It is becoming less of a secret how important the client onboarding process is in wealth management, both for the business and the client. In fact, client onboarding is still the number one challenge for firms.
In reality, it’s one thing for firms to know they need to improve, but an entirely different (and more difficult) thing to actually tackle making necessary improvements. This article will provide some tangible strategies for how to improve the client onboarding process.
Data Collection and Management
The fundamental building block to opening any client account is gathering information. Thus, it stands to reason that it can be one of the most frustrating bottlenecks as well. Miniscule mistakes in paperwork, missing information in transfers, repeatedly entering the same data into multiple platforms: there are many ways it can go wrong.
Your firm needs to limit repetition of data entry as much as possible, removing redundancies and gathering only what’s needed. This is what we call a minimum viable process, which means only requiring the bare minimum information needed to open the account, rather than bogging down the client (and your team) in paperwork and endless forms. There will be a myriad of opportunities to collect this data down the line—even later on in the onboarding process—but keeping it simple and streamlined at the very beginning of the process will not only keep the client at ease but also expedite the process, getting them into the system much faster.
While you will want to make each client’s experience unique and tailored to their specific needs, you can save time on some small, repetitive tasks like letters and emails by creating templates and outlines, allowing your team to spend their time on the larger picture. There are also some efficient digital solutions, like incorporating a client onboarding automation platform, that can help manage the client lifecycle, centralize data, and let you reuse the same data points over and over, so the client never has to enter the same piece of information twice.
Of course, there’s more to opening an account than impersonally gathering data. While it seems like a given that you would spend some time getting to know your client, many clients feel that their provider doesn’t know their needs or interests. A study from CEB TowerGroup found that “only 26% [of clients] believe their advisor even knows what their goals are, while fewer than one in five know if they are on track to meet them” (Source: CEB TowerGroup, Redefining Wealth’s Purpose—Centering On Client Goal Achievement, 2016).
By finding your clients’ quantitative goals and objectives, enabling them to participate, and tailoring the process to their needs, even at the onboarding stage, you can create a more robust profile for their account, which produces the added benefit of customer loyalty while generating word of mouth advertising.
The same study from above found that “only 16% of clients perceive their provider as strong at teaching and tailoring” but “in that small population of clients, 95% recommended that advisor at least once.” Since most clients have only a vague idea of what their goals are, or struggle to articulate them, you can develop tools and frameworks, such as a goal-based client scorecard, that will allow you to walk through the process with the client with clarity and teach them how to realize their goals.
The biggest issue facing compliance teams is keeping up with the rapidly changing regulatory landscape. The onboarding stage is the best place to stave off future regulatory issues. It’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to keep your firm ahead of new regulations and allows more effective KYC and AML systems to be put into place.
Conveniently, compliance and being vigilant about due diligence are necessary side effects of efficient client onboarding that seeks to know the client’s needs first. Gathering KYC data, creating profiles of clients, and using a risk scorecard are all part of a client onboarding process that takes a holistic approach.
This is also where the value of a digital system comes into play. A compliance dashboard can track all of the KYC data and automatically check it against a continually updated series of regulations and protocols, creating an easy-to-read checklist of red flags. This can save thousands of hours of work in the back office and allows the compliance officer the ability to spend more time and attention on red flags. It’s necessary to implement a flexible, dynamic system that can keep up with regulatory changes and enhance the client profile’s visibility and transparency throughout the process; a system that is both scalable and auditable.
Planning out a reliable operating model that creates a satisfactory client onboarding experience across the board (defining necessary data, as well as the ability to adapt to new regulations, adjust for each account and individual client, and scale) is difficult enough in the abstract, nevermind in its implementation.
Rather than consider the holistic approach, many firms and businesses will take a lemming-like approach to certain digital solutions, instinctually pursuing something simple, like digital signatures. Everyone jumps on board and implements it, thinking it’s all they need to do. But, be warned, it’s ill-advised to think that adding a digital signature is a fix-all solution.
Another easy mistake when considering digital technologies is to charge ahead without a clear roadmap. This often results in a series of cobbled together technologies.
Rather than wrangling together mismatched components of various systems, you need to implement an end-to-end client onboarding solution that incorporates all the digital solutions you need. Instead of settling for a combination of technologies and designs that aren’t optimized for each other, opt for a fully integrated, robust platform that can provide the best experience for the client, as well as everything the firm needs for documentation.
If you want to learn more about creating a totally paperless client onboarding process in your wealth management firm, download our Guide to Paperless Onboarding in Wealth Management. This resource will walk you through, step-by-step, how to get started in moving from paper to digital, from front to back-office.