It is becoming less of a secret how important the client onboarding process is in wealth management, both to the business and to the client. In fact, according to CEB TowerGroup, 85% of wealth technology executives placed high importance improving client onboarding in 2016 (Source: CEB TowerGroup, Redefining Wealth’s Purpose: Centering on Client Goal Achievement). This is because they realize the value their clients place on the process – another CEB statistic survey found that 63% of clients would recommend their wealth firm to others based on an “excellent initial reaction” (Source: CEB TowerGroup, High-Net-Worth Client Experience Survey,). However, it’s one thing for firms to know that they need to seek improvement, but an entirely different (and difficult) thing to discover how to go about improving it. This article will provide some tangible strategies on how to improve the client onboarding process.
Data Collection and Management
The fundamental building block of opening any client account is gathering information. So 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’s a lot of ways it can go wrong.
Limit repetition of data entry as much as possible, removing redundancies and gathering only what’s needed for what we call a minimum viable process, which means only requiring the bare minimum of 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 and get them into the system that much faster. While you will want to make each client’s experience unique and tailored to their specific needs, you can save time with small, repetitive tasks like letters and emails by creating templates and outlines, saving time and allowing the team to concentrate 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 instilling loyalty and 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 clients’ needs first. Gathering KYC data, creating profiles of clients, and using a risk scorecard are 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 more time and attention to spend on the 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 transparency throughout the process; it’s both scalable and auditable.
Planning out a reliable operating model that creates a satisfactory client onboarding experience across the board (adapting to new regulations, ability to adjust for each account and individual client, scalability, defining necessary data) is difficult enough in the abstract, never-mind 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 it’s ill-advised to think adding a digital signature is a fix-all solution. Another easy mistake when considering digital technologies is to charge ahead without a clear roadmap, resulting 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 mismatch of technologies and designs that aren’t optimized for each other, a fully integrated, robust platform can provide the best experience for the client while providing everything the firm needs to document them.
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. It will walk you through step by step how to get started in moving from paper to digital, from front to back-office.