WEALTHMATTERS CONFERENCE: Take Client Feedback Seriously, Speakers Say

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 17 October 2013

WEALTHMATTERS CONFERENCE: Take Client Feedback Seriously, Speakers Say

A large number of wealth management firms do not seek regular client feedback, a sobering fact considering that such information is surely an essential driver of industry progress, members of the sector heard at the WealthMatters conference in central London recently.

While businesses may pay lip service to the idea of getting regular comments from clients about how to improve the quality and variety of service, the brutal truth – at least according to a recent major survey – is that fewer than half do so in a systematic way, the conference heard. (That survey was contained in the report, produced by ClearView Financial Media in association with Barclays, entitled The New Normal: Codifying Superior Client Experience in Wealth Management, and published earlier this year.)

The conference, organised by ClearView Financial Media – publisher of this website – drew a total delegate headcount of 250 people, the biggest ever for a WealthMatters conference. Sponsors for the conference were Equipos, brt, Ossiam, Advanced 365, SPDR, MSCI, Vermillion, Finantix, KA Watson, Wealthmonitor; with support from APCIMS (now renamed as the Wealth Management Association) and ETF Strategy.

Wendy Spires, consultant at Bulletin, a public relations and communications consultancy for wealth and asset managers, and former head of research at ClearView, went through the highlights of the report, of which she was the author. One of its main findings was that, according to a poll of wealth managers, some 40 per cent of respondents had a dedicated client experience head. This leaves open the issue of what the other 60 per cent are doing.

“Wealth managers are thinking a lot more about the 'how' of wealth management as well as the 'what' of the expertise and capabilities delivered. There is a real ‘comparison culture’ today and that extends to high net worth individuals as well. They may be using a private client forum rather than a credit card comparison site, but the principle is the same. Wealth managers need to be conscious that they are being compared to their peers and other providers of HNW goods and services. I think it always needs to be borne in mind that HNW individuals may have three or four wealth management relationships in place at any one time,” she said.

“Wealth management seems to be a two-tier industry in terms of client feedback: 40 per cent of firms regularly collate both qualitative and quantitative feedback from clients. However, at the same time, 36 per cent of respondents said that their firm does not regularly collate client feedback at all. You have to wonder how confident these organisations can be of any strategic decision they make. You also have to wonder how their clients feel about never being asked about their views and needs,” Spires said.

“Gathering feedback is one thing but doing something about it is another,” Spires said.

She added that firms should learn from some of the client experience ideas seen in areas such as hotels, luxury goods and even autos.

Lisa Worley, global head of marketing, Barclays Wealth & Investment Management, said that the purpose of having client experience manager or managers is to ensure a consistently high level of service is delivered across the bank. The existence of such people does not detract from the accountability that individual managers have for their service performance.

“One defining quality about this business is that there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution for people. Clients want to manage their wealth in their own way,” she said.

As a head of client experience gets more data, it is important to play back to managers what clients say they are getting; clients also need to know that their views are being taken seriously throughout an organisation and driving changes, she continued.

“One of the challenges client experience managers often face is not having a seat at the executive table, limiting their ability to drive the voice of the client throughout the organisation right from the very top,” Worley added.

Cath Tillotson, managing partner at Scorpio, the wealth management consultancy, said: “The head of client experience has to have the authority to be able to influence decisions across the business, such as technology, products and services. They have to be the champion for the client throughout the business.”

“The head of client experience is the voice of the client internally at all levels in the business,” she said.

“Getting feedback from client can be extremely useful for RMs. It gives them an objective insight into clients’ views and can help them to deliver what the clients want and need more effectively. That is ultimately what many RMs are trying to achieve within a firm,” Tillotson added.

Alan Hamilton, the chief executive of Equipos, explained some practical issues raised by the subject of the panel. “A large wealth management client of ours launched an online service last year. The uptake was overwhelming, and the system is now evolving to include interactive online client self-service.”

“It’s challenging for relationship managers to spend more than 50 per cent of their time on client-facing work, he said. “When client communications and data processing are automated, relationship managers have more time to engage with clients in a productive way.”

“The vast majority of advisors don’t use technology, tablets and so on in client meetings, yet it’s apparent that most clients now prefer the clarity and versatility of electronic presentations,” Hamilton continued. He added: “High net worth clients are already banking online. They now expect the same 24/7 service from their wealth manager.”

Alessandro Tonchia, who is director and founder of Finantix, spoke about the technology issues surrounding client experience issues.

“We find that a lot of institutions are using tablet technology to make advisers more effective in servicing clients, but also to analyse their behaviour in the field in order to determine who are the best performers and what are their best practices," he said.

“Digital analysis gives you a lot of tools to see what prospects and clients are discussing, doing and requesting from their financial providers,” he said, pointing out that this is often a more objective recording of the voice of the customer than what survey will give.

“We recommend testing the business case for RM tablets to start with a pilot phase. In a few weeks you can get significant functionality in the hands of your advisors so that they can use it in client-facing situations. This will give you real-life feedback on acceptance, benefits and ideas for a more complete roll-out,” he said.

“Anything you design on paper without real-life tests is just `blue sky’ thinking,” he added.

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