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Here’s what clients really want from digital wealth management

SAN FRANCISCO — To keep pace with a rapidly evolving digital landscape, wealth management firms have been boosting technology budgets, rolling out new products, updating existing systems and experimenting with artificial intelligence. Amid all this expensive change, what’s actually clicked with clients?

“The most pleasant surprise to me has been how much simplifying the experience from the get-go resonates with people,” says Gwen Jorgens, director of client digital experience at RBC Wealth Management.

Of course, getting the simple done right is no easy task, says Jorgens, a 14-year RBC veteran who took on her newly created role in July.

“The expectation has been set by the broader marketplace that technology has to move quickly and respond in a personal way. Financial services has had a hard time keeping up with that,” she says.

RBC has recently been on a push to add firepower, both human and digital, in order to meet client demand. The regional brokerage, which has $253 billion in client assets and approximately 1,800 financial advisors, has been on an aggressive recruiting push to bring in veteran advisors. At the same time, RBC — like other wealth management firms — has been upping its spending on technology.

“We know the advisor is what makes us special,” Jorgens says. “But we also know that technology is rapidly evolving and there is an opportunity to empower, engage and enlighten our clients.”

Jorgens spoke with Financial Planning about what’s changing at RBC and in the tech world.

Here are excerpts from an interview on the sidelines of SourceMedia’s In|Vest West conference.

Logo with grasss of Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) headquarters building during the company's annual general meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, April 6, 2017
Signage is displayed inside the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) headquarters building during the company's annual general meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, April 6, 2017. RBC Chief Executive Officer David urged lawmakers to coordinate interventions and act quickly to cool housing markets, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver. Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg

How has your approach to the digital part of the client experience changed at RBC?

We’re working on making it easier and more intuitive for them to do the things they want to do.

Historically, you would have had a team think about the interface, and another team thinking about digital document sharing and another team think about financial planning. They operated in silos. This modern age is about bringing those teams together and thinking out the whole client experience. You don’t want them signing on and then having to figure out how to do things. You want them logging in and very quickly finding the information they want.

Our digital experience is evolving at the same time that our business model has evolved.

If you think about financial planning, and you think about clients shifting from thinking about financial performance as the barometer of success to thinking about goals-based planning — getting that shift in clients is a big thing.

Then you’re talking about what are the goals, how do we get there, how do we think about life insurance needs? We’re adding all that into the mix and using the planning tools in the advisor’s office and extending that into the online experience.

How does RBC think about building technology in-house versus outsourcing it from a third-party vendor?

It depends on what feature or functionality you’re talking about. In one area, you have commoditized products. It doesn’t make sense for us to reproduce what’s already out there. So it’s about finding the right partner.

We know a lot about the wealth management experience and the advisor-led model. That doesn’t mean that we always have the best resources to focus on all technology elements. So how do we find technology partners who can leverage our strengths and bring their own expertise?

Clients aren’t comparing us to their last best financial services experience. They are comparing us against their last best digital experience.

So we are looking for partners that can help us move forward in our segment. That’s advantageous for us.

What client feedback about technology has surprised you?

Clients gravitate to things that are simple and immediately resonate. They really want the “Give me it in a nutshell” version, with the ability to “go deeper when and where I want to.”

The most pleasant surprise to me has been how much simplifying the experience from the get-go resonates with people. But of course that is hard to do.

What exciting technology developments are you keeping an eye on?

One of the things we implemented this year was planning tool sets. It lets you simplify the conversation by saying, “Hey, I’d like to retire 10 years sooner,” or, “I want to buy a house, and play with some dials to see how that is possible.” Just being able to play with things as they pop up into your mind … the way tools are evolving in that space is really great.

Another area: financial dashboards. Transparency will help people have a deeper understanding of financial planning. With the tools coming to marketplace now, you can have this conversation and have it be very human and impactful.

I think we’ll start to see things in artificial intelligence. As a society, we’re just at the tip of what it can provide to us.

Imagine a client comes forward with a financial problem: “I need to sell my business.” In the past, the advisor might have called three or four specialists. In the world of AI, I can take the key inputs and say people who have been in this kind of situation have had these experiences. And we can say to the advisor, here’s what we’ve seen.

This is an area where the human-plus-technology is so powerful, because we don’t have enough time to read all the articles and papers on innovations, on the product sets that are out there. We don’t have the attention span to keep up with that. Technology has the power to say, here’s the three or four most relevant things to your scenario.

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