Joe Duran

Duran Duranblog

Joe Duran

Time for financial advisers to reimagine their offices

Consumers are being empowered in every retail experience they have. That will ultimately include our industry, too.

Feb 1, 2017 @ 1:47 pm

By Joe Duran

Forward's San Francisco office.
+ Zoom
Forward's San Francisco office.

A slew of articles in several media outlets from CNN to TechCrunch have recently highlighted a medical disruptor called Forward that opened its first “doctor's office” in San Francisco in mid-January. I think it holds an important perspective into what is in store for all of us and how our offices operate.

The flagship location completely reimagines the patient experience. Unlike the uncomfortable, stuffy waiting rooms most of us are accustomed to, the space is designed with an open, inviting floor plan with interactive gadgets and six private consulting rooms. It is a highly digitized, interactive experience in which patients design their own health plans and have monitors to track their health. This data is measured on their mobile devices and shared with a dedicated team of doctors and nurses 24/7. As if that is not disruptive enough, they charge a flat $149 fee per month to give the patient an initial screening, as well as constant monitoring and access to medical help and guidance on demand. The firm uses artificial intelligence to ensure consistent diagnosis and treatment for patients. The founding team and investors have backgrounds in technology and come from Facebook and Google. Whether this business model works or not, it is still likely to accelerate the push by the entire medical profession into a more consumer-empowered direction. Imagine the Apple store meets Kaiser.

THE EMPOWERED CLIENT

Now imagine how that might be replicated in our industry.

1. A more collaborative workspace. We go to the Apple store to buy our gadgets, but after that we seldom return unless it's to visit a “genius” who teaches us how to help ourselves with their tools. How many of us still have dull sitting areas and meet in stately offices and board rooms? How many of our clients actually enjoy the environment we ask them to come to? Does your office space actually engage the clients and let them interact and learn while they wait? When they meet, are you sitting at the head of the table as the authority or are you using a more informal setting or round tables that encourage collaboration? Consumers are being empowered in every retail experience they have. That will ultimately include our industry, too.

2. More interactive systems. Most advisers create financial plans and do the “big reveal” with their clients. Clients today don't want a finished plan or an investment proposal in which they haven't been active participants in developing and driving the outcome. The modern adviser understands that a plan is temporary and subject to constant revisions. The way a plan is developed is as important as the plan itself, and systems that are easy for the client to understand and use are imperative. Are you using technology to engage the client in the process of building their financial future? Do your clients understand that you are paid to adjust their plan continuously as life unfolds?

3. An untethered adviser. We live in a 24/7 world and that means ensuring your clients can find answers at any time. It means being able to track their progress along the way. In the medical profession, many of a patient's questions and concerns do not require a doctor to answer. That is true in our industry, too. The vast majority of questions can be addressed by someone other than the adviser, but too few firms have clearly defined work streams to systematically answer day-to-day questions that don't require the lead adviser. Once that is done, service can be far more dynamic and far less time sensitive and person dependent.

INTO THE FUTURE

In the past several years, many doctors have shifted to concierge medicine (charging an annual fee for wellness and maintenance) to serve fewer patients and still stay profitable. How many of them can make the investment to further enhance the way they deliver their service? The digitized medical experience that Forward intends to deliver will allow one office to literally serve thousands of patients in a more dynamic, and ultimately superior, way than most doctors could ever replicate with their existing infrastructure and systems.

In many ways, wealth managers are in a similar predicament. There is too little investment in the client experience, tools that are not engaging to clients and a way of delivering service that feels stale. But the opportunity to shift and take market share has never been greater because technology is making it possible and so few firms are actually reimagining themselves and how they serve clients. Only those who do will thrive.

Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.

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