Financial technology is starting to change the way Canadians interact with their financial advisers as new mobile players emerge.
Vancouver startup Tridus Wealth Management, which has partnered with financial technology provider Cassia Research Inc., is in the midst of launching an officeless, paperless, full-service wealth management firm.
By leveraging technology – including cloud-based back-office services for advisers – the firm is aiming to lower wealth management fees for clients by 25 per cent, says Tridus founder and chief executive officer Harry McLaughlin.
"Canadians are paying some of the highest fees in the world for financial advice," Mr. McLaughlin said. "We want to provide a more efficient operation that will free up the financial adviser's time and who, in turn, will be able to provide better customer service for the client – for less. The problem right now is that the human element is drowning in paperwork and compliance."
Mr. McLaughlin is still in the process of hiring investment advisers, and plans to launch the online firm by mid-2016. The platform will consist of a network of independent advisers who will use the company's risk management technology and portfolio management tools similar to a robo-adviser offering. But, unlike a robo-adviser, actual advisers will still be able to create customized portfolios for their clients that would include mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and individuals stocks.
As well, Mr. McLaughlin said, clients will continue to maintain a direct relationship with their financial adviser for all services, including investment and financial planning, estate and wills, and insurance needs.
Rather than a corner office, financial advisers will be given mobile devices – such as laptops or tablets – to use during client meetings, which can be done in person, on the phone or through online video conferencing (such as Skype or FaceTime). Clients will log into a client portal and the financial adviser will be able to guide them through their financial accounts including quarterly reviews and investment statements – all through remote access.
"The Tridus-Cassia Research partnership makes us one of the first in Canada to do what is already happening the United States, with wealth management firms becoming more cost-effective, transparent, modern and mobile," Cassia Research CEO Henry Bee said.
Investors will no longer receive mountains of paperwork, Mr. Bee said. Instead, investment documents such as the know-your-client (KYC) form and account opening forms will be sent electronically and signed through an e-signature.
"The biggest logjam for financial advisers is that they are working off multiple systems that do not communicate with each other," Mr. Bee said. "We're about solving the asymmetry of information between the producer and the consumer, and providing the financial management tools that until now have been only available to the rich. Put simply, everybody has the right to have a financial seat belt. It shouldn't just be reserved for the Rolls-Royce owners."
The use of mobile devices by financial advisers in their business practice has started to increase over time, although many investment firms struggle to keep up with fast-paced technology changes.
While 93 per cent of financial advisers in Canada use smartphones in their day-to-day activities, only 50 per cent of advisers use tablets, according to a 2014 survey of advisers conducted by TC Media and Credo Consulting.
That number has increased from 2012, when a similar survey found that just 37 per cent of advisers were using tablets.
Of the advisers surveyed in 2014 who use tablets, many said they used the devices during client meetings, when preparing for client meetings, for cloud computing and for remote access to a computer.
"The next wave of investors are not asking advisers to come meet them in their homes but are looking for remote access where they can still interact face to face but over a screen," said Shannon Lee Simmons, a financial planner with the New School of Finance, a fee-for-service firm.
Ms. Simmons meets 25 per cent of her clients through Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangout. For example, mobile interactions allow her to set up a split-screen meeting with a client and the person's spouse over a lunch break, without either party having to leave their office.
"Millennials tend to already have a higher level of trust when it comes to technology and are comfortable using online systems such as Dropbox and e-signatures," Ms. Simmons said. "But it really depends on the individual's level of comfort with technology and that can spread across all demographics – even with the baby boomers."