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Advisor Feedback Vital to Shaping New Fintech

By Thomas Coyle August 22, 2017

Technology companies that want to do business with financial advisors know it’s vital to get FA input on new products early on.

That’s why RIA back-office outsourcer Orion Advisor Services brought advisors into the mix long before it made new “straight through” client onboarding software from Quik an option on its platform.

“We recognized going in that filling in forms was a real pain for our advisors,” says Jeff Kliewer, who manages relationships with outside vendors for Omaha, Neb.-based Orion. But with the Quik integration and other tech partnerships, he says Orion relies on advisors to help understand how a given technology can be used to address FA’s specific needs for improved workflow.

To this end, adds Kliewer, Orion held e-meetings with a group of advisors — beta testers for the Quik add-on — on a monthly basis, “sometimes more often,” through the past year or so to the official release last week.

Though Orion has offered beta testers incentives in the past, Kliewer says it’s become clear FAs are eager to be “let in on the ground floor” of tech enhancements simply for the chance to make sure promised productivity enhancements actually solve problems as intended.

More, says Kliewer, as “the very first adopters” these development-phase users are ”really good advocates” among other advisors for the new technologies in question.

Gold River, Calif.-based Redtail Technology, a CRM-software maker focused on the wealth industry, counts on advisor feedback to sharpen its products and delivery channels.

Its mobile app is a case in point. Its first iteration, launched about 16 months ago, was simply a link to Redtail’s website with little in the way of standalone functionality.

“So frankly it sucked,” says Redtail’s CEO and chief technology officer Brian McLaughlin. “And the comments we got from advisors reflected that.”

Reading through “these terrible reviews,” McLaughlin says he and his colleagues understood that mere tweaks to the mobile app weren’t enough. “We had to take a fresh look and completely scrap what we had” with a view to building “a mobile solution that does everything our CRM does.”

The latest version of the app, unveiled last December, “was a complete rewrite, with new code, new language; everything,” says McLaughlin.

And, he adds, this roll-out, which has garnered much more favorable reviews from users, exists because FAs were frank in their criticism.

Successful tech companies thrive on such input, says McLaughlin. Within the bounds of relevance, usability, affordability and above all compliance, outfits like Redtail seek FA input to“push the boundaries.”

An outsourced technology maker can’t afford to be complacent, adds McLaughlin. “When you build something, even when it’s successful, you have to keep reiterating.”

Ultimately, the point of pushing the envelope should be to benefit advisors, says Matthew Schlueter of Phoenix-based Advisor Group, a broker-dealer holding company founded about 15 months ago when AIG sold its independent advisor unit to private equity firm Lightyear Capital.

With stricter regulations and low-fee competitors compressing margins, FAs and the firms that support them are eager to work more efficiently and in client-friendlier ways.

In particular, Schlueter says Advisor Group wants to work with tech companies that can help its advisors serve more clients at once. Fortunately, he adds, this push for automation comes as consumers are looking for greater convenience.

“Clients are now realizing they just want to talk to their advisors on the phone, or just use the website — maybe not for everything, but for a lot of what they do,” says Schlueter, head of wealth management solutions at Advisor Group.

Further, says Schlueter, Advisor Group believes this is an approach — call it hybrid human-robo — all clients find attractive, regardless of geography, wealth level and, with fewer and fewer exceptions, age.

In particular, Schlueter says a tech-enabled hybrid approach will let FAs reach comfortably down market to work in a large and possibly underserved segment.

But in the push to get FAs “out of the middle- and back-offices and doing what they do best” — that is, working with clients and drumming up new business — Schlueter says the right tech vendors are open and responsive to client feedback.