Get Smart: Automation Tools Give Financial Advisors More Time to Focus on Clients
Morgan Stanley, one of the world’s leading brokerage firms, is using machine-learning algorithms to enhance customer experiences and automate routine tasks in order to free-up its 16,000 financial advisors to focus on providing value-added customer service and advice.
Agent-broker relationships with customers are being redefined by technology tools ranging from robo-advisors and chatbots to automated trade recommendations and personalized email reminders. By automating customer interactions, financial services companies can facilitate self-directed, self-service solutions that enable advisors, to spend more time answering questions and customizing solutions.
According to Jeff McMillian, chief analytics and data officer for Morgan Stanley, the company is leveraging customer data and machine-learning to improve user experiences. “We’re desperately trying to pattern for you and your behavior to delight you with something you may not have even been asking for, but based on what you have been doing, that you might find of value,” says Jeff. “We’re not trying to sell to you, we’re trying to find the things you want and need.”
Improving service and efficiency.
“There is only so much time in the day,” says Christopher Young, director of financial services strategy and marketing at Adobe. “Most financial advisors are only engaging with a portion of their book of business, and prioritizing the customers of highest value.”
An integrated digital platform gives brokers and advisors real-time access to the data they need to create more meaningful client interactions. Harnessing the power of digital also enables content to be personalized across all channels of interaction, from email to mobile. “Digital not only creates efficiency for financial advisors, it also offers companies a way to meaningfully engage with customers without an advisor, or in-between in-person interactions,” says Christopher.
In an industry in which face-to-face interactions are still essential, automation enables financial advisors to better serve more of their clients. Providing self-service tools for customers is another win-win for both advisors and their clients. “If customers can easily look-up account information, update or administer accounts, and even basic transactions, it frees-up a significant amount of time for advisors,” says Christopher.
Because financial advisors still provide “white glove” service to many clients, brokerage firms are looking for ways to give brokers increased bandwidth to engage personally with more clients. Morgan Stanley’s decision to provide more self-service functionality underscores an industry-wide trend toward using technology to streamline interactions with customers, both online and in-person.
Think digital, not analog.
Moreover, Christopher says, the financial services sector, including brokerage firms and life insurance companies, need to think beyond “this is how it has always been done.”
Replacing legacy systems goes hand-in-hand with replacing legacy thinking. An integrated digital platform can facilitate much more personalized and efficient one-to-one communication. “For example, a lot of tasks can be done on tablets, such as sharing content and interactive presentations,” says Christopher.
Winnie Sun, managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, agrees that financial services firms need to automate as many routine tasks as possible, such as digital signing of documents. In addition, she says, “financial advisors need to be able to communicate with clients more quickly and efficiently — whether that’s through email, social media messaging, or, in the future, hopefully through texting. We need excellent technology to better serve our clients, and everything needs to be done real-time.”
Dynamic content generation also can be used for target marketing and to ensure follow-up. For example, sending a client the right packet of forms or market commentary based on their investment portfolio. The ability to dynamically create a document or automatically follow-up with a client is indicative of how technology can streamline the interaction between financial advisors and their customers.
Analytics provide insights.
While improved efficiency is a major benefit of implementing a technology solution, the ability to better personalize and target customer interactions provides a significant opportunity for financial firms to transform the customer experience. Behavioral data, for example, can be used to better inform interactions with each individual client.
From a marketing perspective, integrated analytics give advisors better insights into what content a client or prospect has been viewing on the company’s website, which can help facilitate personalized investment recommendations. The ability to track customer interactions across devices also enables advisors to become more proactive. For instance, knowing when someone started filling out an online form for a quote, but didn’t submit it.
“The ability to harness this data allows financial advisors to have more meaningful interactions with their clients,” says Christopher. “These tools are just as important, by the way, for empowering independent brokers as they are for in-house financial advisors.”
Understanding the customer journey is the cornerstone for developing insights to personalize marketing content and, ultimately, increase conversions. That means unifying customer intelligence related to every aspect of the journey, from email interactions to data related to which programmatic ad resulted in a lead. “This needs to be aggregated in a meaningful way and integrated with your CRM data,” says Christopher. “You also need to share data through an API so your advisors can respond to customer needs in real-time.”
Digital investment is increasing.
Financial services organizations are inherently data-rich, which offers tremendous potential for customer insights. “The digital-first companies in the sector are concentrating their data efforts on the customer, by collecting all key data points on the customer journey and continually testing it,” says Christopher.
The financial services industry also is starting to implement more integrated digital technology platforms that provide improved efficiency for customers and brokers while, at the same time, ensuring that compliance and privacy concerns are addressed. While there are still regulatory hurdles, says Winnie, “our industry, as well as the regulators who are monitoring our industry, are realizing that it’s not something you can shy away from. We just have to find solutions to make it safe, and make it work.”
According the Econsultancy/Adobe 2017 Digital Trends report, data-driven marketing is a key strategic priority for 73 percent of financial services companies. Targeting, personalization and customer journey management are the highest priorities for financial sector marketers in 2017, and 55 percent plan to increase investment in personalization in 2017. “It’s clear that the sector understands the need for data-driven marketing and is making it a priority,” says Christopher. “And more than half (53 percent) are increasing their investment in marketing analytics in 2017.”
The trend data bodes well for a sector that is still playing catch-up in terms of technology and digital experiences. “Every other industry is so much ahead of our industry that if we don’t keep up we are not going to do our job, which is to manage people’s money, manage their expectations, and attract new business,” says Winnie. “So, it’s really about survival of the industry, there’s no other way around it. We have to get to the point where we can communicate and handle our clients in a native digital world.”
For additional insights on how financial advisors and brokers are adopting new technologies for more personal customer experiences, read more from our digital marketing FSI series.