As fi­nan­cial ser­vices firms make sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments in tech­nol­ogy, they’re cre­at­ing new ways for you to serve your clients


new tech­nolo­gies, from ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) to in­creas­ingly in­ter­ac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools, are set to change the way you, as a fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor, run your busi­ness and build re­la­tion­ships with your clients. And that change is com­ing soon.

“[This year], both the ad­vi­sors and the clients of wealth-man­age­ment firms are go­ing to see some of the fruits of the in­vest­ments that have been made in these emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies,” says David Hurd, leader in Ernst & Young LLP’s wealth and as­set-man­age­ment ad­vi­sory prac­tice in Toronto.

These tech­nol­ogy in­vest­ments come in many forms, in­clud­ing part­ner­ships with fin­tech firms, such as robo-ad­vi­sors, and in­vest­ments in in­no­va­tion hubs that are de­vel­op­ing new tech­nolo­gies such AI, a branch of com­puter science ded­i­cated to sim­u­lat­ing hu­man be­hav­iour.

These in­vest­ments al­ready are lead­ing to in­no­va­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and fi­nan­cial plan­ning tools. And each of these changes will, in some way, al­ter the way you con­duct busi­ness, from client com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the au­to­ma­tion of mun­dane ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks.

Toronto-based Toronto-Do­min­ion Bank (TD), for ex­am­ple, l aunched a new fea­ture this month that au­to­mates the cre­ation of client tax pack­ages — a task that ad­vi­sor teams typ­i­cally per­form man­u­ally.

Fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sory firms are fo­cused more than ever on us­ing data an­a­lyt­ics to gain in­sight re­gard­ing cur­rent and prospec­tive clients and their in­vest­ments. To that end, fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­sti­tu­tions are in­vest­ing in AI.

TD, for ex­am­ple, ac­quired Layer 6 Inc., a Toronto-based AI startup,

in Jan­uary. As well, Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has made sev­eral in­vest­ments in this area, such as the launch of Bo­re­alis AI, a re­search in­sti­tute with labs in Toronto, Wa­ter­loo, Ont., Mon­treal and Ed­mon­ton. Fur­ther­more, all the Big Five banks are fi­nan­cial sup­port­ers of the Vec­tor In­sti­tute for Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence, a non-profit in­sti­tute ded­i­cated to AI re­search that’s co-funded by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and busi­nesses.

A big part of what AI can do is gather and an­a­lyze large vol­umes of data from sev­eral sources, in­clud­ing so­cial me­dia and web­browser ac­tiv­ity, pub­lic re­ports and news sto­ries. Such in­for­ma­tion could give you a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of your clients’ over­all per­sonal and fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion and point to­ward op­por­tu­ni­ties to talk to your clients about their fi­nances.

But while tech­nol­ogy is use­ful, tech­nol­ogy at this level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion raises some del­i­cate ques­tions. For ex­am­ple, AI could alert you that a client re­cently vis­ited your web­site and down­loaded sev­eral ar­ti­cles about buy­ing a home. You could use this in­for­ma­tion to start a con­ver­sa­tion about home own­er­ship with that client or send her tai­lored in­for­ma­tion elec­tron­i­cally. The ques­tion is: “Will that client ap­pre­ci­ate such a ges­ture, or will she view it as a vi­o­la­tion of her pri­vacy?”

“The key is to not be creepy about [us­ing the data],” says Chris Burke, vice pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal so­lu­tions and sales en­able­ment, with RBC’s wealth-man­age­ment divi­sion.

To that end, RBC is seek­ing ways to en­able its ad­vi­sors to use this tech­nol­ogy and ed­u­cate them in how to com­mu­ni­cate with their clients — with­out mak­ing the clients feel that their data’s pri­vacy and se­cu­rity have been breached.

In ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing in­sight into clients, AI also can help you an­a­lyze your clients’ in­vest­ment port­fo­lios and to be more re­spon­sive to changes. This tech­nol­ogy can gather and an­a­lyze pub­lic in­for­ma­tion avail­able on the In­ter­net re­lated to spe­cific com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing men­tions of a com­pany on var­i­ous so­cial-me­dia plat­forms.

Tra­di­tion­ally, gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion on events that could af­fect clients’ in­vest­ments, such as a fire at an oil re­fin­ery, takes a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time and re­sources. AI can gather and process that in­for­ma­tion at a much greater speed than you can do your­self and with fewer re­sources, Burke says, thereby pro­vid­ing real-time up­dates to you about com­pa­nies held in clients’ port­fo­lios.

The tech­nol­ogy can go one step fur­ther and alert you to other com­pa­nies or sec­tors that may be af­fected by the event in a man­ner that may not be ob­vi­ous at first.

AI also may help you by act­ing as a dig­i­tal as­sis­tant — sim­i­lar to Ap­ple Inc.’s Siri. You might is­sue voice com­mands to bring up in­for­ma­tion on a client’s port­fo­lio or meet­ing notes.

As an ad­vi­sor, you al­ready have a grow­ing avail­abil­ity of op­tions in the ways you com­mu­ni­cate with your clients — whether you use text mes­sages, so­cial me­dia or videos. For ex­am­ple, RBC is de­vel­op­ing se­cure mes­sag­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties that will en­able its ad­vi­sors to com­mu­ni­cate through plat­forms sim­i­lar to Face­book Inc.’s Mes­sen­ger or What­sApp Inc.’s epony­mous mo­bile in­stant mes­sag­ing app.

Sim­i­larly, TD plans to roll out new video­con­fer­enc­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties to its ad­vi­sors later this year. Ini­tially, the plat­form will pro­vide video only, but the goal is to move to­ward shared-screen ca­pa­bil­ity, says Dave Kelly, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of TD Wealth Pri­vate Wealth Man­age­ment.

This move is in re­sponse to the trend among clients to­ward be­ing more “hands on” in us­ing plan­ning tools.

“Clients want to touch and feel the ad­vice they get,” says Ken­dra Thomp­son, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and head of global wealth man­age­ment with Ac­cen­ture LLP in Toronto. That could mean clients can use dig­i­tal tools to view var­i­ous fi­nan­cial sce­nar­ios on their own time or to­gether with you.

TD’s tech­nol­ogy tools are tested and up­dated reg­u­larly through feed­back with ad­vi­sors, Kelly says. For ex­am­ple, TD’s Dis­cov­ery Tool, fi­nan­cial plan­ning soft­ware that uses be­havioural fi­nance prin­ci­ples, has been up­dated four times since launch­ing in April 2017.

As well, be­sides chang­ing how you do busi­ness, new tech ca­pa­bil­i­ties may, in fact, al­ter the com­po­si­tion of your prac­tice, from the ser­vices you of­fer to the num­ber of clients you work with.

“There’s go­ing to be an abil­ity to serve far more clients,” Hurd says. “[Tech­nol­ogy] also al­lows ad­vi­sors to in­tro­duce a lit­tle more spe­cial­iza­tion to dif­fer­ent client needs within their client base be­cause they have that scale.”

Kelly be­lieves that tech­nol­ogy ul­ti­mately will bring clients and ad­vi­sors closer to­gether — not drive them fur­ther apart.

“If you look a lit­tle far­ther down the road,” he says, “we’re try­ing to drive to­ward a col­lab­o­ra­tive dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence for ad­vi­sors and clients.”

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