Think digital: Upgrading the client experience in 2021

Advisers need to catch up to Amazon in terms of customer journey, says Pershing's Christina Townsend

The financial advice industry has come a long way by implementing digital tools to make business operations smoother and more efficient. But in 2021, it’s time to upgrade the experience of advisory firm clients, said Christina Townsend, managing director and head of relationship management, consulting and platform strategy at BNY Mellon | Pershing.

“Now we need to focus on client experience. We don’t have another decade to catch up with the Amazons,” Townsend said at the Dec. 1 virtual InvestmentNews Best Practices for Top Advisors Workshop.

The experience of customers is innately tied to the growth of advisory firms because client referrals remain a top contributor to advisory firm expansion.

The InvestmentNews 2020 Pricing & Profitability Study shows the 2010s were a period marked by impressive growth for registered investment advisers, thanks in large part to rising markets. Looking toward a new decade, advisers will be challenged to continue to grow and remain resilient — the value of which was certainly learned in 2020.

[More: View the entire InvestmentNews Best Practices for Top Advisors Workshop here]

A panel of advisers described why the pandemic, which sent financial advisers home to work in March, was a moment for those who had invested in digitizing their processes to quickly adjust. Others, not so much.

“We have a lot to thank for Zoom,” said Danilo Kawasaki, COO of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management. “One of our main concerns when the pandemic hit was what would it do to productivity with everyone suddenly working from home.”

But video conferencing technologies and other digital communications tools actually made advisers more productive since March. “Now we can have back to back appointments without going anywhere,” he said.

Manuel Garza, a partner at Cresta Advisors, agreed that many things are not going to go back to the way they were before COVID-19. These changes need to be embedded into the growth plan for the financial advice industry, he said.

[More: Prospecting during the pandemic]

Adviser Liz Crawford, CEO of Sendero Wealth Management, said “2020 has taught us to pivot.”

The firm has worked to “be present” for clients and keep a personal connection with them, she said. That led her firm to create a video series that initially focused on the news of the day, mostly focused on investments, and later moved to philanthropic topics with expert interviews that showed clients how they could make a difference in their communities.

Crawford said she doesn’t expect her firm will ever return to having its full staff working in the office every day. “The genie is out of the bottle.”

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