We find ourselves in a perpetual review that stems from finding the right balance of technological efficiency and maximizing warm, personalized client interactions. We review roles, responsibilities and client workflows, and assess where improvements can be made. The kicking and screaming occurs when we consider pushing off work to the client.
In the name of efficiency, we are tempted to ask clients to fill out all kinds of electronic forms, data packets, and anything else that is somewhat clerical that we do not want to do ourselves. If we interact with 40 prospects, we figure we can save two hours of work per prospect per year. That efficiency adds up, and we have also potentially avoided data entry mistakes. Lastly, we go on to pat ourselves on the back because we are using technology to scale our business.
While it is great to have core technological efficiencies as they relate to under the surface business functions, at McLean, we try to hold off on potentially time-saving workflows that involve client interaction. We think it is usually a mistake to push off what can be perceived as "work" to the client. Many of our clients choose an adviser because they are successful professionals in their field and they are very busy trying to remain successful. Asking these clients to do any type of administrative work is like exposing them to kryptonite. Outsourcing what the client may deem as a "isn't this what I am paying you to do" exercise does not seem to match the service expected of many wealth management firms.
Can you imagine going to a Michelin-rated restaurant, and they hand you a recently wiped tray, tell you to walk up to the kitchen line and point to what you want to eat? I'm sure that would reduce errors and save the need for servers but that restaurant just became a cafeteria. What separates most advisory firms from one another is not someone's investment prowess but rather their ability to serve their clients. To do that effectively, we sometimes have to “unscale” our businesses.
Giving a very busy professional an electronic packet that automatically pre-fills fields in some software application may not be better than spending an extra hour during a client discovery process to make sure a client's personal information is in order. Frankly, that is a great touch point that enhances rapport and adds context to the planning process. Why risk reducing ourselves to just being the final button pusher on a plan? Pretty soon, your client may just hold out a tray and point to one of your investment models and say "I'll take your Balanced Portfolio."
I know there are valid counter arguments. What are your thoughts?
Alex Murguía is a managing principal at McLean Asset Management and chief executive of inStream Solutions.