform their operational needs. Having the ability to report that you have 30 potential new clients, representing 20 million dollars of assets in flight; knowing where each of those clients is in their onboarding process and when you can expect those accounts to open based historical data is a huge operational advantage.
[Mike] Measuring the conversion rate from prospects to clients is key to gauging which clients your advisors should focus on. Also, identifying the number of accounts requiring special handling is important to understanding the cost of onboarding clients and identifying optimization opportunities.