We can no longer settle for a ‘DMV’ portal experience

When we talk about disruption, we frame it as a positive force in our industry. Disruption shuffles the deck and clears the way for new ideas to grow. The last few months have shown all of us another truth about disruption: It’s scary.

Big changes do not come without anxiety, and it’s hard to imagine a greater disruption than the one we’re living through now. We all feel anxiety, but as the head of a fintech platform, I can quantify that anxiety, too. Since the pandemic began, we have observed a 20% surge in portal usage. That represents more advisers and clients checking balances as the market thrashes back and forth, revisiting their asset allocation and waking up to the value of financial planning.

With the right tools and processes, we can channel our anxiety in constructive ways. Tech providers adapt to new demands and the growing importance of remote service. Advisers can rise to the occasion and help clients protect their financial goals. But does our industry have the right tools?

There’s a reason I focused on portal usage. Portals are where the rubber meets the road, whether you’re an adviser or client. In the absence of face-to-face meetings, your portals are one of the most tangible elements of your brand. No matter what human insights or tech-optimized service you bring to the table, you can’t get around the need for portals. Yet the actual user experience of this industry’s client portals lags behind those of banks. And when was the last time any of us were really excited to use our banking apps?

I’m not describing a new problem. We all know a lot of our industry’s processes have one foot in the past. Imagine trying to onboard a client now without a digital account opening wizard. It was only last year that the biggest custodians started implementing this advancement! But advisers found that a warm, in-office presence and a decade of relentless market lift made a clunky experience an easier pill to swallow.

[More: The key for advisers still working from home? It’s digital]

Things are different now. Without the physical component of our work, the industry’s client problem is literally staring all of us in the face. It isn’t an easy problem to solve, either. Let’s say your custodian completely overhauls its portal and makes it a dream to use. You and your clients still need to bounce back and forth between the portals of your financial planning and portfolio management providers, and any other tools you might need to run your day. Each of these come from different companies with different priorities and budgets for software development. Without coordination, the friction between these portals could hold back your work and scare off prospects.

We are now several months into this pandemic. It has clarified a lot of lingering issues in all of our businesses, but none of us have the luxury of behaving like deer in headlights. There are a lot of people hurting right now, people who need planning and investment guidance. It’s past time to do something about the tools that get in the way of helping us answer that need.

Portals matter more than ever. If yours aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, you need to ask your custodians and technology providers what’s next.

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Eric Clarke is the CEO of Orion Advisor Solutions.

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