Transcript – Digital Strategy at Richardson Wealth

Sarah Widmeyer 0:16 

Welcome to Conversations on wealth, a podcast dedicated to helping Canadians navigate the complexities of wealth with a multi-dimensional approach to planning and wealth management. I’m Sarah Widmeyer, SVP and head of wealth strategies at Richardson wealth. And I’m delighted to tell you that joining me today is my colleague, Scott Stennett, SVP and Chief Operating Officer at our firm. Welcome, Scott.

Scott Stennett 0:42 

Well, thanks for having me, Sarah!

Sarah Widmeyer 0:44 

So we’re gonna have some fun. Now, we’re going to talk about the future. The wealth management industry, as you know, like many others is undergoing significant change as we embrace the digital world more and more Richardson wealth has a very capable platform today that we constantly evolve, and it’s our goal to provide the best experience and tools to our advisors and their clients through innovation and service excellence. Perhaps one of the major issues advisors face is the time burden created by manual administrative tasks involved in the day to day of wealth management services. We know that this takes away from their ability to service clients and grow their practice. Would you say that’s true, Scott?

Scott Stennett 1:32 

Well, I would completely agree. I think that unfortunately, as the industry is taking strides to improve the experience for clients when it comes to risk, the byproduct perhaps an unintended consequence, is that there’s a tremendous burden on paperwork now, unlike we’ve ever seen before, in our regulated sector. Without the benefits of tools like digital signatures, automated packaging of account opening documentation, this burden would be so onerous that our advisor teams would have very little time to devote their attention to what matters to the client; their wealth plans, their portfolios, their future objectives and goals. So it’s actually a really perfect storm right now of manual burden being put on the advisor community practice at the same time as digital technologies have taken off, and there are far more opportunities to acquire better resources than we’ve ever had before. I equate it sometimes, from an individual investor standpoint, to our just private lives experience today; it’s hard to imagine what you would do without your smartphone, when it comes to how you order food, how you order a cab, if you’ve got a home security system, turning it on and off, everything seems to be available as an app, and it’s made your lives a little bit easier. And that’s, that’s the process that we’re now undertaking within our own financial services sector is identifying these pain points with manual overhead and looking to use digitization techniques like what’s called straight through processing, buzzwords that are often used in the industry or robotic process automation, which looks at trying to automate repetitive cycles of similar activities. And we’re all doing it all the financial services firms are doing it. And we’re no different. One of the things that we think we’ve got going for us is that we’re very bespoke and specific to sophisticated high net worth clients and advisors that run those types of practices, meaning that we can be very laser focused on what we want to deliver and develop. And our smaller size versus some of our counterparts in the industry allows us to be very nimble. So we’re early adapters.

Sarah Widmeyer 3:41

I was just gonna say that, yeah, I was just gonna say that. I think it’s an awesome time to be a Richardson wealth because we can be that nimble, and that reactive and proactive. Not only can we be reactive, we can be proactive in the sense of, we can see where we need to be. And the larger institutions, it’s just like moving a Titanic, it just takes a little longer. We’re that little, ugh, little speedboat, well  not a little speedboat, but we’re that, whatever that equivalent of a speedboat is, we can move quickly. And I love that about the firm.

Scott Stennett 4:12 

We’re also unencumbered by a lot of legacy. Many of us in our organization, myself included, have come from other larger shops, and it’s not a function necessarily of us being smarter, it’s simply there are benefits of our size, scale and business practice that we’re focusing on. So our ability to, ugh, be nimble, from a time to market standpoint, is aided by the fact that we don’t have 100 years worth of old byproducts that are still being glued together with duct tape and similar. We can be very efficient at deploying things promptly when we want to. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now.

Sarah Widmeyer 4:49 

Yeah, yeah. So what are some of the key factors that we look at when we researched new technology tools to reduce the administrative burden that we’ve talked about, for advisors and their teams?

Scott Stennett 5:02 

Yeah, this is becoming a very new marketplace, possibly driven a bit off of the whole pandemic and putting people in positions to work remotely and leverage technologies in different ways. But what I see and what we’re doing as an organization is that the need-to-know partner, and that’s a really important word, partner with a best of breed service provider is the key to success. 10 years ago, for easy math, technology was just a tactical point solution, you bought some widget, and you deployed it on your advisor’s or user’s desktops and away they went. It was a single purpose vehicle like utility, a pen or a pencil, and you had this tool. Those were then. Today, we’re looking at using deeper, wider, far more reaching partnerships with best of breed worldwide, because it’s also the borders have melted away. The best technology isn’t always a domestic one, it may be, so what we’re doing is really working on partnerships that are like minded, that have a similar view of the upcoming three to five years as we do, so that we’re actually aligned, and together, that whole one plus one is greater than two dynamic. Together, we have the greatest chance of both succeeding, than each of us would have individually on our own.

Sarah Widmeyer 6:21

So I’m going to pivot on your word partner, the new world order would seem then is about picking the right partner versus the right technology. I’ve had some personal experience in this regard, as I’ve looked for, you know, the right partner in what we’re doing in marketing, what we’re doing in other areas of the business that I’m responsible for. But in technology, it used to be, as you said, about buying the right mousetrap. But it’s no longer that. It’s the right, partner. So can you tell us a little bit about the fidelity platform, and the partnership that we’re forming with them, and what we stand to gain from this transformation?

Scott Stennett 7:02 

Yeah, it’s a great example of, of a partnership on so many fronts, in ways that nobody else would know if we didn’t share with them, such as fidelity is a private company, run by the Johnson family out of the US. Our business has the Richardson name on the door, they’re a private company, they’ve both had tremendous depth of exposure and experience in the marketplace, the Richardson family and the Johnson family. They’ve both built tremendously successful businesses. In Fidelity’s case, they’re the largest carrying broker service provider that we’re using in the world. Individually, they’re far in excess of what any of our big five banks would be operating under, which is also reflected in their investment back into technology. So when we looked at that partnership, it included who’s going to be able to reinvest more in the platform? Can we do it better ourselves? Or are we better off partnering with someone who can invest 10 or even 100x what we could, and we in turn, get the benefit of the services for pennies on the dollar. And also, because fidelity is a global company, with a very large market share in the United States, the US does tend to be a bit of a leading indicator to what happens in Canada. So we get the added foresight of seeing where trends are unfolding. And being able to leverage those here in Canada, we hope perhaps faster than our counterparts do. So this is a real symbiotic relationship where we bring scale to the fidelity platform and fidelity brings to us this depth of digitization that they’ve put so much time and energy into. So it won’t just be a transformative event when we convert this year. This is why partnership matters. It’s intended to be a continuous improvement lifecycle for the foreseeable future, and we’ll really enjoy the mutual benefits of having their assembly line deployed great tech, and our advisor teams and select corporate members helping advise and prioritize on what gets deployed and when.

Sarah Widmeyer 8:57

Sounds like it’s a real game changing opportunity for the firm.

Scott Stennett 9:01 

It is, in fact, it’s also something that’s been unprecedented in the Canadian marketplace. So never before has a firm of our size, outsourced and partnered in the way we are on clearing settlement, back office operational support, but with a focus on really tapping into digital technologies. So this is unprecedented. In the Canadian market, we have seen similar actions taken in the US. So we’re certainly not breaking the mould if you look at broader North America. But it’s something that is a game changer on size and scale, a game changer for what we’re going to be able to bring to our advisor communities, and a game changer. Ultimately we hope for how we can continually improve our client experience.

Sarah Widmeyer 9:43 

Right? So how do you see our firm then continuing this innovation journey in the years ahead? We’re talking about you know, the present day and you know, next year and the talk about the future, what does the future look like in terms of this innovation journey?

Scott Stennett 9:58 

I think that a phrase actually you and I both use often Sarah is bionic advisor. And it’s something I just I love because we talk so often as an organization that we do not want to disintermediate advice we want in value, the fact that FaceTime conversations, human interaction is necessary for complex sophisticated client needs.

Sarah Widmeyer 10:18 

That’s our core value.

Scott Stennett 10:20 

It’s so important.

Sarah Widmeyer 10:21

It’s our core value.

Scott Stennett 10:22 

Yeah, and yet, what we can bring with a technology factor is meant to complement and again, not disintermediate, or eliminate any of that, so when I look ahead and look at where we’re going over the next, say, three years, it will be bringing more integration into our landscape today, our whole industry tends to still be fairly fragmented, we can have great combined tool sets, but they’re not all talking together as well as they could, which means that the advisors may have to go through some extra steps. And we’ve already said that our job was to unburden them from administrative overhead as much as we can. At the same time, you’re gonna see, in my opinion, more and more services deployed for the end consumer client, simple stuff. I sometimes use the Change of Address form, like things that they may have to call and talk to an advisor about today, if it’s easier for all, because we don’t want to look be perceived as downloading work, it’s if it’s truly easier and more efficient and effective for a client to come in and do certain things on their own when and how they want through our secure portal, then we’d like to start deploying more of that so that they can initiate if they want to withdraw some cash to fund something, they can put in that cash withdrawal request from the comfort of their iPhone, on a beach somewhere. So I think you’ll see more and more technology moving into the front end to give our clients some autonomy. And personalization customization is another one. Today, technology allows you to mould things specific to what a user wants, similar to how in your own iPhone or Android phone, you can change your menu, move your apps around, put them into subdirectories, or little folders, that’s what you want. That’s how you operate. Similarly, we don’t think there should be a one size fits all for clients. So more ability for clients go in and personalize how they want to see their information in a digital landscape, like our client portal, will just give them the ability to have an experience that’s truly bespoke to them, and optimized for them. And so those are examples of things that we’ll be doing in the years ahead.

Sarah Widmeyer 12:19 

Wow. So cool. So exciting. Such a great time to be at Richardson Wealth both as an advisor and a client.

Scott Stennett 12:26 

Yeah, I agree.

Sarah Widmeyer 12:27

So the last question, I think, because we’re starting to run out of time, is while we’ve talked about corporate scale, and advisor practices, the most important benefit of improved technology is the client experience, because that’s where the rubber hits the road. How does this help the client? Everything we’re talking about? How does it help the client?

Scott Stennett 12:51 

Yep. And it’s going to come back to some of the data integration that I alluded to where clients deserve to see in one place all relevant information that is specific to their digital journey through our financial services firm. Meaning, if they’ve got a wealth plan, they should be able to come in and have a look at where they’re sitting on their plan today. Are they overfunded to achieve certain objectives or are they trending to be underfunded? And that can generate some great conversations, so bringing more of those views into the digital landscape, bringing it front, instead of behind our firewalls will be something that we think can help and assist with the clients. Moving to some self services I already mentioned with address change forms and cash withdrawals, but there’ll be other things we’d like to add so that clients can interact. Today, it’s a View Only they can look at things, we think that the client would benefit more from having the ability to initiate certain things. And we’ll be expanding on that. I really love reporting. I believe that with business intelligence, and the maturity of systems today that do extremely robust and compelling reporting, including visualization of data through graphs, instead of just raw data, we’ll be able to bring more of that flexibility to the client. So they can see if they like a pie chart, they should see it in a pie chart, if they prefer a histogram or a line chart, we really shouldn’t tell them you can only view the data the way we tell you, we should be able to say we own the data, but you own the view that works for you. Lastly, something that’s very important when you’re looking holistically at a client is the entirety of their balance sheet. Today, we represent positions held or assets held at our firm. In order to offer the best service to clients, we feel that we’ve got to start helping them collect and be a single source of truth for all of their assets and liabilities. For that we’re waiting more for legislation to come through the Minister of Finance, where they’re gonna it’s called the Open Banking Act. And that will allow us to start helping with what’s called data aggregation where we can bring more of the data from clients’ other worlds into one place and then help them see that information in a meaningful way. And in doing so, we become their trusted center of influence for their overall wealth. It’s really challenging for us to manage it in isolation of knowing some of these other things, and I think that that will be a great experience lift for our clients when we can deliver that

Sarah Widmeyer 15:06 

Exciting. So we are in fact coming up to the end of our time, Scott, do you have any last closing thoughts you’d like to share?

Scott Stennett 15:27 

I think that I envision that with the rapidity of change in technology that we are going to be held to account to not only meet what people are expecting to see in their financial lives, but we’re now perpetually having to compare ourselves to all of these other digital experiences people have, I already mentioned things like how you use Ubers, or SkipTheDishes or even your online banking apps, the experience our clients are looking for are being set in part by how they do everything else, and all sorts of other sectors. So we’re having to cast a wider net, and keep our eyes on how other players are starting to deploy digital offerings and where they’re valued by clients, Amazon, great example. You know, what is it about that that makes that such a rich experience, and try and learn as much as we can from all those other alternative avenues, and bring the best of what’s out there into our world, it does mean that it is a lot more challenging than it used to be to try to pick that lane that is actually going to hit the sweet spot. But we think because of our size and our focus and the fact that we engage our advisors so closely in what we deploy, that we’ve got the greatest opportunity of success versus other firms that perhaps are dealing with a lot larger client audience.

Sarah Widmeyer 16:42 

Amazing. Thank you, Scott. Thank you. At Richardson Wealth, we believe personalized advice matters. And the all important adviser to client relationship is absolutely key. But we also believe in enhancing that relationship by fostering a culture of innovation and providing more touchpoint opportunities between advisors and their clients. This is what drives our bold digital journey. Conversations on wealth is available wherever you get your podcasts. Remember to follow us on LinkedIn or Facebook for the latest on wealth strategies. Thank you all for listening, and join me again next time.