SEI Advisor Network, a turnkey asset management platform and custodian serving 7,500 advisers, is trying a new approach to developing technology that it hopes will solve the adoption challenge.
The firm assembled a team of 25 of its most successful and forward-thinking advisers for a "design-a-thon" and asked them to share how they go about opening new accounts and conducting client reviews. The advisers then mapped out the different approaches to identify opportunities for technology to improve the experience.
SEI is now working to incorporate the ideas into its product development strategy. The idea, which executive vice president Wayne Withrow calls "user-centered design," is to develop a platform that better aligns with how top performing advisers already work, rather than forcing them to implement new workflows or business processes.
"What is the process, what is the task that the user is trying to complete, and how can you design it so their interaction with the software is the best it can be?" Mr. Withrow said.
He hopes this will improve adoption of the technology by advisers.
"By having them be a part of the actual design process, you're ahead of the curve right away," Mr. Withrow said. "You're not giving them technology and telling them to modify their process to fit the technology."
The design-a-thon focused on account opening and client reviews because those tasks have the widest elements of client and adviser interactions, said Kevin Crowe, SEI's head of product development. Mr. Crowe asked advisers to broaden how they think about the workflows to include every step, from beginning to end.
For example, account opening truly begins when an adviser prospects a new client, meaning the process begins in the CRM technology, Mr. Crowe said. Then the adviser has to use a financial planning tool and a proposal generator before finally getting to the actual opening of a new account.
If those technologies don't work in concert, it increases opportunities for error and slows down the entire process. By having advisers map out the process and show how they do things differently, Mr. Crowe said technology vendors can get a better idea of how to build a seamless digital workflow.
One takeaway from the SEI approach was identifying different types of users that Mr. Withrow calls "personas." By having the advisers identify two different user personas, the technology can be flexible enough to work with different types of users without being completely unwieldy.
"Recognizing that there are multiple types of people is critically important thinking," Mr. Crowe said. "The first step is to empathize ... Look at the clients, define who they are and how they operate."
For John Scott, CEO of Cedrus Financial and one of the advisers who participated in the design-a-thon, the biggest takeaway was how difficult it is to build technology that can support the myriad ways advisers go about common business operations.
"We can give eMoney to 100 different advisory practices and their ain't no way they're all going to use it the same," Mr. Scott said.
He believes getting advisers to feel like they played a role in product creation will lead to better adoption.
"I think all advisory practices, especially the older guys like myself, have had problems adopting technology because they don't like their cheese getting moved," Mr. Scott said. "If [firms] include advisers in how they build the technology, you get consensus. There are mental mechanics in people knowing they had their say leading to better adoption."
While he appreciates SEI's focus on client-facing technology, he hopes the same process can lead to improvements in back-office functions like ordering a trade and moving documents.