Fintech apps are redefining client onboarding in the financial services industry. What does this mean for the future of investor-advisor relationships?  

From popular personal budgeting apps like YNAB to quick-and-easy investment platforms like Robinhood, fintech companies aren’t just raising the bar on UX – they’re redefining what customers expect from interactions with financial institutions. Instead of learning about an institution through in-person meetings or over the phone, most investors now begin their forays into personal finance online. 

As customers increasingly adopt a digital-first approach to investing, what’s in store for the kind of one-on-one interactions traditional wealth management firms offer? Independent and in-house advisors are unlikely to attract clients en masse the way that fintech services can. Investment advisors are focused on building long-term, meaningful client-advisor relationships — but modern consumers are short on time and patience. Traditional investment advisors also tend to have higher fees and require higher minimum investments than digital platforms, can they convince a new generation of investors that it’s worth it?  

As part of our series Perspectives in Financial Services, L&T sat down with Rita Cheng, CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, a D.C.-based investment advisory firm, to discuss the challenge of building meaningful client relationships in face of evolving industry expectations.

Cheng believes that advisors can leverage superior UX to augment their signature human touch, in part because some already do. By taking inspiration from cutting-edge fintech apps, wealth management firms can increase client recruitment and retention across generations.


1. Treat clients like clients — even if they’re not clients yet.


In a digital-first world, the lines between “lead,” “prospect,” and “client” are getting blurrier every day. For leading fintech apps, it takes just a few minutes and clicks to turn a curious lead into a client. According to Cheng, investment advisors can follow their lead by leveraging digital tools to establish an investor-advisee relationship from the first meeting. 

Cheng tries to resist thinking about interactions “in terms of the client experience vs. the onboarding experience.” Rather, she aims to make every interaction between the potential client and her firm a positive one, from the first website visit to the in-person consultation. “Too often, people decide not to reach out to a financial advisor because they’re intimidated or turned off,” Cheng says. A digital interface can be a way of beginning a relationship in a more accessible, less intimidating fashion. 

Riskalyze offers a set of tools that help advisors appraise investment risk.

Cheng takes advantage of the risk alignment tool Riskalyze to begin relationships with all of her clients, prospects, and leads.With a single subscription, she’s able to reach out to an endless number of potential clients.  “Every single person that visits our site has the opportunity to take that risk alignment survey and to view their results, whether or not they ever actually become my long-term client,” she explains. “From the very first interaction, I start to build that advising relationship.”  


2. Use storytelling to build digital relationships.


Fintech apps are pulling ahead of more traditional advisory models because they make financial services more accessible — and not just in terms of lower investment minimums or fees. They also make saving, budgeting, and investing easier to understand and to implement. In a recent survey by Blumberg Capital, 75 percent of respondents said that fintech gives them more power over their finances, and 69 percent said that fintech will help everyone become better off financially. 

However, traditional advisories retain one key competitive advantage above fintech apps: narrative. Though sleek websites and intuitive apps are great for helping clients and prospects understand and take control of their finances, they’re only as powerful as the narrative behind them. Financial advisors understand the power of storytelling because they apply it everyday with their clients, helping them understand how a financial decision will impact their lives in the short- and long-term.

Cheng urges advisors to remember the power of a simple story. “In my first professional job, I was a writer for a financial services newsletter,” she says. “My degree was in finance and East Asian language and literature, so writing and storytelling comes naturally to me.”

Now, Cheng uses those communication skills to transform complex financial concepts into accessible life stories, which she shares on her blog, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter. She positions herself and her firm as a source of digestible, practical insights and trusted financial advice long before her first face-to-face interaction with a potential client.


3. Prepare for digital conversations to become the norm.


Even in the digital age, a significant slice of the population will continue to seek more personalized advice and meaningful relationships. But Cheng warns that clients in the digital age will come with a different set of expectations than their predecessors.

“It’s very important for advisors who want to stay relevant to have a client portal where users can access information and services. There will come a point in time when even younger investors will look for the kind of meaningful relationship they can get with an advisor, but it’s not going to look like the relationships we have with our legacy clients,” she observes. 

As she sees it, younger investors are used to receiving information more quickly, and it’s up to advisors to step up to the plate to meet these evolving expectations. Whether that means a messaging app for conversing with clients or on-the-go appointments via Skype and FaceTime, financial advisors should expect a shift away from a set schedule of in-office appointments. 

One thing is for sure — the financial services industry is rapidly changing, and legacy firms need to be ready. Luckily, investment advisors are seasoned experts at preparing for the future, and the digital shift should be no exception. 

Author Cooper Pickett

Cooper is the CEO and a co-founder of L&T Co. He is a partner of Columbia Entrepreneurship at the Columbia Startup Lab and a 2010 graduate of Columbia University (CC’10). At L&T, he oversees a growing international team that works around the clock to get clients results. He has extensive leadership and team-building experience from his time as the CMO of a real estate startup. He excels as a marketer and strategist — qualities he refined and developed as the founder of e-commerce businesses in the sports and subscription spaces. With the founding of L&T, Cooper brings these strategies and insights to companies worldwide. He participates in Princeton University’s Employer in Residence program, serves on the Columbia Startup Lab’s leadership committee, and speaks on industry panels about entrepreneurship, marketing, and startups. On occasion, he teaches web marketing at General Assembly.

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