What the future of financial advice will look like is no longer the right question to be asking. What matters more is, how will we get there?
There was consensus among industry leaders gathered at InvestmentNews' recent Future of Advice roundtable that the successful advisers of tomorrow will be those who can adroitly use technology to provide a greater number of clients with truly customized advice across every account in the household.
What's more vexing is getting advisers to embrace the new digital tools available to them.
Getting the entire workforce from the back, middle and front offices all trained on the technology and using it effectively is a huge challenge, said Eli George, SS&C Advent senior director of partnerships and data. Part of the solution must be the human side of the equation — investing in education and ongoing support, and influencing behavior through incentives.
"That's the hook for engagement, you help [the adviser] do their job easier and better," Mr. George said.
The other piece is the technology itself. Tools need to be designed not by technologists on a whiteboard, but by those who use them in their practices.
Tech that fits
For BlackRock managing director of digital wealth Ross Znavor, that means designing technology not just to fill a need or provide value to advisers, but to fit into the entire ecosystem of their day-to-day lives. Mr. Znavor said adviser technology needs to function like Apple's AirPod headphones, which connect and work automatically with phones without needing to set anything up or plug anything in.
After all, the average adviser is 56 years old and likely didn't grow up operating keyboards.
"They are white, male, pale and stale," said Edmond Walters, Apprise Labs founder. "Advisers get frustrated when technology doesn't work and just give up. They're not going to use it in front of a client and look stupid. You have to make it incredibly easy for them.
"All of these things we create for them — they're scared of," said Mr. Walters, who also founded the popular financial planning platform eMoney Advisor.
Make it easy
Mr. Walters suggested firms default to using digital client portals to check account balances, cash flows and investments. If clients are using the technology, advisers will have to learn how it works.
Tricia Rothschild, Morningstar chief product officer, said firms should use a "content hook" to make the information technology they provide more digestible. Instead of bombarding clients with risk modeling or scenario analysis, data can be presented in terms of "here's what happens to your portfolio if X happens."
So how do we get adviser technology that's as easy to use as popular apps like Uber? Ron Carson, Carson Group founder and CEO, suggested focusing on the core, routine actions advisers perform and getting those processes down to a minimum number of clicks.
The goal is reaching that ideal future: a more cohesive relationship between clients, advisers and the enterprise, all connected by digital technology.
"When you can start to track what type of activities the adviser is doing and how clients react to that … you can use technology to create that unique experience," said Tim Munsie, senior vice president of advisory initiatives at Jackson National.
Some advisers agree.
When technology handles investment management, it will make it easier, and more profitable, for advisers to take on the role of a "holistic financial life coach" and offer even more value to clients, which will be increasingly necessary in the future, Mr. Carson said.
"Every day, I use Netflix and I use Amazon. That's the experience I'm going to start comparing my adviser to," he said. "You're going to have to provide everything for a client where you can demonstrate value. And it's going to be thing we haven't even thought about yet."