Wealth Management: Building Client Trust in Times of Change
Business owners trust accounting firms with their most valuable financial data and processes. Accounting firms, in turn, trust that clients will share business goals, plans, priorities, access—and, most importantly, consider their advice.
Trust is crucial when clients are high net worth (HNW) families or individuals. Family offices and wealth management firms look after everything from assets and cash flows to investments and more. If a family office practice fails to build and demonstrate trust, it will lose not only valuable clients but also referrals—a valuable source of new business.
How can firms gain the trust of their HNW clients? Philosopher Baroness Onora O’Neill asserts in a fascinating TED Talk that “trust is well-placed if it’s directed to matters in which the other party is reliable, competent and honest—so, trustworthy.” By delivering those three attributes through 1) services, 2) technology and 3) security, family offices and wealth management firms will lay a foundation for building both client trust and their practices.
Offer ‘Sticky’ Services
Focus like a laser on clients. Anticipating clients’ needs, goals and emotions, and offering tailored services before they ask, are critical to maintaining and growing client loyalty.
In today’s digital environment, people want to work with companies that offer a one-stop shop for all of their needs. Investment management or financial planning may not be enough to satisfy them. They want services based on a comprehensive understanding of their financials—everything from income tax, education and legacy planning to investment management. If clients feel that they can outsource everything to you, then they’ll stick with you for a long time.
Your focus on client needs will reveal interesting opportunities. For example, clients who are active philanthropists will appreciate strategic planning, asset management and administrative resources for foundations or nonprofit giving. Clients who want to offer educational scholarships will appreciate help with fund management, selection and awards to winning applicants. Art collectors may have a need for services in valuation, sale or donation of works.
One great place to start expanding services for HNW clients is by offering accounts payable or bill pay services. Automated bill payment is a win-win, providing regular touch points with clients and opportunities to strengthen your relationship and provide more value to them. When your clients can rest easy, knowing that their bills will be paid on time without their having to do anything, your firm becomes indispensable. That kind of competence is one of the key building blocks of trust.
Demonstrate Competence With Technology
The world is now digital-first, with highly personalized, interactive content that is accessible anywhere, anytime. A client’s digital experience in other aspects of life engenders higher expectations of wealth management services to include on-demand information delivered with a personalized approach. Firms that are still running on manual processes and ad hoc workarounds risk appearing out of touch.
Finextra, a leading independent news wire and information source for the financial technology community, supports the idea that technology—including apps, digital platforms and artificial intelligence—is becoming a primary focus of wealth management. Instead of asking how effective or responsive a wealth manager is, clients will ask, “How good is the firm’s technology?” Finextra predicts: “In 2020, wealth management clients will gravitate to the firms with the most responsive technology.”
Looking to leverage technology in your wealth management practice? Start by identifying each touch point in the client experience with the firm, from initial engagement and routine communications to document sharing and strategic planning. Seek opportunities to automate manual processes, which will allow your firm to focus on value-added client advisory activities and relationship building, rather than tedious manual data entry. For example, some leading software applications—like Bill.com—help firms implement a streamlined, automated bill pay process that replaces a firm’s manual AP processes and provides a scalable new service for HNW clients.
In using leading automated bill pay solutions, each activity—invoice input/review, approval, payment and reconciliation—is tracked and has audit-ready trails for every transaction. Clients can easily route bills and review notes through pre-determined approval workflows, pay vendors quickly with multiple payment options, view and manage outstanding to-do lists, and more—all from the convenience of any mobile device.
Avoid Compromise—Secure Client Data
HNW clients trust you with critically important financial data. Guard it with the best security available. Some areas to consider focusing on include:
- Secure client account information. In bill pay, for example, keep all bank and investment account information private from vendors by making digital payments through a secured account, as offered by Bill.com.
- Leverage technology to reduce fraud. Every paper check your firm processes includes identity and bank information that leaves it more vulnerable to fraud. In choosing automated bill payments as a service offering, implement a clear separation of duties for payment review and approval. Automated bill pay can significantly reduce the risk of check fraud.
- Control access and permissions by role. Choose applications that offer role-based permissions and controls, particularly for transaction approvals. Dual control on critical actions should require a secondary approval.
- Create a cyber aware culture and educate users. Education is key to closing human error gaps. Educate staff on phishing, malware, ransomware and other cybersecurity threats.
- Implement and use a secure portal. Sending email attachments is not a secure means of sharing tax and financial documents with clients. A secure portal controls access and encrypts transmission of information between the firm and clients.
Grow Your Practice With Trust
Family offices and wealth management firms need to constantly consider the services and technology their clients will need next and implement upgrades before their clients ask for them.
Combining services, technology and communication on a secure platform will allow family office and wealth management firms to strengthen their clients’ trust and meet their needs while staying competitive in today’s technology-driven world.
Kevin Au is a senior director, product marketing at Bill.com. He brings more than 15 years of experience working in the high-tech, financial services and payments industries focused on product marketing, product innovation and corporate strategy. He previously worked at companies such as Intuit, LinkedIn, PayPal and Deloitte. Au holds an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management and a BASc in computer engineering from the University of Waterloo.