Banking’s relationship with technology feels fraught. But only to those not paying attention.
Over the last two decades, the industry has undergone a breakneck regime of digitization culminating in online banking portals and client support channels that finally feel modern. Say what you will, when the pandemic hit, banking by phone had long been in place. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need to adapt to rapidly modernizing wealth management.
Within every great bank lurks legacy infrastructure, acquisitions, and mindsets. It takes wealth managers like Jordan Shipley (Jordan’s name and firm have been anonymized at their request) to lead their firms into the future. We sat down with Jordan to discuss advising clients in trying times, app overload, and how advisors and their banks can make breakthroughs by keeping clients in focus.
Great expectations of working late
There’s lots Jordan misses about the before times. Taking clients to dinner, getting to know them personally, and showing that their advisor is another human whose incentives are aligned was all a lot of fun. But working from home also has its practical appeal.
“Today I have half a dozen heads of household who we advise that I have never met in person,” says Jordan. “That would never have happened before. It’s definitely easier to build rapport with a new or prospective client over Zoom now that everyone’s accustomed to it.” But working from home has a prominent dark side: Everyone knows you’re home.
“Sometimes, from 8-9pm on a Monday night, I’m doing a portfolio review with a client,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that we would have done that pre-Covid-19. I suppose people assume that you’re home, even though of course I’m a dad with a baby to put to bed. It’s the same with emails on Sundays. But I often do reply and hop on the phone. I’m getting a lot done—it’s just that you never get to switch off.”
The off-hour responses might not be so difficult if clients didn’t truly expect them—but they do. Everyone went into overdrive last year and many haven’t let up. The economy is still in flux. Nothing is quite settled. If you aren’t showing that you’re there for them in their most stressful moments, it can cost you deals. All the connective technology that makes work from home possible cuts both ways.
Technology can either be your best friend or your worst enemy,” says Jordan.
“When technology isn’t working, you can genuinely lose opportunities over it. We recently lost an incoming client because the account setup took too long. Expectations are high and momentum is fickle and when someone says ‘Yes,’ I want them logged into our portal within 24 hours.”
Until recently, part of Jordan’s battle wasn’t so much managing to find new clients as it was managing all the new applications that were supposed to make it possible.
The great app deluge
Three years ago teams at this major bank were carrying both personal phones and work BlackBerrys. Just a few years ago, they were using a custom-built in-house email system. But the great consumerization has struck businesses and in a rush to implement simple, consumer-friendly interfaces for traders and wealth managers, everyone got overloaded with applications to manage. Layer onto that the need to ensure regulatory compliance and it was a lot to explain to clients.
“I felt like I had to almost punish clients, saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t answer this question here. You have to email me, or else I’ll get fired,’” says Jordan. “There’s always the question of whether to build something in-house or buy it—both can be valid. Yet from an advisor’s point of view, both can be taxing in terms of your time if they don’t integrate well.”
I felt like I had to almost punish clients, saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t answer this question here. You have to email me, or else I’ll get fired.’”
By this Jordan means that every new application and login creates chains of administrative dependency. Jabber, for instance, has allowed Jordan to forward his desk phone to his home, but it disconnects, and he must refresh it frequently. There are VPNs to manage. Apps to aggregate client data. New interfaces to learn. His team recently migrated CRMs, and the new one, Salesforce, isn’t quite as quick as Jordan would like. And there are still gaps in the ways they’d like to be messaging clients.
“Texting clients is a big to-do with compliance,” says Jordan. “They say you cannot do it. But the truth is, this is how our clients want to communicate now. Shouldn’t we listen?”
Yet unlike in past eras, the bank is listening. With thousands of developers on staff, they’re constantly building, rolling out, testing, recalling, and iterating their technology stack to enable advisors to better serve clients. And while it isn’t always crystal clear on a contributor level, Jordan says he can feel the improvements and the progress. Case in point: When the pandemic struck and in-person meetings ended, he and his team increased assets under management. They continued to find new clients. Six years into the role, Jordan’s business is on track, and things he loves most about his work are still there.
When it works, it’s all worth it
“My favorite part is when the wire comes in,” says Jordan. “That’s a big deal. It’s one of the two things I enjoy the most. The new client funds their account and I get to put that to work in a portfolio I designed for them. The other thing I love is anything macroeconomics, monetary policy, or fiscal policy, and what it means for portfolio management. When the client says, ‘Yes, we’re going to work with you,’ you’re putting all that knowledge into service.”
All of this happens, mind you, despite thousands of miles separating Jordan and his clients. They’ve never shaken hands and they’re entrusting him with all of their wealth, and if we are measuring technology by the trust it engenders, we have reached a high bar.
“I just think, wow, I didn’t have to get on a plane and fly to New York. I remember my first couple of years, almost all my meetings were in person,” says Jordan. “But it’s a different world and while I miss taking the client to dinner, I guess the things I really do love about the job are not so material in nature. Technology has made that possible.”