3 Tips for Making Your Investor Portal the Center of Your Digital Client Experience

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology, not the other way round.”
― Steve Jobs, co-Founder and former CEO of Apple

As part of our work to help our enterprise wealth management clients get the most benefit from their data assets, Ezra Group has partnered with Xtiva Financial Systems to produce a series of webinars. Our goal is to bring leading industry experts in data strategy, data architecture and systems implementation to share their experiences and best practices.

The third webinar in the series was called The Last Mile: Data-Powered Client Experience in Wealth Management and included panelist Sarah Rasmuss, Chief Product Officer, CircleBlack, Inc. She shared some best practices around building usability frameworks for application interfaces, ways to avoid getting trapped by vanity metrics, and how to better leverage investor portals as part of your firm’s digital client experience.

In case you missed webinar #3, you can click here to unlock your access to the full recording.

The Usability Framework

When building advisor facing software, invest in a usability survey before starting UX design. Both qualitative & quantitative analysis are essential parts of platform development.

— Sarah Rasmuss

User interface (UI) design has been referred to “a universal language” since it has the power to influence our emotions and connect people non-verbally.  The ability to design usable products that help people find meaningful solutions to problems is a valuable skill for any software vendor. (See Why “Build It And They Will Come” Doesn’t Work With Advisor Technology)

wealth management Client Experience

While lots of companies measure client engagement, most spend little to no time measuring the usability of their own products, probably because usability testing can be expensive.

A usability survey can enable an organization gain better insights into how usability impacts the product.  And as a bonus, when engaging power users in a satisfaction survey it can engender additional engagement and loyalty, Rasmuss noted.

Adobe explains the concept of a usability framework as a tool that is centered around the users who will interact with a particular product in a specific context. It measures the usability of a product or service by capturing and creating benchmarks of success for effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction.

Measuring usability can assist UI designers quickly identify what isn’t working so they can address it.  Usability underpins everything that makes an application useful.  An application with poor usability will block users from interacting with it efficiently.

The end users of an application have their own unique behaviors, demographics, pain points, and goals. Through usability metrics and testing personas, a design can be verified as usable or not. According to Adobe, they can also:

  • Track usability improvements. Designers can see how the usability of the application is improving between iterations of the product release.
  • Improve communication between a focus group and the design team. The usability metrics will help designers understand the problem areas that they need to address and how they can best approach the focus groups.
  • Better understand product positioning. Having a competitive advantage over similar products is necessary. Usability testing helps a product team focus on the unique value proposition of the product. It will tell your team if your product is performing in the competitive landscape.
  • Make effective decisions. The usability metrics will inform your team as you make strategic decisions about the product and services.

Digital Client Experience

Only 37% of investors give their wealth management firm top scores on their digital client experience, that’s a 60% failure rate. Leverage metrics to maximize user engagement w/ client portal.

— Sarah Rasmuss

These results aren’t surprising considering that client portals have stagnated when it comes to adding new features, information or educational sources for end investors.  A list of positions, account values and quarterly performance reports in PDF format is the norm.  (See The Jedi Masters of Client Experience)

wealth management Client Experience

Research from consulting firm Alpha FMC found that Client Portals are an essential component of a Wealth Managers client service proposition – not only in attracting but also in retaining clients:

  • Nearly 60% of clients login to their portal daily or weekly
  • Digital Service ranks in the top 3 reasons for choosing a Wealth Manager
  • 1 in 4 clients switched providers to get a better Digital Service

According to a technology survey by Financial Planning magazine, 89% of advisors have some kind of client portal. Although, we believe this number is higher than actual due to the nature of the survey methodology.

Client Portal is still a very common piece of software that is part of most advisor firms’ technology stack, but pre-pandemic, the adoption by end investors was very low, on the order of 25-30%.  Since the pandemic, usage of all digital tools by clients has skyrocketed.

In May of last year, Envestnet reported seeing a 78% increase in use of their client portals. In 2019, they purchased a company called Abe AI, which built a conversational artificial intelligence chatbot that Envestnet President Stuart DePina said they plan on incorporating into their portals and mobile apps.

Also in 2019, Orion Advisor Tech bought financial planning software vendor Advizr and some have speculated that this deal was driven more by Advizr’s client portal technology than their financial planning software.

Financial advisors are constantly navigating their environment to find new growth opportunities and ways to differentiate themselves from their competition. One strong area of focus is client experience.

A Charles Schwab survey of independent advisors reported that 57% of respondents see “demonstrating client service and relationship focus” as an opportunity.  The quickly expanding segment of client portals another end investor-facing tools are providing options for advisors to improve the client experience and strengthen their relationships across multiple generations.

Portal Visits Can Drive Client Experience

Our metrics show clients visit their Investor Portal an average of nine times a month. That’s nine opportunities for wealth management firms to personalize their Client Experience

— Sarah Rasmuss

Just a decade ago, most investors still looked forward to opening their mailbox and finding a thick envelope containing their quarterly performance report.  Now these stapled packs of paper are just dusty artifacts from an earlier technology age.

Real-time monitoring of portfolios is now expected on the client portal along with dynamically updating financial plans. But even these are now just table stakes in an ever growing group of features being provided by fintechs, mobile apps and robo-advisors like Wealthfront, Acorns and MoneyLion.

“Younger people want everything aggregated at their fingertips and they want it quickly,” said Brandon Hayes, managing director of Atlanta-based RIA oXYGen Financial. “They want a moving balance sheet and a cashflow analysis updated every night.”

The question is no longer whether or not holistic views should be made available to clients, but which core software component should control access to it?

Financial planning guru Michael Kitces foresaw this dilemma back in 2014:

Should client portals be built around client vaults, or planning software, or portfolio reporting? Ultimately, it remains to see where the winners will come from – or if an entire new software category for advisors may soon emerge – but for advisor technology companies, they may soon come to the crossroads about whether the purpose of the software is to be the engine that powers and manages the data, or the portal to interface with it.

Ezra Group Research sees client portals expanding beyond simple view only displays of investment data into active financial planning, two-way communication, meeting scheduling and education where clients can make updates, add goals and change direction. They can access educational resources like gamified widgets that teach specific aspects of financial management, apply for a security-backed loan or place cryptocurrency trades.

Until the “single pane of glass” becomes a standard feature provided by wealth management firms, clients will be looking elsewhere for answers.

We Won’t Be Fooled Again

Don’t fall for vanity stats when evaluating your Investor Portal.

— Sarah Rasmuss

Metrics are how we assess important aspects of our business, applications, and infrastructure. They enable measurement and reporting on key indicators and provide data for making decisions that improve performance, stability and overall quality or products and services.

There was a time that many financial advisors didn’t think they needed a website.  Eventually, websites became table stakes and were incorporated into company marketing plans.

And while it’s becoming more common for advisory firms to leverage automated software for outbound marketing and to closely track activity on their website, monitoring interactions with the Client Portal is often less well defined and more likely to fall prey to vanity metrics, Rasmuss stated.

Metrics such as Average Time on Page, Bounce Rate and content interactions are more important than raw number of page views, Rasmuss explained.

Another vanity metric to avoid from Insights for Professionals is social media followers. These numbers may look impressive, but social media followers are an easily manipulate metric, since they can be attracted through clickbait or even purchased. Engagement metrics that measure how people are reacting to what you’re posting are more valuable.  These include number of social shares which is viewed as an indicator of content quality, with Facebook rewarding posts that “encourage meaningful interactions”. Also, research has suggested there’s a correlation between these social signals and search engine rankings.

Rasmuss recommended that firms build a rich set of website stats including number of visits, time spent on site, and areas being engaged. Hubspot provided some marketing stats that will surprise you:

  • Landing pages are the least popular type of signup form but have the highest conversion rate (24%). While popups are the most popular signup form, but have the second-lowest conversion rate (4%).
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) drives 1,000%+ more traffic than organic social media.

Web data can be the source of compelling marketing stories, if you know where to look, Rasmuss stated.

One great way to look is by visualizing your data and then examining the underlying data relationships, advises PR firm Column Five Media. Some key relationship types are:

  • Correlation – This is data with two or more variables that may demonstrate a positive or negative correlation to each other.
  • Trends – Look for noticeable trends, increasing or decreasing, in the data.
  • Distribution – This shows data distribution, often around a central value. Distributions are useful for understanding the minimum, maximum, mean, median, and range of a specific variable.
  • Outliers – This is any data that acts unusually or appears outside of the norm.
  • Comparisons and Rankings – This is a simple comparison of the quantitative values of subcategories.

You can turn the insights discovered through the relationships listed above into compelling stories by knowing who you’re writing for, crafting strong narratives and leveraging industry best practices in your design.

 

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