Advice in the digital age — where do you fit in?
Today's changing consumer is driving demand for solutions that harness technology, from the 'omnichannel' to AI. To be considered a trusted advisor, you'll need to change too
Date: December 4, 2017
This September, Sun Life Financial introduced its Group Benefits and Group Retirement Services clients to an important new member of the Sun Life team. Ella helps clients navigate and maximize their benefits and pension plans. She's caring, knowledgeable and optimistic, and she has client information at her fingertips.
But Ella's not a person — she's an interactive digital coach, now available online and soon through Sun Life's mobile app.
Ella uses advanced analytics and big data technology to present ideas to clients at key moments in their lives. For example, if a client's son is turning 21 and he doesn't realize that he'll need to consider his own healthcare coverage soon to replace the benefits he is getting as a dependent, Ella will prompt the client.
While Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa have been around for years, Ella is a first for the Canadian life insurance industry. Although Ella hasn't yet been extended into the retail business, Vineet Kochhar, vice-president of Insurance Solutions at Sun Life Financial, says, "Ella is a great example of how Sun Life is using technology and data to improve client experiences — which will ultimately help advisors serve retail clients as well."
He adds: "We believe in the power of insights and trusted advice. Sun Life is shifting away from a reactive client experience to a proactive one where we can engage with clients in a more meaningful way and along with their advisor, actively be looking out for their health and financial well-being."
Perhaps nothing has disrupted customer service more in the last decade than technology. Whether they're shopping for a gift, arranging for transportation, ordering takeout or investing, consumers have become accustomed to getting the information they need, when they need it, through their channel of choice.
"Whether they're buying a product or receiving service, they want it to be quick, they want it to be simple. They also want it to be transparent, so they want to have a full understanding of what they're buying — this is an area where advisors add a lot of value for clients," Mr. Kochhar says.
Limra, a worldwide research and consulting organization for insurance and financial services companies, noted in their Financial Services Evolution: 2017 Predictions Report that the changing consumer was a key driver influencing the future of the financial services industry. It stated that "the omnichannel approach will become the norm, and the experience will become increasingly personalized based on consumer feedback and preferences."
Omnichannel is a business model where companies provide multiple engagement channels for their customers, including mobile apps, social media channels, websites, phone communication and physical locations. Limra also pegged innovation and technology as key drivers, noting that data analytics will play a significant role in the future.
As more interaction moves to a digital realm, Mr. Kochhar notes that clients will still be looking for trusted advice, but how they engage with their advisor may shift from face-to-face meetings to online chats or video sessions. Regardless of how they connect, advisors will continue to play an important role in helping clients feel confident about their financial future.
"I think clients are raising the bar on what they expect from us," he says. "For example, if a client engages us through our website or mobile app to request information on term life insurance, why shouldn't they have the option to have their advisor aware of this request and be prepared to have a discussion with them about their term life insurance needs? This will build a more fluid, seamless and positive experience for our clients."
It's a viewpoint echoed by global management consulting company Accenture in its 2016 report, Future of Wealth Management.
"The days of one-to-one, product-led advisement are now as dated as yesterday's news," says Kendra Thompson, managing director and global head of wealth management industry services at Accenture, in the report.
The report continues, "No longer relegated purely to one-on-one meetings, a regular digital dialogue with the client (as well as advanced analytics to determine needs/patterns) is now possible. Frequent touchpoints, taking far less time and effort than previous less frequent meetings, provide for a new type of relationship and advice — one that is more real-time when necessary."
Technology is helping facilitate new and exciting ways for advisors to connect with clients, but "real-time," in-person conversations are still important, says Mr. Kochhar. In his view, advisors need to spend time getting to know their clients, understanding their needs, and recognizing how their needs will change over time.
"Advisors can help clients break down the complexity of the products into solutions for their specific situations. Helping clients in this way is invaluable and can position them to be their clients' trusted advisor, today and throughout retirement."
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