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Technology is important for advisers - but don't forget the human touch
30/11/2017 , Mickey Morrissey, head of distribution, Smith & Williamson ,

In an age where booking a holiday or ordering a takeaway online is considered commonplace, technology offers an important competitive advantage for consumer-facing businesses. Having an easy-to-use digital interface can make all the difference between customers choosing to work with one company over another. 

Financial services has often lagged behind other industries when it comes to investing in technology, but things are improving. Most high street banks now have user-friendly apps which enable customers to access and conduct transactions 24-hours a day. Across the industry, the use of artificial intelligence (AI), including cognitive automation, cognitive engagement and cognitive insights, is becoming more prevalent, as firms increasingly see how it can enable them to deliver a better, more personalised service.

The advisory community, however, seems to have mixed feelings about technology. At one end of the scale, I know of firms that invest heavily in this area and pride themselves on their strong digital offering – while at the other extreme, some say that it is not the sort of thing that their clients demand. What therefore is the right approach for advisers to take?

We conducted research in partnership with Discus earlier this year and found that 60 percent of advisers believed their digital offering to clients was adequate. However, the remainder thought that their propositions in this area did not meet the mark. 

Why is this important? It’s an adviser’s job to understand their clients’ needs and wants – including the level of digital interaction sought and expected. Many firms serve a specific niche of the population and will want to invest in a particular level and form of technology. 

In our research, we asked advisers to tell us where they would most likely allocate budget if planning to invest in technology. From a list of options that included ‘back office’ and the ‘advice process’, ‘client communications’ was the most commonly selected area (36 percent).

When people think of technology, it is sometimes apps and online portals that first spring to mind, but it could equally be used to make things easier for your clients to contact you. Allowing the facility for meetings to take place via Skype, sending more useful and timely emails or even just putting a ‘contact us’ box on your website are all approaches to increase customer satisfaction.

Technology is by no means the be-all and end-all for advisory firms. Those that focus investment on this area of their businesses to the detriment of everything else are doomed to fail. One of the reasons that customers seek financial advice is the belief that advisers can help solve problems that are too complex for a computer. Grasping this point is essential if firms want to succeed.

Advisers should therefore use tech to help free them up from the repetitive and dull parts of the job that are hard to charge for. Forward-thinking firms use digital support, tailored to the customers that they serve, as an enabler to help deliver the best possible service – while never forgetting the importance of the human touch.
 

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