The experience that financial advice clients expect today has evolved, and firms that don't have speedy service are going to get rolled over, said Alex Murguia, managing principal of McLean Asset Management in McLean, Va. He is also a board member of inStream Solutions, a financial planning system. What's even more surprising is the role Mr. Murguia sees technology playing for future advisers — and it has nothing to do with robo-advice.
Liz Skinner: How has technology changed the client experience?
Alex Murguia: It's changed from an expectations standpoint. Clients expect an adviser to produce applications more quickly, to answer the phones more quickly. It's the servicing level that needs to go up a notch for advisers.
The technology under the water has really improved the adviser's client-servicing abilities. What hasn't changed much is how the client uses a technology service that the adviser makes available to them. Look at something like a portal, which is a table stake thing you need to offer to clients, but if you look at the utilization of portals by clients it's minimal. And that makes sense because the folks who use advisers are people who have decided to delegate to the adviser, who plays the role of the expert. That's why our clients don't look at their portal constantly wanting real-time information.
LS: So it's the back-office that needs to be using technology to improve workflow and allow for better service?
AM: Exactly. Clients are expecting you to communicate with them in a much more efficient manner, and expect turnaround times in a much more efficient manner. The only way you do that is to be properly allocated with a technological structure as an undercurrent.
LS: What will tomorrow's clients demand from their advisers?
AM: This is where advisers should be significantly more focused. Advisers are too focused on trying to get a quick transaction from their website. I believe prospects at that stage are looking to develop a digital relationship with the adviser, in that sort of "know, like and trust" pathway.
Advisers will need to see how technology can facilitate prospects. That doesn't mean I'm going to tweet about something and hope they link on it, get to our site and call me. But how can you provide a relationship with a prospect and warm them to the point where they raise their hands and say, "I need help."
Technology is the only way to do that effectively. Once they become a client, because you're self-selecting differently, maybe then portal use and other client-facing technologies will spike up beyond the 5% to 7% that use them now.
LS: Are mobile apps table stakes?
AM: What's happening with mobile technology is that, today, websites are designed to be mobile-friendly, so the need for apps is irrelevant. Clients just want a way to quickly look at their account. So the table stakes are portals and a mobile-friendly website. If one's website isn't designed for mobile use, it's not even going to rank on Google anymore.
LS: Are the technologies advisers need today too expensive for small advice firms?
AM: A prudent small firm can find all the technology, including the CRM, portfolio management system and financial planning system, for about $5,000 to $10,000 a year. The reality is, if you're starting your firm and you can't spend at least that much, you really have no business being in business. Many of these things are priced based on accounts, so, as you grow, you're fine paying it.