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Data integration is key both for gaining new insights and automating manual tasks, one expert says.Just_Super/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

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Advisors and their dealer firms need to prioritize technology efforts this year to streamline their business processes better, industry observers say.

Kendra Thompson, partner and national leader for Deloitte Canada’s Future of Advice and Investment practice in Toronto, says technology will enable forward-thinking advisors to create a more joined-up experience for clients this year.

“We currently have advisor portals or gateways into discrete, disconnected tools,” she says. “What will make a major difference are more integrated and tailored sets of technologies that guide the conversations and the work advisors partake in every day.”

Sharing data between these tools will give advisors better insights into their own businesses while supporting everyday workflows better, Ms. Thompson says.

Dealers that are in a position to provide that technology are already addressing the issue.

“The most important piece for me is a strong, independent data lake that the dealer controls,” says Leonard Trigg, chief technology officer at Vancouver-based Harbourfront Wealth Management Inc., which serves 58 advisors nationwide. “It allows you to control your destiny and layer solutions on top of it.”

A data lake is a single large pool of digital information harvested from advisors’ disparate software tools, offering a view of everything that’s happening across the practice from appointment booking and client communication to financial planning and investment activities. By the end of June, Harbourfront will have rolled out a new data lake based on Fabric, a new product from Microsoft Corp.

Why automation matters

Data integration is key both for gaining new insights about an advisor’s performance and in automating manual tasks, Mr. Trigg says, adding this will be the big goal for many advisors this year.

“You don’t want to have your staff filling out forms in DocuSign when those data already exist in the data lake and can be pre-filled,” he explains. “You don’t want your clients to e-mail you 10 times to book an appointment when they can book it themselves inside a modern client portal.”

Multiple tools, from customer relationship management (CRM) to marketing systems, can use integrated data to automate manual activities, including onboarding. Other tools ranging from social media marketing software to portfolio management and financial planning applications can also benefit from these data.

Mr. Trigg sees the drive for better automation and a smoother client experience fuelling upgrades to the software tools that produce these all-important data.

“We see some advisors using modern financial planning tools such as Conquest, which is more of a web-based, two-way financial planning platform,” he says, adding that modern web-based experiences are becoming more important to clients.

“You’re seeing more interest from clients in real-time portals or apps, and a great experience that also includes the financial planning components in it,” he notes.

Harbourfront is also rolling out its own portal based on Salesforce Inc.’s CRM platform, serving both advisors and their clients. It will let advisors tailor the client experience, customizing the information they publish on the portal based on their clients’ demographics and interests.

For example, one advisory team might want to publish information on how they’re giving back to the community while another might want to focus on practical advice for business owners.

Customized client experiences extend beyond marketing content, Mr. Trigg adds. “It’s also the financial planning content and the file sharing because you’ll have different needs for one set of clients and advisors than the other. You don’t want a one-size-fits-all experience.”

Those who don’t serve others further down the value chain with the technology to fit their needs could see them take matters into their own hands. Harbourfront’s forthcoming portal will replace the one provided by its custodian bank that didn’t fit its needs. “We’re not beholden to the custodian,” Mr. Trigg says.

Emergence of generative AI

After integration and automation, artificial intelligence (AI) is the third technology area Harbourfront is eyeing in 2024. Generative AI, which creates new content in response to natural language queries, has excited the tech sector since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022. This tech is slowly beginning to trickle into everyday investor activities.

This year, Harbourfront will test generative AI via Copilot, a set of digital assistants built into Microsoft’s products and powered by OpenAI. Advisors who also have access to the Microsoft Power BI data visualization tool will be able to ask natural language questions.

“You can go in and ask the system, ‘Show the top 10 clients in asset size that don’t interact with my marketing material,’” Mr. Trigg says. “It’s very much being able to see that in real-world language.”

Rob McClelland, vice president, senior financial planning advisor and co-branch owner of The McClelland Financial Group at Assante Capital Management Ltd. in Thornhill, Ont., is already using generative AI extensively for marketing activities.

“We need a lot of content and that’s where ChatGPT has played a role,” he says, noting the generative AI tool suggests extra talking points to flesh out his discussions.

“Our client service team has also started to use it,” he adds. “If they need to send a letter about something, they’re able to go and chat [with the AI] and get at least a format of what that letter might look like.”

Mr. McClelland’s practice is still only using a fraction of generative AI’s capabilities, but he has asked every team member to experiment with the technology to evaluate its capabilities.

AI will take longer to catch on than the data integration and automation that will take centre stage this year, says Deloitte’s Ms. Thompson. In the meantime, advisors must get tech-savvy.

“It’s a really important time for advisors to advocate for themselves and their needs, and to identify the things that will have the highest impact on client satisfaction,” she notes.

Proper feedback will help their dealers and product vendors create technology toolsets that help them as they focus the lens on the client experience in 2024.

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