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Highlights from SIFMA's 2015 Private Client Conference

SIFMA’s Private Client Conference, the premier conference for Private Client Groups at all levels, took place on April 8 in Chicago. Although the event has considerable history, much of the conversation centered around the future. Bringing together top industry leaders to discuss the practical and tactical ways to enhance client services and advice, it was telling that the topic of ‘robo-advice’ was mentioned in almost every session.
Remaining Relevant to the Next Generation of Investors
Tim Scheve, President and Chief Executive Officer of Janney Montgomery Scott, kicked off the conference with an idea that would be a recurring theme throughout the day, “When you just maintain the status quo, you are going to be left behind.” Highlighting women and younger investors, Scheve urged that the industry needs a more diverse workforce and to tap into a younger clients if it is going to be successful in the coming decades. According to to Scheve, over half of the households that advisors serve are led by women. Women in the U.S. are responsible for $11 Trillion in assets and that number is on track to grow to over $20 trillion.

During the panel presentation on “The Financial Advisor in the New Economy,”  Lisa Hunt, Executive Vice President of International Services & Special Business at Charles Schwab & Co., also highlighted the necessity for firms to adapt to changing demographics and expectations of investors.

What “Robo-Advisors” Mean to Private Client Services
Speakers at the event shared their comments on the rise of consumer-technology and robo-advice offerings.  Sheve said that it is important for firms to remain focused on serving their clients. “We have an obligation to provide our clients with highly skilled and ethical financial advisors, who can help them meet their financial goals,” he said, following with, “clients want technology that assists their advisor, not replaces him.”

As a representative of Schwab, which recently rolled out its own robo-advice offering, Lisa Hunt, said that advisors shouldn’t be scared about robo-advice technology cannibalizing their business. Hunt described that “the dynamic is changing….it’s more about the client than our advisor. It’s about the client and the client choice.” For Schwab, offering consumers access to robo-advice technology is providing investors the choice to engage with the firm on their own terms.
In line with the offering from Schwab, Brand Meyer, Senior Managing Director and Head of the Independent Brokerage group at Wells Fargo, shared his opinion that technology could be valuable in helping firms build relationships with younger investors who have not yet accumulated the assets to earn the attention of advisors.
Technology to enable and enrich the advisor-client relationship
Continuing the discussion on how technology is affecting the industry, Mary Mack, President and Head of Wells Fargo Advisors, shared her perspective on how consumer technologies such as Amazon, Uber, Apple, and Jawbone are changing client expectations. According to Mack, the use of technology is not just something they are seeing in the younger generation, but rather the effect of these technologies “cuts across all age levels and asset levels.”
In his session, John Thiel, Head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, reminded the group to learn from the past. Quoting Shakespeare, he said, ”remember, what’s past is prologue.”
Looking towards the future, in the panel “The Financial Advisor in the New Economy”, James Allen, President, Chairman, and CEO at Hilliard Lyons, shared the importance for financial advisors and their firms to foster and deepen relationships with clients and utilize technology to better engage future heirs and next generation clients.

During the “Trends in Wealth Management Marketing” session, much was also discussed regarding the importance of advisors first being able to “be found” by clients and potential clients in the digital era. The importance of a robust social media presence along with mobile-friendly, local-relevant advisor websites was discussed in the context of optimizing for local search via search engines like Google.

Beyond just being findable, the session concluded by highlighting that there’s also real ROI for those advisors who are enabled with technology for engaging clients. Citing a study by Fidelity, Amanda Smith, Senior Vice President and Head of Marketing at National Financial, shared that digitally-enabled advisors are much more productive when compared to those advisors not using technology in a meaningful way.

Michael Lock, President & COO of Hearsay Social, shared that success using social media starts with building and enhancing client relationships in an industry that has always been social. This application of social media has lead to real ROI with Hearsay Social clients successfully realizing and measuring metrics such as percent growth in client acquisition rates, percent growth in acquisition of new high net worth clients, growth in overall AUM,  growth in referrals, and increase in retention rate.

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Meagan Herfkens Hency

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