Are You Adapting for Your Future Clients?

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The pace of change today—from technology adoption to consumer demand for a personalized, convenient service experience—is unprecedented. What are financial planners doing to adapt to change, and how will they innovate in the future? These are the central questions explored in new research from SEI and FPA, which will be released at the FPA Annual Conference next week in Minneapolis.

Qualitative data from in-depth personal interviews with planning practitioners was combined with the results of robust online surveys of both planners and investors to reach the general conclusion that planners may not be effectively preparing for the client-centric experience that investors will demand in the future. The results of the joint research will be presented at the FPA Annual Conference in Minneapolis next week. Here are a few key takeaways (stay tuned to the FPA Research and Practice Institute for the full research report after it is released):

More Differentiation Needed

When asked to choose among 10 options that best described their primary differentiator, the most popular options among financial planners were “offers life planning and financial planning” (selected by 28 percent of the online survey respondents) and “fosters personal connections” (selected by 24 percent). Only 5 percent chose “other” and offered unique descriptors that could meaningfully set them apart from the competition, such as “tax-free retirement specialist.”

Nearly half (48 percent) of planners surveyed described themselves as generalists who work with any client who meets their minimum account size. Less than one-quarter (24 percent) of planners surveyed segment their clients and prospects by niche.

Meanwhile, investors were asked the top reasons why they stay with their current financial planner. The most popular reason, selected by 69 percent of investors surveyed, was because the planner is available to answer questions. Nearly 60 percent also indicated they stay because of the personality of their planner; simply put—investors like their planners.

Technology Disconnect?

Clients like you; that’s great—but will your likeability be enough to grow your business in the future? The investors who participated in the survey (686 non self-directed investors with investable assets over $100,000) were either very comfortable (38 percent) or somewhat comfortable (42 percent) with digital tools. Yet just one-third (31 percent) currently use an online portal to manage their accounts. Are planners missing an opportunity to provide clients the tech tools they are accustomed to using in other parts of their lives?

Although planners are well aware that technology will be a “theme” they will encounter over the next five to 10 years, just one-quarter of planners surveyed said that one of their top three business goals over the next five to 10 years will be to adopt the best new financial technology on the market. Planners also believe that technology is the key to freeing up more time to spend on personal connections with clients.

But, there may be disillusions when it comes to the work involved in adapting planning practices to new technology and evolving client demands. When asked how they expect to evolve their client experience over the next five to 10 years, only 22 percent of planners surveyed reported that they will have to adapt their process at all for the future.

Editor’s note: If you’re in Minneapolis and want to learn more about this research, check out the session “Advisory Firms in 2030: The Innovation Imperative” at 10:45 a.m., Wednesday Oct. 16 in MCC 101 HIJ. If you haven’t registered yet, do so today. Want to stay tuned into what’s happening at the conference if you’re not there? Read the conference blog

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Carly Schulaka is editor of the Journal of Financial Planning. Reach her at cschulaka@onefpa.org. 

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