Lee Robertson: Advisers should take the best bits of robo for themselves

Lee Robertson

I am currently away on holiday, having some downtime in the Far East. As we all know, however, not being at work does not mean not thinking about work. The majority of us are constantly seeking ways to improve what we do for clients. But if we take it as a given that we all seek to deliver technically competent, outcome-driven advice that is regularly reviewed and updated, how do we further improve on what we do?

What’s more, how do we differentiate from other established players and new entrants while continuing to demonstrate value for money? Larger vertically integrated firms look expensive in the main but, as we also keep being told, the robots are coming.

At the moment they do not look that different to mainstream advisers, with pricing about 75 basis points for guided or self-guided investment. Seems expensive for no or minimal advice, albeit with a pretty online user interface and decent user experience. That said, robo pricing will probably fall as services grow in popularity.

Which brings me back to my holiday and thinking about constant improvement. Checking into my hotel I was greeted by name getting out of the car and personally escorted to my room by a smart employee after my passport and credit card was scanned with an iPad. The paperwork I had to complete was also achieved in moments on said iPad.

I was then handed a fully programmed smartphone, which, as well as being incredibly easy to use and offering free local calls and internet, was stuffed full of local guides, discounts, maps, hotel and restaurant information. It even had the ability to speak to reception or the concierge via video call.

And all this for free. Well, not exactly, of course. It is obviously built into the price of my hotel room, which carries a premium pricing structure. But many would argue advisers now carry a premium pricing structure themselves. If not yet, they soon will do. Big brand direct-to-consumer players, particularly from the US, and UK bank re-entrants will try to position us as expensive but unable to keep up with modern consumer requirements, particularly around online and digital.

So, if we collectively take our excellent advice element as a baseline requirement we need to really think about client experience. What do our onboarding processes look like from a client’s point of view? Could they benefit from a bit of technology? No running in and out of meetings to photocopy AML documents for starters. What do our client communications look like? Can forms be properly digitalised beyond boring and clumsy Word documents? Can a native app deliver education and engagement?

I am not talking about giving clients smartphones like my hotel but with digital pricing falling rapidly in an almost inverse relationship to functionality, there is a real opportunity for full service advisers to enhance the interaction we have with clients. To pick some of the best bits of robo while retaining the highly personalised nature of our client relationships.

This is all possible with readily available, cost effective technology designed to simplify and speed up the processes by which we attract, inform, educate and retain our clients.

Lee Robertson is chief executive of Investment Quorum