The robot (wealth advisors) are here.
The robo-advisor revolution promised to render legacy firms like broker-dealers, asset managers, and registered investment advisors obsolete.
The fear of being left behind motivated many companies across the wealth industry to respond with an open checkbook. BlackRock dropped $150 million to buy FutureAdvisor in 2015. Other firms, like JPMorgan & Chase Co., spent more than three years and millions of dollars building their own robo-advisors. And others, like Northwestern Mutual, spent $250 million to acquire and then ultimately shutter their offering.
Despite all the effort, money and time invested, these companies don’t have much to show for it. The amount of assets under management at these nascent efforts is underwhelming; when combined with ultra-low robo-fee rates, the revenue doesn’t come close to providing any real return on their upfront sizable investments.
What’s the real takeaway for banks? The problem isn’t the technology so much as it is the corresponding business strategy. When it comes to robo-advising, altering the strategy and deconstructing the technology will give banks the biggest returns on their investments. There will be benefits for the brokerage side of the bank, but even greater returns in the trust division, which typically relies on outdated processes based on paper and people.
If banks look at technology with a lens toward driving margin as well as revenue growth, the way they deploy robo-technology changes. Instead of launching robo-advisors and hoping customers stream in, a better strategy could be to become hyper-focused, using the technology in order to maximize its inherent value. Banks thinking about using digital solutions to improve their wealth and trust offerings can focus on three areas in order to get operational and revenue benefits:
- Eliminate paper-based trust account opening processes. Using digital trust account opening can dramatically reduce the total client onboarding time and begin the investing and billing processes sooner, accelerating the time it takes to generate revenue from a newly opened account. For example, the typical trust account takes about 40 days to get correctly opened and funded. Technology can reduce that time by 30 days, driving at least 8% more revenue with those extra days, while simultaneously decreasing the people- and paper-based costs.
- Automate existing smaller agency accounts. Automating processes like risk assessment, model management and rebalancing can significantly reduce the amount of time and people needed to manage those smaller, less profitable accounts. Banks can achieve higher customer satisfaction via the improved and streamlined process, as well as higher advisor satisfaction from the drastic reduction in operating time.
- Retain flight risk retail customers. Retail customers who do not meet the account minimums to utilize a bank’s wealth services often find wealth offerings elsewhere, taking their assets outside of your bank. By digitizing wealth offerings, banks can lower their operational costs and enable a profitable way to service smaller wealth accounts, retain more customers and increase revenue. The key is using technology to correctly segment customers to better predict when they are most likely to become a flight risk to consumer-facing robo-advisors like Betterment.
So, what should a bank do to digitize a wealth or trust offering?
Start by targeting efficiency. While you may be tempted by the siren song of new customers and revenue, the biggest short-term returns for technology always come through cost reduction and margin expansion. Find the areas of your business with the most friction and surgically target them with technology to notch meaningful gains. Once your operations are running faster and smoother, target existing at-risk customers. Yes, you’ll be repricing those deposits, but it’s always better to reprice, retain and ultimately grow deposits than it is to lose them to one of the consumer-facing robo-advisors.