Wealth managers must master the digital client experience or risk becoming increasingly irrelevant to consumers says our global product executive, Aaron Knowles.

By 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as a key brand differentiator and for the most part, the experience will be digital.

That’s the prediction by customer intelligence consultancy, Walker.

As the gap in the mobile and online experiences between financial brands widens, wealth and investment managers must become masters of the digital client experience or risk becoming increasingly irrelevant to consumers.

Chances are you already offer some sort of digital service proposition, but is it enough?

What’s driving the digital client experience trend?

When it comes to customer experience, your competition isn’t just other wealth and investment firms, it’s other financial - and non-financial - brands.

The all-digital bank that’s taking mortgage applications to offer in 20 seconds; the automated investment adviser that’s offering accessible and affordable investment options; the insurance app that’s replaced brokers and bureaucracy with bots; and the zero-commission mobile trading app.

They’re all causing a stir by making it as easy for millennials and digital natives to access financial services as it is to order an Uber.

It’s why they’re rapidly gaining the trust and allegiance of an army of financial consumers including the next generation of investors. Some of which will be your future clients and prospects.

Re-building profitability in wealth management

Today’s consumers are only too happy to rate and share their positive (‘simple’, ‘seamless’, ‘intuitive’) and negative (‘slow’, ‘complicated’, ‘frustrating’) experiences online in what’s become an increasingly influential part of the end-to-end digital customer experience. When making financial decisions, a massive 85% of consumers in the UK aged 16 to 34 said they trusted verified reviews more than any other source of information.

Customer experience is the key to re-building profitability in wealth management.

Such is the power of customer experience that the Boston Consulting Group ‘Global Wealth 2017’ report says it's the key to re-building profitability in wealth management.

And they’re probably right. Not only is a streamlined customer journey more efficient from a business perspective, but driving the digital experience is clearly the way to winning new clients and retaining existing ones. No wonder it’s become a top strategic priority for financial firms.

Is your digital proposition enough?

It’s now possible to deploy any level of consumer self-serve capability, from a simple read-only portal to automated investment advice and transactional capability. In fact, most advisory and investment firms do - in a recent live IRESS webinar poll, almost a third (31%) of advisers said they have introduced a digital element to their service, with a further two-thirds (63%) planning to do so in the near future.

But is it enough?

Digital service has become a hygiene factor. Sitting alongside humans in the delivery of good client outcomes and efficiency, it’s a necessary and expected part of any service proposition.

But if they are to keep pace with increasing client expectations and the wider digital economy, businesses must look to the next level of digital engagement.

Designing differentiated client experiences

Financial services’ digital expectations have leapt forward in the last 12-24 months. We’ve noticed firms are seeking greater levels of automation and customer centricity in their technology solutions as they look to deliver a differentiated digital client experience.

Ultimately, the ambition is to deliver a connected and data-driven 'show me you know me' customer experience.

The thinking has moved beyond functionality to designing interactions and experiences that delight and engage customers. The glossy digital front end is still an important part of the overall experience, but the focus is how it’s done and delivered. As Steve Jobs once said, "It's not what it looks like and feels like, design is how it works."

Ultimately, the ambition is to deliver a connected and data-driven ‘show me you know me’ customer experience. Achieving that means focusing on the full end-to-end technology stack so that the client experience can be optimised through every service channel.

Creating greater client interaction and loyalty

By putting the right information and tools in clients’ hands financial firms can cater for the increasingly flexible, consumer-led market.

That’s made possible by a greater range of fintech-inspired software and digital tools now being accessible to financial firms of all shapes and sizes. Client-led planning tools, nudges and prompts are being introduced to the financial process as clients feel more comfortable with this technology in other aspects of their lives. Digital innovations have also led to the development of features that simply make the financial process more interesting and enjoyable.

It all points to a shift in focus from one-off transactions to continuous engagement and experiences that drive greater value, client interaction and loyalty.

Mastering the next level of digital engagement:

Getting the digital experience right

Delivering a high quality digital experience means creating a more dynamic omni-channel customer journey. It needs to accurately reflect the broader digital brand while retaining the feel of a trusted adviser.

Get it right and it could pay dividends. Research by Aberdeen Group Inc found that those with the strongest omni-channel client engagement strategies can expect to retain 89% of their customers, while those with weak omni-channel strategies can expect to retain only a third.

The demand for an omni-channel customer experience will be amplified by the need for nearly perfect execution.

A report by PWC suggests that by 2020, the demand for an omni-channel customer experience will be amplified by the need for nearly perfect execution.

And that’s what true digital transformation is all about – eliminating ugly steps and friction from processes. It’s why the best digital experiences are often the simplest.

An advice experience that's technology driven

The real essence of financial advice has always been about the customer engagement experience. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring customers feel connected along the advice journey, regardless of how that advice is delivered. Technology has been the enabler in delivering that advice experience, but now it’s driving it.

If financial brands want to be seen as interesting and relevant by an increasingly consumer-led market, they must get even closer to their customers and deliver an exceptional customer experience. Above all, they must find ways to reduce friction in the customer journey and use digital technology to offer simple, fast, informative, transparent – and increasingly personalised – client experiences.