Practice Management

Client onboarding becomes even more of an advice firm challenge after mergers

CTO says firms should think about the human experience as they bring over clients after an acquisition

Jul 3, 2019 @ 12:03 pm

By Adi Garg

As chief technology officer at my firm, probably the biggest challenge I face is the technological onboarding of sometimes massive numbers of new clients. Even at 26 years old, our advisory firm is still growing, having acquired or partnered with several others in a short period of time.

Why is it such a challenge? Because of huge gaps between the technologies we use to manage the assets, information, investments and communications that are all necessary to properly serve our clients.

While some of the firms we've acquired or partnered with have systems in place that require less ingenuity than others, each new acquisition entails the onboarding of large numbers of clients not only over to an entirely new custodian but to an unfamiliar portfolio management system, a brand new customer relationship management system and an unfamiliar trading system, just to name a few.

(More:Advice industry leaders focused on improving the digital client experience)

All that, and — from a communications standpoint — we must still gracefully and legally acquire the clients' "consent" so we can become their adviser and complete the transfer.

If they don't like what they're hearing or how we're explaining it, we risk losing them before they ever come on board.

That's the human side of the process, which should never be taken for granted. That is, it's the clients who, through no action of their own, are being asked to consent to substantial changes to some important professional relationships, many of which they've had for years. And this delicate communication occurs while we wrestle behind the scenes with the cumbersome technological side of the process.

Most growing firms onboard only a handful of new clients each month. Seamlessly transitioning 1,000, or even 3,000, clients from the acquired or partner firm's portfolio accounting, CRM and trading systems over to our systems takes an astounding amount of effort and coordination by our technology and operations teams. Frankly, it's a highly complex process that some firms never master.

sophisticated process

Conquering these obstacles is something that's become an obsession of mine. Just managing the documents is itself a monumental task. To do this, we've created a sophisticated process that uses a custom-built application that prefills data, routes documents and, where appropriate, utilizes e-signatures.

In short, in spite of the obvious barriers, we've grown and learned to adapt. And via trial, perseverance and necessity (and the use of some proprietary technology), we've mastered it.

(More:How fintech is evolving the onboarding process for clients and advisers)

Yet I admit that I look forward to the day when the available technology actually catches up to and unifies these disparate, labor-intensive processes, and we can move away from juggling various systems into more streamlined automation.

While that day is surely coming, it's not here yet. And in an industry that in some ways still relies on technology that lags behind the technology of some other major sectors, it will be a great moment indeed when we can leave the world of mix-and-match technology behind and enjoy one-stop shopping in which onboarding seamlessly meets the needs of both client and the advisory firm.

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