Robo SigFig building digital platform for Citizens Bank advisers

Fintech firm now helping advisers with many office functions beyond digital advice

Oct 30, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

SigFig is expanding its roster of products for financial institutions with CoPilot, a digital wealth management platform for financial advisers.

The San Francisco technology firm is best known for building retail-facing digital advice platforms for financial institutions, including Wells Fargo, UBS and Citizens Bank. CoPilot goes beyond robo-advice to digitize several front, middle and back-office tasks, such as rebalancing portfolios, onboarding clients and compliance checks.

For example, CoPilot provides a paperless account opening process. It can also automate annual client reviews, update a client's risk profile and monitor suitability of investment products.

CoPilot is coming first to advisers working in Citizens Bank Wealth Management, though SigFig CEO Mike Sha hinted that projects with other financial institutions are in development.

"Every time we show the solution to a current client or prospect, their jaws drop on how simple we've made it for the adviser," Mr. Sha told InvestmentNews.

(More:It may be too early to write off robo start-ups)

"Sometimes what happens is when you roll out solutions on the digital advice side, you find advisers similarly would love to have access to that technology," Mr. Sha said when asked why the company is shifting its sights toward adviser technology. He said his team spent a lot of time with advisers to research how the technology could fit in with their daily tasks, how they work with clients and what their biggest pain points are.

SigFig first partnered with Citizens Bank in 2016 to develop digital investing for retail banking customers. The robo-adviser Citizens Bank launched in 2017, SpeciFi, was developed by SigFig.

CoPilot doesn't integrate directly with SpeciFi, meaning the retail robo won't be used as a direct pipeline of business for Citizens Bank Wealth Management. Mr. Sha said this is because they target two different types of clients, and some investors prefer a purely digital experience regardless of asset level. There are digitally inclined millionaires and small clients who want to work with an adviser.

Mr. Sha added that for any Citizens Bank advisers who want to move existing clients over to the platform, there is a digital process that minimizes paperwork and transfers assets in kind.

In a statement, Citizens Bank Wealth Management president John Bahnken called CoPilot, "an incredibly powerful tool for our financial advisors, seamlessly digitizing many of our processes so that they can focus on what matters most — our customers, not the paperwork."

(More:A human touch in a digital world)

Having both a retail robo-adviser as well as digital advice technology for advisers is quickly becoming table stakes for many banks. Even regional banks are turning to brokerage firms for robo-advice. HSBC Bank USA just announced a digital adviser built with SigFig competitor Marstone.

Even regional banks are turning toward broker-dealers to roll out customized robo-advisers to retail clients.

Mr. Sha said managed accounts and client demand for a fiduciary approach are spurring bank interest in digital advice. Customers at a bank wealth management program tend to have smaller accounts than the high-net-worth segment that many RIAs serve, so banks need automation to serve them efficiently.

"That's where the usage of technology has a real transformational opportunity," Mr. Sha said.

Digital advice also can help provide brokerage and retirement accounts to banking clients and help keep more assets with the firm.

"We have made a huge investment in adviser technology," Mr. Sha said. "The logical reason for that is all our partners run advisory businesses. We can help improve the client experience whether you choose to work with an adviser or not."

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