An adviser's full utilization of technology should enhance personal communications with clients, not supplant it, according to yesterday's InvestmentNews webcast, “The Secrets of Top Technology Performers.”
While the initial adoption of new technology is often an attempt at increasing efficiency and cost cutting, automation and a growing number of “digital touch points” can also enrich the client experience.
Rick Adkins, president and chief executive of The Arkansas Financial Group Inc., an investment advisory firm that provides fee-only, comprehensive financial planning services to physicians, said he has seen the dual utility of technology in the office firsthand.
“Where can we outsource items that made no sense doing it internally?” he said. His thinking began to shift when he realized he could invest upfront in a better copy machine, even though it was expensive, rather directing an employee to photocopy tax returns for hours on end. “It was a very poor use of human talent.”
As technology has evolved into a web of digitized interactions between humans, Mr. Adkins uses new and easy forms of communication to fill in the gaps between client visits to the office.
“For years I pooh-poohed Facebook, but now I think it's one of our best tools,” he said.
Mr. Adkins found that his clients don't want to be inundated with financial news on social media but would rather be exposed to ideas for promoting well-being and a happy lifestyle.
“We tried to focus on getting the type of info our particular clients want,” he said. “You need to define who your client is and what type of questions they want answered.”
The panel, which included Ryan Reineke, senior vice president of technology and operations at Cambridge Investment Research Inc. and Leda Csanka, chief information officer at Cetera Financial Group, agreed that increased connectivity requires advisers to fill the digital void.
While traditional face-to-face meetings will certainly have a place in the future of client relationships, Ms. Csanka emphasized the importance of utilizing technology to create other forms of personal interaction.
“The adviser should be able to work with clients wherever they are,” she said. “Being face to face doesn't necessarily mean being in the same room. It's still about personal connection — making the digital experience as personal as you can.”
Beyond the back-and-forth communication with clients, Ms. Csanka is a proponent of generic compliance-approved content that the adviser can dispatch, thus minimizing the worry over legal implications of their social-media presence.
This strategy conforms to Mr. Reineke's approach of “having relevant tools and services that are viable in a mobile world and also outside of it,” he said. “The trick becomes standardizing the processes that are mundane, making them repeatable … but also making it unique and relevant.”
But Mr. Reineke also agreed with Mr. Adkins that nothing can replace a solid understanding of your clients. It's all about “understanding clients' expectations and being able to provide a service delivery mechanism that meets their expectations,” Mr. Reineke said.
“Find the needs first,” he said. “Don't let the tools define the need.”