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Inside RBC’s tech strategy to attract and retain advisor talent

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If you want to attract and retain great advisors, it helps to have great technology.

But what if you are a tech laggard? Or worse? How do you catch up?

Amit Sahasrabudhe, chief operating officer of RBC Wealth Management – U.S., discusses how his firm has been revamping its advisor tech stack. Tasks that once took days, now just require hours, he says.

“Competitive intensity continues to rise. A big part of this business is recruiting best-in-class advisors to our firm and retaining them. Without a platform that was competitive relative to our industry peers, we [couldn’t] attract the best as well as keep advisors here,” Sahasrabudhe says.

The firm fields approximately 2,000 advisors who manage $379 billion in client assets. Over the past 17 months, RBC has been working on a project dubbed internally as Wealth X. Sahasrabudhe tells Financial Planning how the project is going, what innovations the firm is attempting to implement and how it chooses between building technology in-house or seeking third-party software. Read on to learn more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Financial Planning: RBC recently went through a substantial revamp of their advisor technology platform. Where was the firm at with technology, and where are you at now?

Amit Sahasrabudhe: Three to four years ago, I would describe our technology as one of the lagging platforms in the industry. We were not very competitive for our advisors or our clients.

Where we are today I would describe as one of the leading firms in the wealth management space in terms of our technology. We’ve revamped more or less the entire technology stack, from the platform and tools that our advisors use, the platform that our clients use and through to the solutions, services, underlying infrastructure and data.

Amit Sahasrabudhe, chief operating officer of RBC U.S. Wealth Management

FP: During this process, how did you decide between building proprietary technology, acquiring a startup or partnering with a third-party?

AS: In a lot of these decisions, the key was to choose partners that would innovate alongside us. But more important was choosing vendors that would integrate well with the rest of the system. The ability to migrate data back and forth is the key to success. It makes for just a much better outcome.

FP: So what necessitated the firm making a dramatic change?

AS: We knew at the time that a couple of elements were changing. Client demand and expectations are evolving at a much more rapid pace with the advent of robo advisors and other technology not just in wealth management, but what clients experience with Apple, Amazon, etc. The ease-of-use, simplicity and innovation — this was changing at a very rapid pace.

On the client side, we knew digital engagement was low-to-mid, at best. If you compare what our client engagement has been since lockdown started, it has increased by 40% since we’ve gone live.

FP: Many firms are seeing increases in client adoption since the lockdown started. Isn’t it just because everyone was stuck at home and had to use digital tools?

AS: Absolutely. The need to facilitate more remote engagement in this environment is going to accelerate or heighten these metrics. But some of our new experiences were rolled out well prior to COVID-19, and our client online experience is being rolled out as we’ve gone through this. We would have never expected to be in a pandemic, and having these solutions out there have only made the experience much more competitive for our clients and advisors going through the crisis.

FP: Can you give some specific examples of how the technology has improved?

AS: I’d call out a few major areas of priority. First was our integrated field portal and investment in Salesforce. It’s a much more modern, end-to-end advisor experience with the goal of taking us away from many siloed advisor apps to a unified advisor portal and CRM.

We took what used to be a very manual, lengthy process in terms of onboarding clients — opening new accounts could take many, many days — and digitized and streamlined so it takes hours.

Our client-facing portal is moving away from a more outdated experience with limited self-service functionality to one that is based on modern tools and tech and allows for a lot of digital interaction and self-service. It also allows [clients] to collaborate with their advisor, which has been a core focus for us.

FP: I’ve heard RBC’s approach to integration held up as an example of a firm getting it right. Without spoiling your competitive advantage, what can you share about what you’re doing different from others?

AS: The strategy was really tied to choosing the right partners who we knew had a greater likelihood of integrating well together out of the box. If you choose vendors in solos, the ability to integrate your own data with data theirs, and integrating APIs back and forth, just requires a lot more effort and investment.

We didn't make any decision in a silo. Everything around this strategy started with an overarching vision, but when we peeled the onion back, we had to look at each product decision in conjunction.

FP: What is the business strategy driving technology investments at RBC? Is it advisor recruitment and retention, attracting new clients, growing wallet share, or something else?

AS: Competitive intensity continues to rise. A big part of this business is recruiting best-in-class advisors to our firm and retaining them. Without a platform that was competitive relative to our industry peers, we [couldn’t] attract the best as well as keep advisors here.

The other piece I would call out is just a need to drive more efficiency and more scale. We had very strong ambitions about the growth of this business … and we wanted to make sure we had a platform that could support the size, speed and scale.

FP: Even the best technology is worthless unless advisors actually use it, and firms routinely cite adoption a continuing challenge. But RBC says it has accomplished 90% adoption of Salesforce compared to 65% of your previous CRM. How?

AS: We have a lot of support and alignment across the organization to ensure that we’re getting into something that's going to be a positive influence on our business, clients and advisors. Since the day that we started each of these different projects, our goal and our intention was to make sure that this was not about tech for tech’s sake. This was going to be an investment we made to advance a vision of client and advisor collaboration.

Starting with that vision in mind, we very quickly engaged with a number of different advisors and client associates across the nation. A number of users to help us understand the pain points they experience with today’s solutions. This played a huge hand in defining and shaping [projects] targeted, tailored and ready for advisors. We should have a solution that does not require an extreme amount of training, compared to tech we had in the past.

FP: Looking forward, where do you see the greatest opportunities for future fintech investments?

AS: Greater integration across other systems we have, including planning. We do see onboarding continuing to expand and get more streamlined and digitized over time.

I think if I look beyond that: trade and order management capabilities. We want to make sure that’s an area we continue to evolve and continue to integrate even further with the overall advisor experience.

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