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The Amazing Innovations That Lie Hidden in Advice Firms


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Booking a holiday used to involve going into a travel agent and sitting, waiting whilst he or she spent time trawling through the incoherent mess of airline timetables. Nowadays an entire trip can be finalised without ever having to leave the house (though my father-in-law still insists upon the human interaction).

I can’t even remember the last time I went into a bank and spoke with a teller, though I am sure many people still do. Everything I need can be done more efficiently via internet banking.

There was once a time when buying online was tantamount to handing out free access to your bank account. Nowadays, Amazon are the worlds largest supermarkets, though just try visiting their shop floor or speaking to an employee. Still, they have some of the most satisfied customers of all.

Technology these days is not just an option. For many, it’s a preference.

Last week an adviser I’ve known for some time asked me a question. It inspired me to put fingers to keyboard.

He said he was conflicted between embracing online advice vs. continuing the personalised, tailored approach. In all honesty, he was reticent to give up his current structure.

I found myself absolutely empathising with the plight. Most great advisers are at their best when eyeball-to eyeball with clients. It’s where they shine.

The problem is that when the times you can add value are limited to your personal exertion, you’ve got a capacity issue.

The most common reason for changing adviser these days? “We have an adviser, but we rarely hear from him/ her.”

Meanwhile, other businesses, the types your clients are also dealing with on a day-to-day basis, are finding more ways to create value without insisting upon face time.

Most hotels these days will remember your choice of newspaper after just a few visits.

Amazon will remember what you were looking at when you logged in months ago, and provide suggestions of other products you might be interested in.

Apparently AMEX now has a system where their most valued clients are instantly connected to the same client services team whenever they call the number on the back of their card.

As far back as 1981, futurist John Naisbitt saw it coming when he wrote  “The more “high tech” humans have, the more “high touch” humans want“. He nailed it.

We are in a world where people want to be engaged more than ever before. Some clients will want face to face time and value that most; however others prefer to engage remotely and want to maximise what they can do without having to invest time in meeting.

I think the latter are the growing market.

The two biggest things however that point me to believe that advisers need to embrace online advice models are:

  1. Most firms have little chance of being efficient enough to generate sufficient revenue if they don’t use technology far better than they do currently, and
  2. It’s going to become increasingly hard to stand out from the crowd if the only way you can WOW clients is when they are in your office.

Technological innovation can solve these constraints, and no-one is better positioned to innovate the use of technology to engage advice clients than SME advice firms.

No matter how deep the pockets or fervent the desires of bigger institutions, product providers or Licensees, your business has a better opportunity than all of them.

A pre-requisite for being able to innovate using the Lean Startup methodologies pioneered in Silicon Valley is to be able to have a direct dialogue with your end user. That’s the competitive advantage advice firms like yours have. You are better positioned to understand your clients problems than 1,000 focus groups, an army of marketing specialists or the best data analysis money can buy.

A few months ago, I was speaking with a friend who is in the middle of his own online startup. We were talking about data – what to collect, how to collect it and how to use it. He asked what information advice businesses held on their clients.

When I told him, I watched his jaw drop. He salivated a little. I think I saw his eyes glaze over too.

One of my favourite quotes is from the visionary author William Gibson, who said “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

How advice firms use technology to better engage clients and influence their financial behaviour is no longer a theoretical discussion. It’s an essential work in progress.

The question is not whether your business embraces the opportunity to create advice delivery models of the future, it’s how you do it and how long you wait before you start to play catch-up.

What will be the experiments you start today to uncover the future of your business model?

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