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Why the next five years is all about digital

The next five years is all about digital, Nick Eatock, executive chairman of IntelliFlo, tells Rob Kingsbury, as changing client expectations mean digital engagement is going to be huge for the advice market

Digital capability as part of the advice process is growing in significance and within a very short space of time it is going to be “huge”, according to IntelliFlo executive chairman Nick Eatock.

There are three major changes to the way that technology in the adviser market has changed in the three short years since RDR, Eatock says. First is the increased willingness among product, software and service providers to allow integration with their systems, the importance of which cannot be underestimated, he stresses, as it allows far faster and more robust transfer of data.

Second, has been the recognition among adviser firms that if they use the capability of the technology at their disposal, they can achieve significant efficiencies and cost savings for their businesses. A recent survey among users of IntelliFlo’s Intelligent Office software, showed returns on investment of between 100% and 600% among firms, with those in the upper reaches having more fully used the capabilities of the technology.

The third change has been the rapid rise in digital capabilities, which are opening up the advice market to new ways of working with clients – as well as posing potential threats.

Next five years is all about digital

Eatock believes for the adviser market “it’s all going to be about digital advice over the next five years.”

In large part that is being driven by customer expectations, he says. “Increasingly, clients are asking for access to information in the way they like to access it.

“This is likely to be in the way that they can now access their bank accounts, for example – via their tablets, phones and laptops etc. So what we’re seeing is that while historically clients might have conducted their interactions with their adviser face-to-face their, now many more people are feeling comfortable about using video conferencing, email, messaging and Skype, as well as sending their documents through electronically and signing them online.”

At its most basic digital engagement with clients is about giving them access to information about their portfolios, their net worth and the underlying investments etc, in the way that best suits them, Eatock says. “That can be delivered through a client portal, like Intelligent Office’s Personal Finance Portal, and increasingly clients want to do access their information when it is convenient for them and through smartphones, tablets and laptops.

The decent adviser firms of the future will allow their clients
to choose how they wish to interact with them

Then it is in the advice process itself. “Clients don’t have to always see people face-to-face for every single part of the journey. Face-to-face is really important, but it’s just one of the channels, which are available to advisers and which their clients are using. The decent adviser firms of the future will allow their clients to choose how they wish to interact with them and that will be combined into one process and one system within the adviser business.”

Finally, digital is about enabling the client, he adds. “By giving clients access to client portals, they are not only able to see their net wealth but it provides a means for clients to provide further details about themselves. The truth is that historically the FactFind has been a tedious and onerous task, often done by the adviser in the meeting, where clients didn’t necessarily do the best job they could, they just answered the questions they needed to in order to finish it. But if you allow people the means to go online and complete the FactFind at their leisure where and when they choose to, then they feel more relaxed about it and you can ask more of them.”

Clients are prepared to engage in this way if they get something back out of it, he adds, namely, digital access to information they want, when they want it. “And this means the adviser’s data is better; it’s more accurate and up to date.”

In addition, having been through the advice process and been given recommendations, clients want to get on and do things as quickly as possible, Eatock adds. “They want to be able to make their decision online, sign online, pay online and move on with their life.”

To arguments from advisers that their clients wouldn’t be interested in digital engagement, Eatock says: “It is difficult to see how they can speak for group of people about what they would and wouldn’t be interested in – unless they have conducted research, which in my experience is rare.

“Online engagement is not just for the young, it’s something that all generations, genders and degrees of wealth are embracing.

“The average age of a Facebook user now is 49. The average user of Skype is in his or her late 60s. Clients won’t use digital for everything but they will use it for some things and where they are comfortable using it they may well expect to be able to use it with their advisers,” he says.

“There’s a real risk that advisers who delay adoption of digital engagement because they have an older, wealthy client base demographic could find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to client retention in the near future.”

Threats

The threats to adviser firms from the digital world come not so much from so-called ‘robo advisers’ as from the fact that as a business they are falling behind what consumers want and what their peers are providing as part of their service.

“Currently, there is more than enough demand in the market and the pension freedoms have increased demand – which is why right now is a good time to be an adviser,” Eatock says. “But over time, one way that supply gap will be narrowed will be by using more and more technology capability. I still think that customers, especially those in the decumulation phase, will want a conversation, it’s just that the conversation may happen over Skype or another digital channel rather than face-to-face. Firms that are not offering ways for their clients to engage with them in a digital way could simply find they are left behind.

‘For us it was go digital, use the Personal Finance Portal, or die.’

“As one business owner at a recent Intelligent Office user group meeting said to the rest of the group: ‘For us it was go digital, use the Personal Finance Portal, or die.'”

To emphasise the rising importance of digital in the advice market Eatock cites the World Wealth Report conducted by RBC Wealth and Capgemini in 2014. “This asked advised clients around the globe how likely they would be to leave their adviser firm if it didn’t offer a digital interaction capability. The average across the globe was 61% of clients said they would leave,” Eatock says. “And that was back in 2014. High net worth clients are increasingly engaged with online interaction.”

Intelliflo has produced a white paper – ‘Switched On’ – which is available to download free: Click here.

Visit the IntelliFlo website

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