Why Independent Wealth Management Firms Must Innovate Or Die

Economics and Darwinism share a fundamental law: species and industries must evolve and innovate to survive. The financial advisory industry is dangerously close to violating that law.

While many leaders in our business have embraced innovation, our collective mindset is complacency and comfort. This reality hit me hard while attending a recent technology conference in Silicon Valley. Every company in attendance was striving to create the Next Big Thing. Every attendee understood that relentless development of technology and non-stop innovation are key to their company’s future as a world-changing disruptor – as the new Amazon, Tesla or Google. These aspiring companies embrace innovation and accept the need to take risks and learn from their failures

Meanwhile, back in financial advisory world, we continue to tell ourselves that the old ways are the best ways. That clients don’t want us to change. That ours is a “people business” where technology has little to offer.

I’m not suggesting we need to become techno-gunslingers like the Silicon Valley gang. We are a service industry built on trust and relationships. Stability in our operations is critical to maintaining both of those pillars. So, we should seek to adopt new technologies that will support our relationships and allow us to evolve to meet our clients’ increased expectations.

Here’s just one example to make my case. According to research, a significant number of people leave their financial advisors because they are dissatisfied with the communication with the firm. Indeed, while clients can accept a period of poor performance, they will not tolerate a failure to promptly explain what’s happening with their portfolio.

That finding doesn’t surprise me. In fact, I suspect the problem will grow, thanks to the instant connections made possible by the internet. Clients who are accustomed to making significant purchases, hailing a ride, or sending their kid money with a few taps on their phone screen, will grow less tolerant of waiting a couple of hours to talk to their advisor or receive documents from the firm.

Timely communication has always been central to strong client relationships. Now, clients are raising the bar from timely to near-instantaneous. That’s OK. Properly implemented technology can help us meet that new expectation. Client portals, text messaging, and FaceTime meetings can increase access and speed response times. Process innovations and well-chosen software solutions can free team members from routine, repetitive tasks. Hours previously spent on such chores can be spent communicating with clients and otherwise nurturing those all-important relationships.

Technology isn’t a threat to our relationships. It’s a tool for enhancing them, even as clients expect more from advisors and firms. In that regard, tech is a key to our future. Hey, maybe we do have something in common with those Silicon Valley hotshots!