Jetting Into The Age Of The Jetsons For Wealth Managers

So many of today's financial advisors are stuck in the outmoded era of a Fred Flintstone, when they need to fast forward to the high-tech tomorrow of the Jetsons.

The whole financial services industry is famously resistant to change, and nowhere is this more true than at the large legacy firms that manage thousands of financial advisors, who are in turn managing hundreds of client relationships. A warship is difficult to turn.

But tomorrow's super-rich, the millennials, live in a wired world. And they expect their financial services relationships to reflect that. They want to see all their accounts in one place, and communicate with wealth managers via email or text or even chat. If financial advisors don't adapt, they risk losing business to the Robo-advisors of WealthFront or Betterment.

Some help may be on the way.

Last month, Salesforce announced that it is rolling out a new CRM (customer relationship management) offering early next year that is specifically targeted at wealth managers and financial advisors. It's called Financial Services Cloud. In comments to the press, Senior Vice President, General Manager of financial services for the firm Simon Mulcahy threatened to "fundamentally transform this whole industry."

That might seem like a bold claim, but there is something to it. While cloud computing is nothing new, financial services has been slow to take advantage of it. For many wealth managers and financial advisors, the process of engaging with clients around their financial goals and portfolios is a giant time suck involving reams of paper and administrative drudgery. As I write this, I am on my way to Dreamforce, Salesforce's annual conference. I am anxious to see the customer reaction!

The new platform aims to simplify paperwork and administrative tasks, allow advisors to see held away assets, and facilitate better engagement with clients, from any device, anywhere in the world. Advisors will be able to communicate with clients in group chats that include other team members or even third-party experts, like tax planners or real estate advisors.

"How do we help them, no matter where they are, generate massive amounts of relevant opportunities to speak to even existing customers who they only ever talk to so rarely, maybe 4 times a year," says Mulcahy. "How do we turn that into 20 times a year of micro moments? What that will do is allow you then to have many more conversations about many more different opportunities. You know that that's a recipe for success."

The platform is already integrated with independent software from Advisor Software, Informatica, and Yodlee and Salesforce intends to add further apps in the future. It sits on top of a redesigned user interface called Lightning that will allow advisors to easily customize to a particular client and organize client-specific tasks. With less time spent preparing for meetings, advisors will be able to spend more time on these micro-meetings with clients, helping them plan for the future, or drumming up new business. These are the things they do best.

Salesforce's existing platform is not customized in this way for financial advisors.
"Trying to take a plain vanilla CRM system and out of the box just use it the way it comes, it's not going to be streamlined and not have all the different fields that you might want to capture," says Mike Capelle, Chief Strategy Officer at United Capital, one of Salesforce's partners in the rollout. "They're helping you get down that path and helping you make some of those decisions that you would have had to go and make on your own to go, how should I customize this, what other data fields do I need to be capturing for clients and so on."

Salesforce developed its new platform with significant input from its wealth management industry partners, which include not just United Capital, but AIG Advisor Group and Northern Trust. These firms will also participate in a pilot rollout in November, while the product will be available for purchase in February. Many of the biggest names in the business, such as Bank of America, Barclays, Citi, Wells Fargo, Amex, Schwab, AIG and Fidelity, already use Salesforce products.

Salesforce believes there is a lot of room for growth given the outmoded state of IT in the industry and the emphasis on baby boomer clients. The company's timing is right. A 2014 survey by Ovum Research suggests that the financial industry is finally more open to adopting cloud solutions because of improved security and a greater variety of options on the market. Analysts at research firm Technavio forecast 25 percent annual growth in cloud computing used by financial services firms from 2013 through 2018.

Financial Services Cloud will be free to all existing Salesforce customers, which include many of the biggest names in the business, such as Bank of America, Barclays, Citi, Wells Fargo, Amex, Schwab, AIG and Fidelity. But the company believes there is a lot of room for growth given the outmoded state of IT in the industry and the emphasis on baby boomer clients.

"This is not just lipstick, or an interesting capability for the last twenty, thirty years, this is designing wealth management for the next generation," says Mulcahy. Now let's see if the next generation agrees with him.