As much as technology evolves and changes consumer accessibility to financial services, wealth management firms say an app can’t replace personal connections with clients.
But they also know they need to ensure consumers know the value of walking into their offices in the first place.
As technology allows wealth management firms to commoditize products and services and drive down the costs, that’s good for consumers, but then “everybody starts to kind of look the same, and then you don’t have any sort of deep, meaningful reason to kind of do business with any particular financial company,” Ruh says.
Action Financial Strategies is focusing on recreating the office experience to be more relaxed, placing an emphasis on developing deeper personal relationships, Ruh says.
“We want to create an experience with the mindset of, ‘What’s something that we could offer our clients on the experience to the point of it almost being something you could A, charge an admission for, and B, something that almost makes them not want to leave your office?’” Ruh says.
At the New Holstein headquarters, Action has eliminated the traditional corporate conference room in favor of a living room-type environment with couches and comfortable chairs. On the walls are photos of Brian Ruh with some key American icons, which sparks conversation. Bradley Ruh is an amateur woodworker and is adding some of his furniture pieces to the room.
“We’re trying to do things that ultimately drive conversation,” Ruh says. “We can then transition into conversations about our clients and what they find to be interesting.”
The lobby also will have a makeover, including a full coffee, drinks/snack bar, which both surprises clients who come in (and may be the only place in New Holstein where you can get a latte) and showcases products of some local companies, such as a gourmet popcorn producer.
“Some of the things we’re doing don’t directly translate into quantifiable return on investment,” Ruh says. “But it’s a much-needed sort of emotional ROI that adds up to creating a knock it- out-of-the-park experience.”
Winch Financial in Appleton also stays focused on offering the features technology can’t provide. “We’re in a relationship business,” says Sam Winch, president. “We have relationships with our clients, we see them multiple times a year and make sure we’re meeting their goals with them.”
Because of that, the firm hasn’t seen much impact from the proliferation of wealth management apps and automated financial planning (sometimes called ‘robo-advisers’).
However, Winch is noticing some new, younger clients coming in and asking why they should pay 1 percent for financial advising when they can use a robo for 25 basis points.
“But what ends up happening is they want advice and they want somebody to take care of it for them,” Sam Winch says. “Even if we commoditize the investments and put them into a robo, everybody still needs tax advice. You need to know where to distribute the accounts, you need to know the rules of the playing field. People come to us for more than just managing the money.”
“You have to remember that (managing wealth) is very time consuming,” she says. “It’s great to have all these apps out there, and it’s wonderful that people are learning about their money. But after you get these apps, nobody’s there talking to you on a personal basis.”
Christina Winch, who founded the company in 1981, is a former high school teacher who has integrated education into her firm’s culture. The company regularly offers finance related classes at local UW campuses, and education is integral to the process of working with clients at the firm.
“Christina’s passion has always been educating the clients,” Sam Winch says. “The first step, no matter what we do, is we make sure that the clients understand what they have, the playing field of finance, the complexities of it, and how everything works.”
Staying ahead of the curve is more important than ever in a continually shifting digital environment, both for clients and for financial advisers.
“Everything’s being driven toward a cheap commodity,” Ruh says.
“What’s really going to be the business of the future — what can weather any advance in digital technology or AI integration — is going to be the business that really focuses on delivering a transformational experience for their clients.”