Its the question that pops up repeatedly as TPMs look to help their affiliated banks and credits unions grow their investment programs: How can financial institutions and their advisors best connect with customers who rarely visit their local branches?
The answer, of course, is technology, and TPMs across the board have made it a key priority, launching a slew of online platforms, mobile applications and remote delivery tools.
One of the trends we saw last year was a demand for mobile applications, says Valorie Seyfert, president and CEO of CUSO Financial Services. Everybody wants convenience and efficiency. The end-user customer doesnt necessarily want to come to the branch anymore.
Others echoed that sentiment. The big challenge for us is the changing way that customers interact with the bank, says Scott Davis, chairman and CEO of Essex National Securities. We are seeing that both bank customers and advisors are looking for the ability to access information and perform certain tasks in real time in whatever device they happen to own.
To that end, Essex National rolled out a system called ENSInet Mobile that gives advisors the ability to view client accounts, run performance reports, respond to service requests and update client contact information on any mobile device they are using. (The firm is expected to merge with Infinex Financial Group this fall.)
In their bid to help advisors serve their customers wherever and whenever they want, TPMs launched much more than mobile applications. They also rolled out a variety of remote delivery tools that allow advisors and their customers to fill out forms and sign and send documents remotely. CUSO, for example, introduced a profiling tool called BuildMyProfile that allows advisors to send customers a profile questionnaire via a secure link. Once the customer fills out and closes the form, the content is immediately available to the advisor, without needing to be emailed or faxed back, according to CUSO.
Other TPMs incorporated remote delivery tools into broader technology systems. For example, LPL Financials Streamline Office includes iDoc imaging as well as e-signature capabilities, which allow bank customers to sign account opening and maintenance documents remotely.
Some TPMs also invested in upgrading online portals for bank customers who want to engage with advisors online. Raymond James, for example, in April added an external account aggregation feature to Investor Access, a portal where customers can view their accounts on their desktop, tablet or mobile phone. The new feature gives advisors and their clients the ability to see all of an individual customers asset and liability accounts, including those held at other institutions. Advisors enable the feature for their customers, and customers add accounts via the system, according to Raymond James.
We believe this creates a richer experience for the client, says John Houston, managing director of Raymond James Financial Institutions Division.
The technology initiatives, of course, are not solely about giving advisors the ability to connect with customers who have forsaken bank branches. Theyre also aimed at making advisors more productive, a key objective for many TPM firms who aim to grow organically (see related story).
Remote delivery tools spare advisors of having of chase down customers to fill out and sign documents, freeing them up to prospect and drill down deeper into the needs of their existing customers. In short, the tools make them more productive.
In their effort to ramp up advisor productivity, TPMs also implemented financial planning software to coax advisors into developing financial plans for their customers. LPL, for example, introduced a program called WealthVision and Raymond James launched the Goal Planning & Monitoring system.
This goes to the productivity gains from existing advisors, says Houston of the Goal Planning & Monitoring system. Were going to have a tremendous focus on assisting them in gathering more assets.