Clients want better technology — even if advisers don't think so

Pershing data shows that vast majority of customers want better online tools but few advisers have glommed on; 'a big gap'

Jun 6, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

By Andrew Osterland

Appearances matter — particularly when it comes to online experiences.

Executives at Pershing LLC's annual INSITE conference in Hollywood, Fla., gave advisers details of technology changes the firm is rolling out this year. Those changes will affect how advisers' customers view their financial information online.

Moderator Michelle Gutierrez, a director at Pershing LLC, cited a Tower Group study this year which showed that 71% of a sample of investors prefer websites as their first interaction with their financial advisory firm, but want more-extensive contact with their advisers to be face-to-face.

Jay Lind, another Pershing director, noted another study which found that 70% of clients said more online tools and information was important to them. Financial advisers surveyed on the issue believed that only about a third of their clients thought the issue was important. “It's a big gap,” Mr. Lind said.

Customers are looking for consistent and easy-to-understand data on their finances. They also want tools for financial planning, asset allocation and performance reporting.

Topping their list of concerns regarding the online experience, however, is security. “It's a challenge to strike a balance between online security and useability,” said Greg Monseliu, a Pershing vice president involved in the redesign of the firm's NetExchange Client technology platform. “Customers want to see at a glance what is going on with their accounts.”

A better online experience can deepen the relationship with clients, said Cara Kennedy, a Pershing vice president who works with third-party data providers. “The power of your clients' online experience is key to having further meaningful touch-points with them,” she said. “It will strengthen your relationships with clients.”

Ms. Kennedy noted that many advisers worry that the more-sophisticated tools and information available through custodial websites like Pershing's might steal some of their thunder with clients. That fear of disintermediation is unwarranted, she argued.

“We ask you to consider making market-driven data available to your clients. It doesn't encroach on your role. In fact, the tools can help you uncover other important objectives of your customers,” said Ms. Kennedy. “We bundle information and allow you to decide which package is best for your client. It will enhance, not take away from, your value proposition to clients.”

Giving clients more-robust performance reporting has also become critical, said Mike McGowan, a director at Albridge Solutions Inc., an affiliate of Pershing. “Performance reporting used to be a nice feature for high-net-worth clients. But the large firms are rolling it out for all their investors. If you're not sharing good performance data with your clients, they may lose some trust in you,” he warned.

“It's grown from a nice thing to have to a must-have,” Mr. McGowan said. “Everybody deserves to know their performance.”

A major trend in the performance-reporting space is the ability to show clients' entire wallet share, Mr. McGowan said. “With your clients' consent, you can be the adviser to provide the deep client experience showing them the performance of all their assets. Over half the broker-dealers I work with now have that capability.”

Pershing will begin rolling out changes to its platform July 25 and will complete the changes by the first quarter of next year. “It's going to look different,” Mr. Monseliu said.

Michael McGervey, an adviser based in North Canton, Ohio, expressed some concern about performance-reporting tools he likes within the Albridge system. “All the functionalities, the simple log-in and the user-friendliness sound great. The only weakness with Albridge is the limited ability to construct your own reports. I would like more ability to customize reports to align them with what clients want.”

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