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Embracing Wealthtech Innovation and Avoiding Dreaded Return on Inertia

The following is a guest post by April Rudin, founder and president of The Rudin Group, a firm that designs marketing campaigns for financial services companies.

Rudin will host the Wealthtech and Investech stream at the Summit, which takes place right after FinovateFall on September 26. The event also features an AI stream, which will be hosted by Lindsay Davis of CB Insights. Tickets are available as an add-on to FinovateFall or as a separate event.

Wealth management has entered the digital age. While it might not be readily apparent given the breathless coverage of whether and when the industry will cross the threshold, rest assured, the moment is here. The question is: Are all firms ready to seize the moment?

The financial services industry has been historically reticent to adopt new technology. And for good reason — finance, and wealth management especially — is a client-driven business where discretion is valued as much as — if not more than — financial acumen. In the early days of fintech, financial firms could rest knowing that they were keeping their client’s data and dollars safe rather than chasing the new, shiny tech toy on the block.

But now, financial service firms cannot afford to rest on their laurels and their patchwork of clunky, proprietary, tech solutions. Clients are used to being able to access the world at their fingertips and are no longer willing to let their financial data live elsewhere. And it’s not just Millennials and Generation Z demanding the convenience. Mobile Baby Boomers also want to be able to safely access their financial data with just a few clicks of a mouse whether they’re at home or traveling.

But despite the demand, companies still delay implementing new tech solutions, citing both perceived costs and compliance risks. While these factors shouldn’t be brushed aside, wealth management firms must find intelligent ways to power through.

Whereas firms once had the luxury of relying on the anticipated return on investment when deciding to embark on new technology products, a new ROI has entered the block: return on inertia. Put another way, what is the cost of doing nothing while rival upstarts and incumbents alike find ways to intelligently integrate technology into their firms?

It used to be that technology was housed only in the IT department of financial services firms. These were specialists who mostly loaded computers with new programs and knew how to troubleshoot when things went awry. But in today’s world, IT can no longer be thought of as an ancillary part of the business. Everything from onboarding, performance tracking, to investment recommendations has the ability to be touched by technology — freeing up time advisors can spend doing direct client work. The whole wealth management supply chain is being automated and firms must have tech specialists at all levels.

Does this mean that firms have to jump into tech willy nilly? Not necessarily, but the time of taking a wait and see approach for technology has also passed. The technology is here and clients demand it.

Waiting to implement technological solutions will only lead to otherwise avoidable costs and heightened risk exposure, Ernst & Young noted in a recent report.

Client onboarding is one area where tech is sorely needed. While some clients may appreciate the personal touch of in-office meetings to handle paperwork and account transfers, others may see the analog approach as a red flag. How does a paper-based business ensure the safety of client records, they may wonder. Video conferencing, online ID verification, and e-signatures are just a few of the ways the onboarding process can be made less cumbersome and client friendly while still falling inline with compliance.

From there, wealth management firms can consider implementing robo-advisor-like technology into their practice to facilitate decision making. The human touch will always be important for wealth management but tech-aided portfolio construction and reporting will allow advisors to have more meaningful discussions with clients, freeing up time for more customized solutions.

The ease of making and monitoring recommendations becomes especially important as high net worth families often have their assets spread across multiple investment types and financial institutions. While 10 years ago having a dashboard that can provide real-time data of those assets was once considered a novelty, clients now demand that rapid transparency.

Firms can no longer get away with listing the reasons not to embrace technology. And while risks to data integrity and security should not be minimized, firms will have to think of ways to buttress their controls while also directing their firms into the new era.

The return on investment may at first appear uncertain, but the return on inertia is definite — and bleak.$File/ey-digital-disruption-in-wealth-management.pdf