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Podcast: How independent financial advisors can master the client experience

December 2, 2021
clock 18 MIN READ

Today, I’m thrilled to announce the launch of our new podcast. We look forward to hosting a series of conversations that continue to cultivate a community of thought leaders, game changers and innovators in the fintech ecosystem. 

To kick things off, we’re going to dive deeper into the five key themes that create an exceptional client experience: 

  • Hyper-personalization: A generic, one-size-fits-all approach no longer works.
  • Frictionless: Elegant, easy, simplified and mobile-first. 
  • Gamification: Implementing gamification has the power to enhance customer engagement, broaden awareness of new products and services, create stickiness, and influence behaviors.
  • Education: Personalized, engaging, immersive, and entertaining.
  • Social: Clients want to do more than post pictures or "like" a friend’s posts.

How do these come to life within the SEI ecosystem and for the clients we serve? We’re excited to further explore this topic with experts across our business and discuss how these themes play a role in the advisor, asset management and banking spaces.

In our first podcast episode, I sit down with Erich Holland, Senior Vice President–Head of Distribution and Engagement, Independent Advisor Solutions by SEI, to explore what today’s financial advisors might learn from leading digital brands like Google, Amazon, Netflix and others? Advisors are challenged with so much on a daily basis–staying up to date on regulatory changes, incorporating advancements in technology, retaining current clients and attracting new ones of an entirely different generation or demographic, creating the best possible investment plans for clients–the list goes on.

Tune in to hear our full conversation, and find out which of these Erich believes should be front and center for advisors to most effectively serve their clients now and in the future.

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Russ Kliman:    Hello and welcome. I'm Russ Kliman global leader of SEI Ventures. Today, we are joined by Eric Holland, head of distribution and engagement for independent advisor solution SEI. Eric is joining me today to discuss five key themes in the client experience. Hyper-personalization, frictionless, gamification, education and social.

When we think about leading digital brands, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others, they've all set themselves apart from the rest of the pack by mastering the client experience, the experiences we have with these platforms impact our expectations for digital interactions we have with other brands, they impact everything from purchasing of groceries to working with financial service providers. We are also seeing FinTech startups emerge in the ecosystem with these themes in mind, as they seek to disrupt existing sectors or create entirely new ones.

Today, we're going to talk about how these themes play a role in the financial advisor space and how they can leverage these key themes to attract and retain the next generation of clients. Eric, we excited to have you here today. I'd like to begin by asking you to briefly introduce yourself, your line of business and the clients that you serve.

Eric Holland:    Great Russ, and thanks again to you and the team at SEI Ventures for having me. I have to say, I read your pulse on the future blog on this very topic about a month ago. And it really struck a chord with me. This topic is something I'm incredibly passionate about, I wake up and I go to bed thinking about every day. So I'm really excited to be here.

So who am I? My title? Like you said, I lead the distribution and engagement efforts for the advisor business within SEI. And what does that mean though, in practical terms, I and the team around me work every day to bring purposeful, valuable and actionable solutions to the independent advisor market.

Our business serves the independent financial and wealth advisor market, both across the RIA and independent broker dealer channels. And what SEI provides sits right at the intersection of financial technology and asset management, where for close to 30 years, our business has provided advisors with this intricate and pretty unique combination of custody and technology services that sit as the foundation of investment advice.

The way that I really like to simplify it, we take all the disparate dots that an advisor has in running his or her business, as well as advising and interacting with his or her clients and connect those dots to deliver efficiency and impact to those advisors, it's our job to help advisors cut through the noise and all of the change in the industry around them and to strengthen them in building better financial features together with their clients.

Russ Kliman:    Fantastic. So let's take a bit of step back from financial services for a second, and let's talk about maybe one or two of your favorite brands, and this doesn't have to be financial services, but when you think about these brands, what do you love about the client experience that they deliver?

Eric Holland:    This is a really easy one for me. And I don't want to be cliche or even take an easy answer here, but I'm probably a little bit too passionate about the subject to go otherwise it's Amazon. I love what Amazon does. And I'll tell you my wife and my credit card bill every month tells me that we love Amazon together. Probably as much as anybody.

You mentioned those five key themes earlier, Russ in your intro remarks. And the one that really stood out to me really screamed at me, quite frankly, as it relates to Amazon is the complete removal of friction that I think you term it as frictionless.

I remember reading a statistic pre COVID, so this number's probably outdated. I'd have to imagine this number that I'm about to state is even higher now, but I were read a stat that close to one out of every three Americans receive at least one package from Amazon per week, one in three it's crazy. And even more than that, over 10% receive three or more packages in a single week. And I know that I find myself squarely in that camp, and it's pretty incredible how they remove friction from the process.

I know at any day, at any point in time, I have nearly unlimited choice anything from the everyday essentials like diapers or paper towels to electronics like TVs or smart home devices, to a new book recommendation to a smoker to make smoke infused cocktails and plenty more obscure items too. And that's just in their product marketplace. And you just got a little bit of a glimpse into my recent purchase history, too. That's hyper-personalization to talk about one of the other themes that you mentioned.

But that's just their product marketplace. It's fantastic, no doubt about it, but take it even further than that. What Amazon's done is created searchability for finding and comparing products there's gamification and social aspects that you mentioned earlier in key themes that really give me an ability to research what I want on demand at my convenience, from whatever device I want to. And based on the features that I care about.

Based on what I'm researching and searching for, Amazon then puts products in front of me that I might like, and I don't even have to go searching for them. So it's a total removal of friction and really makes the experience enjoyable across the board.

Russ Kliman:    Great insight. I mean, I think all of us can agree kind of the buy now experience is both a blessing and a curse in terms of the frictionless capabilities and the accessibility that something like Amazon presents to consumers. So if you start to kind of dig into those themes and you leaned into things like frictionless and hyper-personalization, but even noted the elements of social and gamification, which one of these elements would you say are most important to the advisor space today, and why?

Eric Holland:    That's a great question. I'd say all of them are to varying very large degrees, but maybe start with at least in my mind, what I'd point to as the largest one, that same theme of being frictionless, that removal of friction is top of mind for us.

If I think about the independent advisor market that we serve and I spend every day thinking about, advisors are challenged with so much in their day to day, there's changing industry regulations, there's changing generational demographics, there's this proliferation of technology and investment products. There's constantly shifting expectations of consumers, not to mention the fact that these are business owners and these business owners are trying to run scalable, profitable and enjoyable businesses. Imagine that, right? But they have to cut through all of these challenges and try and create confidence in something that evokes maybe the most emotion out of most human beings and that's emotion around financial livelihood.

Our industry, as a whole has really done a pretty poor job of connecting all of the pieces together that advisors deliver in a way that's simple and efficient. Think about it. Regulations make for significant compliance needs. Let me translate that, that's a whole lot of forms and that's a whole lot of signatures. And in a vacuum, it's not a horrible thing. This is an industry that should be highly regulated, but I'd argue that this shouldn't occur in a vacuum.

Technology innovation and where we sit today has the ability to add, ease and add elegance and add value to compliance. It doesn't need to be a hindrance. This is still largely a paper to pin industry. Most people can sign the mortgage on a million dollar home with less physical signatures than it would take to open $5,000 retirement account.

That just, that doesn't seem right to me, it doesn't seem right to us. And while technology is exploded in this space, and there's hundreds of FinTech firms that exist in the advisor space, what's missing is how to remove the friction and how to connect all of those disparate pieces together. In most large advisor businesses that we meet, if they've taken the leap to the advantages of some of these major FinTech players, or even the startup FinTech players, they've also had to take the leap into hiring a technologist or a team of technologists and the chief technology officer inside of their business to make it all work. And it shouldn't be the case.

Russ Kliman:    So one comment and wanted to kind of tease out a little bit more, when you talk about that frictionless experience, is there something similar to that buy it now experience for an advisor and if you were trying to look for some type of parallel, is there a similar type of experience to say, Hey, look, can we take those physical signatures and 12 documents and create that by it now experience for the advisor, working with their clients.

Eric Holland:    It does exist, but almost as much in theory as it does I think in practice, if I think about, and I think the way that you put it, a buy it now experience is a perfect way to put it. I mean, think about that example that I just walked through a couple minutes ago, where Amazon has really removed the friction. I mean, that's what buyers expect. I know it's what I expect, and it's what consumers have really come to expect.

I just bought a house in Pennsylvania earlier this year, and not only was I not inundated with paperwork, but my wife and I signed the documents electronically in Ohio to close on our home in Pennsylvania. So there are pieces and banking is financial services. There are pieces that are coming together and I think COVID has really shined a light on some of the efficiencies and really injected some momentum into some of the technology that's really being supported in moving towards a much more frictionless environment.

Russ Kliman:    Interesting. I wanted to touch on one of the other themes that you called out as this notion of hyper-personalization again, when you think about kind of the advisor space, how do you see that materializing with financial advisors and their clients?

Eric Holland:    It's probably, I would say the theme that if I look forward 5 or 10 years is probably going to be, if these themes are all still the same themes that are at the top of everybody's priority list in five years, which I may argue, it's something that we're not even thinking about, but if there's any of them that are, I think hyper-personalization is the one that would really bubble to the top of my list.

We've talked a lot already today about removing friction and increasing access. Hyper-personalization takes that access. And it really bridges it into what I would consider to be relevance. AI, I think is such an interesting space right now, especially in the advisor world where there's so much opportunity in front of us to take data and predictive analytics and really drive forward how we're interacting with data, so that every single piece of an individual's life can be personalized, but personalized at scale, in such a way where you're not losing the impact of running a business, you're not losing the scalability and the efficiency that you're able to deliver advice at scale, and this advisor world, but you are gaining that ability to really deliver the intersection of impact and value and meeting goals in a very personalized way to investors.

Russ Kliman:    That's interesting. You bring up the notion of artificial intelligence, and I would say from a ventures perspective here at SEI that's one of the key trends that we keep on seeing within the ecosystem is firms across the, I'll call it the value chain of delivering wealth management and advice from front office tools to middle office and back office solutions where artificial intelligence and machine learning are really becoming ubiquitous.

And really in the front office space, really helping to supercharge that advisor experience and really bring value to the advisor and their engagement with clients and make it more meaningful and relevant. I love that language around relevance and really creating those personalized experiences and helping the advisor and their entire organizations to your point kind of scale, but personalization at scale. So it's really a trend that we're seeing in the space as well.

So let's change topics a little bit. One of the things in leading up to this call that I love that some language that you used was this notion that in financial services, we're no longer competing in our own verticals, but actually competing horizontally as well. And I just love that frame of reference. And I think it's a good way to always kind of look at from a client experience perspective.

Can you give some color and what considerations maybe financial advisors should be thinking about to remain competitive and relevant, given that definition, and maybe define it as well. When you say we're competing more horizontally as well.

Eric Holland:    Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And now Russ you really speaking my language. So to start by in your words, defining it, when we talk about competing vertically advisors have always had to compete against other advisors or within the same general line of work recommending investments, recommending advice, but when they're doing so, they're competing against other similarly structured businesses and other similarly structured value propositions.

Now the past decade or so with the rise of alternative investing alternatives like Robo-Advisors, which then evolved into major firms like Vanguard or Schwab offering robo powered engines with humans providing advice. That started to really challenge advisors in honing in on the real value they provide. That said, it's still within that same vertical of advice. Now competing horizontally to walk that definition forward. Now they're having to compete on the basis of client experience with firms like Amazon or Netflix or Apple or Facebook.

If I'm a client of an advisor, maybe I don't want a face to face interaction anymore. And I desire all of my services, my conversations to come via video chat and screen share. Advisors have to adapt, and they need to adopt new technology to make that happen. Now on top of that, then they need to be competent in that technology, so it doesn't look like are rookies or first timers when they're using professional video and I'll keep stepping it forward, when investors have questions, they want answers nine to five access via telephone isn't good enough anymore.

Access needs to be 24/7. It needs to be simple needs to be convenient. And by and large, it needs to be delivered at your fingertips mobile. And if I think about the interface, beauty and choice with something like Netflix, as an example, where I can watch whatever I want, whenever I want to watch it wherever I want to be, and with whatever device I want to use, that's what advisors are now being forced to compete with.

Take it even one step further. When I'm done watching something on Netflix, I get a recommendation on what I should watch next. Or if alternatively, I want to eat food to go along with my Netflix, I've got food delivery service options at my fingertips for any type of meal I could want to order is literally in my hand with a mobile device, and then that food is there via delivery one hour or less.

And a final point here. If you just think about how we're competing horizontally, think social it's had such an impact on the world around us. Not always good, I would argue, but mostly good. If we think about how it's forcing experiences to evolve, Instagram as an example is pictures and short videos. TikTok more recently is 15 seconds of content that's delivered. And people today have as short of attention spans as they probably ever had in history.

And so people now expect their information to be delivered in very short bite size pieces. So that's the experience, pull it all together. That's the experience that advisors are now competing with. And, and again, it's not just within this financial services vertical, but it's horizontally across all industries, which is really challenging advisors to evolve.

Russ Kliman:    Great comments. And I think one of the things, and you touched on social, because I think sometimes that has language that makes people think it's about liking a friend's post or being on Facebook or just kind of from an advisor perspective, just kind of being out there.

But I think what you're sharing is more from a social expectation perspective, what social has articulated in terms of client experience. And I'll put education in air quotes if we could see each other, because I think you're seeing people leverage social platforms as a means of education and gaining insight.

And when you couple that with the medium and the duration of those experiences, social takes on a whole new meaning, it's really setting up the expectation of education, the expectation of engagement and the expectation that their clients, the advisors clients want to have with that advisor. And I think that's a really interesting perspective there.

Eric Holland:    I couldn't agree more with those statements Russ. I mean, for me that impact of social bridges, right into education bridges, right into gamification, which on some level can be a dirty word. But if you understand that gamification can empower education and can empower knowledge and that manifests itself through how it's shared then across socially, so that what you care about is at your fingertips, that there's such a greater advantage that we have to live with today in 2021 and beyond. And I think the future is almost limitless.

Russ Kliman:    Right, right. So when we think about the future and you kind of dabbled in this a little bit earlier in our conversation, but when you think about some of these themes in a broad perspective in five or so years from now, do you think that things like frictionless and hyper-personalization will still be at the top of that pyramid? Or do you think some of these other key themes like education, gamification, and social will emerge higher? Or do you think there will be new ones?

Eric Holland:    My very honest answer with the way that things move the rapid pace at which the world moves today, I have to believe there's something else that 5 or 10 years from now is going to sit at the top of this list. I mean, quite literally that's a lifetime for most technology today.

And I'll tell you what it's thinking about the unknown and what's next that keeps me up at night in this business, albeit in a really excited keep pushing our boundaries type away. I'm not going to take that easy way out though, hyper-personalization is what I do want to press a little bit more because I really think that would be, of these five major themes at that top of the list for themes for the future.

And again, it's that bridge into relevance. And this is where I think AI is really going to drive us forward so that things like predictive analytics are delivering the right mess message or the right content at the right time and the right medium at the right level of delivery.

Think about those four aspects and how difficult it is to thread that perfect needle of right place, right time, right message, right way. Where you can get three of those perfectly correct. You can maybe have the perfect message delivered at the perfect level of education or knowledge in the perfect place. You've done everything that you can control, right. But the timing's wrong or alternatively get the timing perfect and your perspective, ideal client saw it. But the message was just a little bit too detailed and went over his or her head.

It's a very, very difficult thing to do, but it's where the world is going and it's going there very fast. And hyper-personalization to give one more example, isn't just a messaging and content either it's in delivery. So social, environmental, sustainable considerations have all taken center stage in this world recently. And very rightfully so and leading core values and beliefs into economic impact in investments is something that we at SEI are working towards in a big way.

Think about it. A dollar today could fund a charitable contribution that transforms a life that can change the world. And I don't say that tongue in cheek, people viscerally care about what they believe in and the impact that they can have both on themselves and the world and now investing in advice have to achieve those same desires. So that's where hyper-personalization, I think there's just the world is our oyster, so to speak. And we really just at the beginning stages, even though it really is a key theme today.

Russ Kliman:    Yeah, no, that's awesome. Well, that about wraps up our time today. So Eric, I do want to thank you for all of your insights and perspectives. Awesome conversation as always, let's try to book some time on the calendar for five years from now to see which predictions do come true, but I wanted to thank you for your time today.

Eric Holland:    Thank you again, Ross, for having me in the work that you're doing within the Ventures space. It's exciting, no doubt about it. And I look forward to what the future holds.

Russ Kliman:    Awesome. Thanks man.

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