“We are surrounded by data, but starved for insights.”
— Jay Baer, marketing and customer experience expert
We’re in an era of data generation unlike any that’s existed before. Computers have become ubiquitous in their role to capture and analyze every piece of information about us, which is leveraged to shapes our future actions. Those actions are again captured, recorded and analyzed, perpetuating the cycle of data gathering, cleaning, converting, examining and utilizing.
For most of us, it’s almost impossible to avoid generating data during our daily lie. And even though more data is being created, its value of data continues to increase. The data industry will be worth almost $300 billion in just four years, according to one estimation. That’s more than the entire GDP of Finland.
In the coming year, the global average number of devices and connections per capita is expected to reach 3.6, according to Cisco’s 2020 global forecast of internet usage. The U.S. will be the category leader with an average of 13.6 connected devices per person!
But data growth doesn’t mean data used. The global business intelligence adoption rate, across all organizations, is just 25%. That’s painfully low, and a lot of data is not being used by anyone, including wealth management executives. In short, it’s useful information that’s being dumped down the drain.
Even though enhanced data strategies have become table stakes for wealthtech vendors, few have a complete picture of their data. It’s a massive roadblock for wealth management enterprises that are trying to provide insights like enhanced reporting and analytics. An incomplete data map can even delay the deployment of new platforms.
Companies urgently need better data implementation and analytics for managing and optimizing their business processes. At Ezra Group, we see bad data holding up platform implementations all the time, simply because the firm’s data architecture has deteriorated over the years and across multiple acquisitions or mergers. Sometimes no one in the organization is quite sure how all the pieces fit together.
As part of our work to help executives and advisors get the most from their data assets, Ezra Group has partnered with Xtiva Financial Systems to produce a series of webinars on data management.
Our goal is to bring leading industry experts in data strategy, data architecture and systems implementation to share their experiences and best practices. The sixth installment in our webinar series was called “Changing The Game: How Executives Can Level Up Advisors With Better Data” and it included panelist Jamie Loughery, Regional President of BMO Wealth Management.
He shared how ongoing attention to data and analytics can help elevate an advisor’s ability to serve clients, how data is being used to predict client actions and life events—before they even happen—and why executives and advisors should aim for customized standardization in the business intelligence available to them.
Data is Your Advisory Team’s Employee of the Month
In order to fully utilize the data available to them, businesses need new models for how they decode data and place it into context, according to Loughery. He likes to think about data as an advisor’s teammate and a valuable contributor to the success of the overall team.
But success does not come easy. Executives must build a well-defined plan to integrate data into advisors’ daily workflows. Ezra Group has helped many wealth management firms to better understand their data requirements, the specific data that supports each key workflow and how to best deploy their data assets to support the business.
Most executives would prefer that their data was available to advisors on a daily basis, Loughery observed. To accomplish that, firms need to be thoughtful with their data—not just what data they use, but when and how they use it. It’s data viewed through a practice management lens: to ensure that advisors can work with data, make sure the data is functional and available seamlessly and does not require an extra step to access.
A recent study from McKinsey & Company noted that firms are paying dearly for relying on legacy IT systems and outdated workflows, with their byzantine mazes of manual inputs and overly complicated spreadsheets. Among surveyed wealth management firms, the report concluded that relationship managers typically spend 60-70% of their time performing non-revenue-generating activities.
The laundry list of systemic problems contributing to underutilized data sounds all-too-familiar to wealth management executives:
- firms don’t have a unified platform
- too much manual work is required for effective data processing
- nonexistent pre-advisory customer risk analysis procedures, and
- lack of integrated research platforms to provide investment recommendations across asset classes.
Simple solutions do exist, said Loughery. One way to make data a teammate, instead of a productivity vampire, is by providing advisors with a modern data dashboard.
Start with five or six things that boost advisor productivity, he said. Can they be added to a dashboard? Can they be arranged in a fashion where they would help an advisor meet his or her daily objectives? Will adding these elements to a dashboard make the advisor faster in response to something or able to finish a task more quickly? If the answer to even one of these questions is “Yes,” then executives should start thinking about how to make that factor a teammate to advisors.
Making Data Useful
One of the most useful aspects of data, decoded and analyzed, is its ability to predict patterns. Advisors can use the patterns surfaced by a firm’s data and analysis to provide helpful information to clients, said Loughery. But a one-size-fits-all approach to predictive analytics can create problems, he warns. Advisors are in the relationship business and need to be mindful of the power they have at their fingertips.
Ten years ago, retail chain Target revealed it had developed an algorithm that could predict which shoppers might be pregnant—even before they told anyone else. In one case, the predictions were so good that Target knew a teenage customer was pregnant before their father found out.
Initially, the father became angry with the local Target, demanded to see a manager (who apologized for the advertising mailers that implied the father’s daughter was pregnant) and the father went on to warn the manager about the store taking its advertising too far. However, when the manager followed up with the father, the manager learned that it was the father who had been wrong: his daughter was indeed pregnant.
But the story doesn’t end there. When the story became public, Target realized its data capabilities had the potential to produce “a public-relations disaster,” according to the report. Even though Target had nailed its data and analytics, it wasn’t fully accounting for how its business intelligence might affect customer relationships and their attitude about the store.
Similarly, advisors need to be prudent about how they use the data they have. Identifying an advising opportunity, whether it is a life or business event, is just step one. Every opportunity needs to fit into an advisor’s practice in an unobtrusive, yet actionable, way. True ROI from data investments is measured in efficient outcomes, which still factor in the relationship advisors have with their clients, Loughery said.
Balance sheet data is one example of business intelligence providing advisors with useful predictive information, cited by Loughery. Market and financial indicators suggested a client was preparing to sell a business, an algorithmically-deduced insight shared on the advisor’s dashboard. The advisor reached out to the client and was able to provide her with advice around the transaction, even as the client continued the sale.
Be Flexible and Intentional
Data providers need to allow for some degree of platform flexibility when sharing business intelligence insights, said Loughery. His firm, BMP Wealth Management serves many advisor practices and they realize that blindly pushing out reports isn’t helpful. Advisors know what works for their clients and being force-fed data from the home office doesn’t account for nuances, he pointed out.
Customization necessitates collaboration and partnership across the organization. Advisors and executives need to work together within the book-of-record data they both rely on.
Advisors tend to skew towards over customization of their processes, Loughery observed. But stray too far down the road of custom insights, unique workflows and down-to-the-pixel tailoring for each and every client, and your scalability and profitability will be at risk.
Executives, on the other hand, can fall prey to excessively generic workflows. Pushing out standardized business intelligence—based on easily gathered customer data—risks turning your practice into an undifferentiated and uncompetitive wealth management firm.
Firms looking for their business intelligence sweet spot should be excruciatingly intentional about each and every time they ask clients for information, said Loughery. Focusing on the point of data collection makes subsequent analysis and insight conversion far easier to manage. It’s an anticipatory approach that helps minimize errors, often introduced by inconsistent workflows between lines of business.
With more and more data and data providers to choose from, picking and analyzing the right data is increasingly important. Executives can help their advisors by optimizing the insights they provide about the advisor-client relationship. Powerful business intelligence, produced by detailed analysis of carefully gathered data, should give advisors the insights they need to focus on their clients.
In case you missed this webinar, you can click here to unlock your access to the full recording.