Digitization: The New Norm For Wealth Management Firms and Advisors

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While the industry radically shifts toward progressive digital transformation, there are still some roadblocks in place. Below are four primary reasons holding wealth management firms and advisors back from digitization.

There’s a tug-of-war going on inside the wealth management industry. Cutting-edge technology has become widely available for wealth managers in the past few years. They’re just divided on whether or not to use it.

First, many older high-net-worth-individual clients don’t quite see the need for digitization; in many cases, they’re actually pushing against it. That in turn makes those clients’ money managers reluctant to make big, sudden changes.

Second, risk aversion is woven into the DNA of wealth managers, a logical stance to take given the stakes involved in managing millions (or even hundreds of millions) of dollars. Making any big change to the way they do business can thus cause trepidation.

Third, abandoning legacy systems for new forms of technology is usually very costly, and many wealth managers focus more on the challenges they face today, rather than tomorrow.

Finally, the financial industry deals with more regulation than virtually any other sector. Making any major change can raise the suspicion of regulators, something wealth managers obviously don’t want to do.

These are all reasonable arguments for moving slowly to make dramatic changes. Nonetheless, the reasons in favor of digitization outweigh those against it. Wealth management firms and advisors who go all in and commit to digitization gain benefits ranging from greater efficiency to lower operating costs, increased customer satisfaction to higher revenue.

Some of the most important emerging technologies that are changing the wealth management industry are blockchain, artificial intelligence/machine learning, and the cloud.

It all starts in the cloud. A great document management system is vital. Arguably, the most robust document management system is the digital vault. Digital vaults provide a secure environment in which to store, manage, and transfer documents. A highly intelligent document management tool that goes well beyond storage.

These cloud-based document management systems offer a new and innovative way for wealth managers to grow their business, completely independent of how effective they are at picking stocks or guiding retirement plans. By ditching legacy paper-based filing in favor of digital vaults, wealth managers save time, save money, greatly improve their security capability, and entice forward-thinking clients who demand increased digitization.

Wealth management taking to the cloud with digital vaults.

Digital vaults
aren’t propelled by cloud technology alone. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also integrated into digital vaults. That ability to strip human error out of document storage and retrieval systems is what makes digital vaults the wave of the future. Offering the security of a safety deposit box, digital vaults make accessing and managing financial documents fast and easy, from anywhere in the world, at any time.

A transformative digital vault is inter-operable with CRMs/ERPs/ECMs and acts as the central hub around digital communications. It’s one of many ways that digitization is driving new business for wealth managers.

Blockchain’s uses for wealth managers are manifold. The smart contracts generated by blockchain can make risk management, data privacy protection, know your client (KYC), and other functionalities cheaper and simpler than ever before.

Another important client service being improved by digitization is the process of client onboarding. In an effort to meet the needs of increasingly mobile clients, one European wealth manager launched a service that allows clients to open accounts via videoconference. Remember the stacks of paper you used to have to sign when opening an investment account? Electronic signatures are rapidly upending that process. Add in time-saving mechanisms such as online ID verification and biometric authentication, and you have a set of new, fast, secure ways to get clients set up and ready to trade.

Wealth managers looking to drive sales are likewise finding new solutions via advances in technology. Customer relationship management software has improved by leaps and bounds in the past few years, with tablet-based CRM apps turning the formerly dense, arcane sales process into a task easily handled by a single platform.

Fulfillment and trading have become seamless thanks to technology. Moreover, a growing number of wealth managers have built digital platforms that allow customers to trade stocks and funds online and engage in a social marketplace where vendors and clients can communicate instantly with each other, and among themselves.

Finally, robo-advisors offer financial advice and investment management services through the use of algorithms, with very little intervention from human beings. That technology has become especially popular with younger investors.

An Ernst & Young study found that 61% of the clients aged 18 to 34 that they surveyed would likely consider robo-advisors, compared to 51% of 35-to-50-year-olds and just 24% of respondents aged 51 to 71. Wealth also proved to be a strong predictor of robo-advisor interest, with 70% of high-net-worth individuals surveyed saying they would consider robo-advice.

But what of the perceived risks of going digital? The risk of not doing so simply looms larger.

It’s only a matter of time before the older high-net-worth individuals who resist digitization pass their wealth onto younger generations who grew up in a digital world. The Ernst & Young study found that 59% of wealth management clients will want to use digital channels to receive investment advice in the next two to three years. The reasons for those responses include increased security, increased speed, and improved ease of use offered by automated systems.

Worrying about the cost and risk of upgrading legacy systems thus gets trumped by the cost and risk of wealth managers losing business to competitors if they’re too slow to adapt. As for regulators potentially gumming up the works, here too it’s only a matter of time before regulators recognize the vastly superior security capabilities of digital vaults and make those vaults the new industry norm.

In this new era of increasingly digitized wealth management, wealth management companies thus have two choices: Build the technological tools to meet changing customer demand, or partner with fintech companies that are building innovative business-to-business solutions to meet that same demand.

Option number three is to try to keep doing business the old way. Given how quickly the wealth management industry is evolving, option number three soon won’t be much of an option at all.

And remember, it all starts in the cloud.

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