If you are in the “inform” business, and not the “transform” business, you won’t be long for this business.
Technology services are quickly chipping away at the value-stack financial advisors offer to clients. There may come a time when, “I turn on my phone and I say, ‘Hi, Alexa. Tell me what my bank account is today. Transfer $10,000 from Bank A to Bank B. Open a 529 plan for my kid. Then, rebalance my brokerage account.’ And tell me how I'm doing against my goal of buying this house,” said Lex Sokolin, Global Director of Fintech Strategy and Partner at Autonomous.
In this near future world, you won’t need MoneyGuidePro, e-Money, or Advicent. Instead, “You have a more modern architecture, so you don't have a UI. You might have APIs that allow machines to talk to each other. Then, you can plug that into all sorts of chatbots for conversational interfaces,” said Lex.
Lex isn’t describing some crazy sci-fi dystopia. Rapid advancements in AI, algorithms, chatbots and a host of other technologies is bringing planning services to your favorite digital friend faster than you may think. And if Amazon, Google or some other behemoth decides to get into our business in a big way, well, you can forget about competing by using technology as a differentiator.
Key Insights on How to Transform Your Clients from Lex Sokolin
The smartest financial advisors are shifting from a focus on the destination of retirement and toward creating experiences that transform the journey along the way and make it much more enjoyable. This is where practical tech and your humanity meet to create an “augmented service relationship.” It’s about using technology to augment yourself while still bringing your humanity to the relationship.
With this way of thinking, tech acceleration is not seen as a threat to our industry, but as a tool we can combine with human empathy, imagination, and creative analysis to transform the way the world plans. It’s about having conversations that technology can’t.
Fortunately, change doesn't happen all at once and your business won’t vanish overnight. “On the same road today in the United States, you could have an Amish with a horse and a buggy, and you can have a self-driving Tesla passing each other by. That is about 200 years of difference that exists in the same moment,” said Lex.
You might expect a “futurist” like Lex to say that it’s time for advisors to move their whole practices to the blockchain, mint some cryptocurrency, and replace millennial staffers with robo advisors. But the people who are best-suited to keep our industry ahead of the curve aren’t the ones setting up shop on the bleeding edge. They’re thinkers like Lex who appreciate how technology can enhance advisors in practical ways and transform the client experience.
According to Lex, when calibrating your technology strategy, you don’t have to be like Gretzky and skate to where the puck is going to be. Instead, “You should be where your clients are. You have to figure out what's the profile of the person with whom you connect, and what are the services that help that person achieve what they want to do. Each advisor should equilibrate to the type of client they want to go after.” And I would add, you can’t stand still. You have to keep evolving your offering as your clients evolve.
Lex’s comments echoed a recent conversation I had with Matt Sonnen, who warned that there are no one-size-fits-all tech solutions. Some prominent advisors think the only way to harness technology is to go all-in, often with software solutions too big for practical needs. But if your core client base is seniors who don’t know Siri and Alexa from Wonder Woman and Black Panther, how robust does your digital offering really need to be?
I know, I know, “But what about the millennials! They live on their cell phones!” Well, Lex shared an interesting stat: “When we look at studies of how much space there is in a phone for financial services apps, on average you see something like six.”
No offense, but if you’re an independent RIA, I don’t like your app’s chances of cracking the top six.
Connect Connect Connect
All firms need a basic level of tech proficiency. And depending on who your target clients are, you may need to be dramatically more sophisticated than “basic.” But when you’re operating in the “transform” space, it’s not about the tech. It’s about you and your ability to connect. As Lex notes, “We're humans. We're tribal. We are social. We don't want to live in a machine world. We want to have connection.”
Lex uses an interesting phrase to describe what advisors should be aiming for: an “augmented service relationship.” It’s about using technology to augment yourself while still bringing your humanity to the relationship.
Technology can inform your clients and make their life more efficient. But only you can transform their life. Use your human connection to have meaningful conversations with your clients at the intersection of money and life. Focus on helping them experience a better life today, and not just some distant “retirement” date. Leverage your humanness. Do that and you will have grateful (and profitable) clients for life.
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