One of the best things about financial technology is how it has helped level the playing field for advisers.
With so many vendors offering technologies for every possible use and price point, registered reps at a big Wall Street firm can no longer claim a digital advantage over a Main Street solo practice. Anyone can go out and find a financial planning tool or CRM or client portal that works for them.
On the other hand, now everyone has access to more or less the same quality of technology. Fintech that just a few years ago was a major differentiator for a firm is now table stakes across the industry.
"Most technology is available to any adviser at a reasonable price," said Ryan Marshall, a partner with ELA Financial Group. "We use MoneyGuidePro, Morningstar and Riskalyze, and so can everyone else."
But if this is the case, how do firms show clients or prospects that they offer anything different from the adviser down the street? This is why advisers today hear so much about "client experience." Advisers may all have digital tools, but the key is turning that into something of value.
"Technology can help firms more effectively deliver on their value proposition, streamline processes and workflows, and scale their services. However, the value proposition, processes and services must already exist," said Brandon Garrett, president and chief investment officer of Snow Garrett Wealth Management. "A redundant process that is now a workflow in a CRM or an irrelevant service that has now become a digital marketing campaign is still redundant and irrelevant."
For Mr. Marshall, it's about focusing on the service and support the firm can provide.
"We try to distance ourselves from what we can't stand about customer service, which is press one for this and two for that," he said. "When [clients] call they know they are going to speak with one of our team members who will ask how the grandkids are doing or catch up on where the family just got back from vacation."
Allan Katz, president of Wealth Management Group, a solo practice in Staten Island, N.Y., said his focus is on having specialized knowledge not yet delivered by any of the technology products. For him, it's being an expert in funding college.
Another idea is using the underlying client data, unique to every firm, to find new ways to bring clients help they can't get from anyone else. For example, Captrust chief technology officer Jon Meyer, said his firm developed an analysis of retirement plan fees to make plans more efficient for participants.
This will only become more important for firms as adoption of technology increases.
Aaron Schaben, Carson Wealth Managment executive vice president, said technology can still play a role in differentiating firms, as few firms are successfully putting the pieces together so clients get something more akin to the experience of shopping on Amazon or watching movies on Netflix.
"That's where the biggest competition is — integration, and doing it so that our clients aren't going to a bunch of different websites," Mr. Schaben said.
Again, it all comes back to client experience. It's not really the technology that matters. It's how you use it.