Today's investors are understandably anxious, with continued market volatility and the waning performance of their retirement and college savings accounts. Investors also worry that living longer and the threat of hyperinflation might cause them to outlive their resources in retirement or fall short on college funds.
As confidence in the financial industry has declined, investors don't know where to turn for sound and trustworthy advice. How can advisors earn back investors' trust?
Service is the key differentiator when selecting one advisor over another, and by putting technology at the center of the investor experience, advisors stand to regain investor trust and ultimately grow their businesses. There are three main ways that advisors can use technology to enhance client relationships in turbulent economic times: 1. Make use of integrated platforms and aggregated data;
2. Focus on risk and performance measurement; and,
3. Give investors the ability to actively participate in the process by providing online self-service and collaboration tools.
ADVISORS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
As investors become more aware of and concerned with losses, many are looking to their advisors for recommendations on balancing today's need for asset protection with longer-term growth. In addition, many do-it-yourself investors are not as confident in their ability to make informed decisions and are turning to advisors in record numbers.
These investors require a disciplined investment approach and steeper service levels from advisors, along with different ways of monitoring and participating in their financial futures. Many are more sophisticated than in years past, comfortable with technology, and are seeking an active hand in planning for their retirement and other life goals.
At the same time, investors are demanding better insight and transparency into the investment process. When an advisor provides a self-directed or collaborative environment where investors can view and provide input into their own futures, investors feel informed and in control of their own retirement issues and overall financial situation. This, in turn, leads to reduced anxiety and greater confidence. Collaborative tools act as a conduit to help build trust by enabling advisors to review specific subject matter with their clients online, and fine-tune proposals or plans in real-time.
Technology is also now imperative to help investors perform financial check-ups, stress testing, risk analysis, and calculations on scenarios that align with life changes. This has quickly resulted in an increased demand for client-facing tools to help with contingency planning. For example, technology can provide retirement accumulation and distribution models that give estimates of future events that are notoriously hard to predict, such as market fluctuations, costs from long-term illnesses, changes in taxation, or even the arrival of another child or grandchild. While these tools certainly cannot predict the future, they are powerful educational tools that illustrate ranges of possible outcomes, thus creating more realistic expectations for the investor.
More than ever before, affluent investors are looking for a broad selection of investment products, as well as a single view across their bank, brokerage and trust accounts. Historically, firms have held singular relationships with their clients, but because of convergence in the industry, institutions are trying to provide a more holistic array of offerings and gain more of the investor's business. Technology can support this converged environment and provide aggregate account information that gives investors a more comprehensive view of their financial picture through a single point of contact.
PLATFORMS WITH AN EDGE
Technology innovations like Software-as-a-Service provide on-demand functionality and workflow capabilities that can give advisors the ability to act quickly in responding to client needs and reduce expenses for the advisor. SaaS is a software deployment model whereby a software provider licenses an application to users for use as a service on-demand in a Web-based environment, which can provide significant cost savings and other advantages for advisors
Flexible tools are also key to providing the tailored advice investors are seeking, while integrated platforms that combine planning, trading and account aggregation capabilities are becoming imperative to providing affluent investors with a complete understanding of their holdings. Ultimately, technology makes it possible for advisors to build trust in tough economic times, by helping investors plan for the expected and the unexpected. But most importantly, by incorporating new technologies into their practices, advisors can provide their clients with more complete, personalized services quickly and with less associated cost.
Web-based platforms can quickly and efficiently meet the needs of independent advisors without the resources, time constraints and infrastructure cost of larger implementations. In a SaaS environment, advisors can provide faster time to market on offerings and therefore quicker time to value for the client. SaaS platforms include security and disaster recovery capabilities that protect client data around the clock, as well as automatic upgrades to ensure that advisors are always working with the latest capabilities.
With increased demand for advisory services in the current economy, there is greater urgency for quickly deployed advisor solutions. Today, advisors are under more pressure than ever before to grow their businesses and compete for new clients. At the same time, they need to keep costs under control and make their practices more efficient - all while providing even higher levels of client service.
In these troubled economic times, in which investors' attitudes toward investing are rapidly changing, the virtues of efficiency, service and value are underscored when it comes to an advisor's ability to service his or her clients and help them meet their goals. Collaborative tools, risk mitigation, holistic account views and SaaS platforms all play important roles in helping advisors to expand and tailor their capabilities in an ever-changing industry, and ultimately pass their value on to investors.
Blaine Maxfield is chief operating officer of the wealth management business at SunGard (www.sungard.com), a provider of software and processing solutions for the financial services, higher education and public sectors.
(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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