The wealth management industry is one of the most competitive around; everyone is fighting for new customers and looking to boost their wallet share. It follows then that the service proposition has to be first-class and exceed expectations. That starts at the beginning with wealth managers and the onboarding journey. Alison Ebbage writes

If a wealth manager cannot get this right there is a high risk for people dropping out. Onboarding also serves as window to the soul of the wealth manager- showcasing what the client can expect in the future relationship. Finally, it also acts as an efficiency and cost reduction play in terms of a smoother process requiring less manual input and freeing up advisers and other staff to focus on more value-added tasks.

Speaking to PBI, Ian Woodhouse, lead wealth Management transformation and thought leader for Europe at Accenture, comments: “Onboarding is typically one of the biggest pain points for both clients and advisers. This has been a process that had traditionally been paper-based and so not only was it complex it also took a lot of time with the toing and froing of documents often advisers would spend time chasing clients for data and missing information. Because it was so manual there was also a high risk of manual errors and compliance risk in terms of AML and KYC. Plus, due to it being manual it was not a process that could be scaled and so the burden in terms of time was multiplied and so the cost to do it was high.”

In short then, it has not been positive experience for either client or adviser. And hardly a way to showcase what the client could expect once fully onboarded. No surprise then that attrition and dropout rates are so high that advisers are wasting so much time chasing bits of information.

Add to that the past two years of Covid, which has served as an accelerator of digital acceptance, an expectation of a better customer experience from customers, as they have in other industries.

Andreas Kamm, product owner assisted onboarding at UBS, adds: “Customers compare banks not only with other banks, but with any experience that they make in any industry. Hence, they expect an onboarding to be convenient, easy, fast, available, 24/7, digital and with the provision of offline advice. They also want to sign off digitally and in short, have minimal fuss and effort.”

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Throw in a younger client base that expect a digital-first proposition and wealth managers have a problem. They need to reform their onboarding processes to make them fit for purpose and meet client expectations in terms of speed, function and service.

Nigel Armstrong, head of wealth and asset management solutions at Blue Prism, says to PBI: “The combination of Covid and a younger client base has brought digital to the fore and the expectation is to have a personalised and omnichannel offering that goes through the client lifecycle from front to back. It fits into the expectation of both a rich but convenient relationship.”

No surprise then that onboarding can be a make or break in terms of client relationship. When done right it creates those critical variables for its maintenance and management: client loyalty, retention, experience, profitability; when done wrong, it can be very frustrating, cause fractures between the two parties and result in delays in onboarding clients, bad first impressions and caused clients to abandon the process entirely and go elsewhere.

So, what do wealth managers need to do with onboarding?

What is not in question is that over the past two years the Covid pandemic has forced change. Now that everyone has worked out that it is possible to do things remotely and digitally the task is now to work out what to keep digital and what should revert to face to face.

Indeed, Covid has brought out the desire to have STP wherever possible and this means minimizing pain points and touchpoints where possible. Admin tasks that tick boxes are the obvious ones to automate and deal with digitally.

Amrik Sanghera, solutions director at Contemi, comments: “Today there’s a highest demand for seamlessly integrated digital experience across all channels, that is fast, easy and regulatory compliant. From a client perspective, using biometric data, e-signatures, digital document management, video identification and digital consent reduces time and operation barriers significantly and ensures security compliance. Also, technology, automation and advanced AI make digital onboarding more secure – in times when security is at the forefront.”

From an organisational perspective, leaving paperwork, manual processes and workflows aside in favour of a digital model can effectively boost advisors’ efficiency, save time in terms of signing up and ultimately re-direct the attention to what matters the most to them – the client!

So how can technology help wealth managers’ efforts in onboarding?

Digitisation is obviously a big push at the moment but what does this mean in practice? Firstly, digital workflows can strip out all the manual and repeated data input and clunky processes in terms of process management. Robust processes remove issues like how to get data from several systems into one system and make it so that it is readable and usable. Process management also makes for data and information sharing to other verticals such as AML and KYC as well as the asset allocation and risk discussion.

Effectively this removes the need to ask for the same piece of information at different stages of the relationship and makes for better efficiency and less tedium for the client in terms of not having to say the same thing repeatedly.

Kamm comments: “Wealth managers need to make it easy for clients to onboard. Re-use of available data such as ID data, passport data, commercial register data and/or data from previous banking relationships can be loaded rather than typed in and shared. Digital identification rather than having to show an original identification document, exchange of (sensitive) information and documents in an easy, process- guided way in a protected environment as well as signing electronically rather than on paper are all doable and now required.”

Happily, there are many fintechs around to specifically help with this job.

Barry Carter, COO at HSBC Private Banking UK describes the firm’s approach: “There are many nimble FinTechs around to help with this job. We use Appway. It sits on top of many verticals and can pull data in from them and from external sources and crucially, share it as well.

“This allows us to build a better overall picture of the client and to share relevant data and information to other teams that need it such as AML and KYC. Good client profiling like this can create and form fill automatically and then produce an onboarding document that can then be shared into our CRM system and used from there. The key is that any solution must integrate with an existing core banking system and then be able to seamlessly share and take data from other areas.”

Being able to share data to other systems also helps the adviser at the front end. If the adviser is having to log in to several different systems, then again, that is a waste of time. But if an onboarding solution can feed into a front office ‘dashboard’, the adviser can easily see what needs to be done, how far along things, and where data has been shared.

Woodhouse comments: “There needs to be underlying rules engines to take charge of workflows and processes to that thing become as automated as possible and that there can be linkages through different workflows and systems. When it comes to the actual onboarding, advisers and wealth managers need the means to see how far along the process they are and what is missing. They can then look to speed that up and thus use the system not just for better efficiency but also to better serve the customer by expediating the onboarding process.”


But Woodhouse points out that can only ever be automated in areas where the customer doesn’t mind.

“There are high-value manual interventions and the crux is to get the right balance between automation and the high value adviser touch,” he warns.

Carter agrees: “Once you get into the wealth segment clients tend to have more complex affairs and structures that require specialist treatment and advice. For this it is always better to have help on hand and for that reason onboarding could never be an entirely digital affair.”

Kamm goes into specifics: “Diverse regulatory requirements to prevent crimes can result in a non-optimal onboarding experience from a point of view of convenience. However full compliance must always be safeguarded. In particular, for complex constellations, extensive amounts of information are required in-line with regulatory requirements.”

Clearly in this service-led industry the personal touch will always be key and perhaps a good way of looking at things would be to work out what needs to be kept to the personal touch then you can work round that to make it happen.

In an industry where the personalisation makes a difference then wealth managers need to give their clients choice. Some will be happy to self-serve, others want the adviser to sit with them while they fill in the forms – but what tech does allow is for greater range of options. This will become increasingly important as clients expect personalisation and the personal touch too. They expect their advisers to know them inside and out and this depends on having the good base layer of information that you gather at the onboarding stage.

Kamm agrees: “The challenge is to build solutions in such a way that they can be simple, fast and flexible to cater for the individual needs of clients. Self-service and personal touch are both relevant and should co-exist. Ideally, the client decides what he/she wants to do via which touchpoint.”

How then are things likely to progress going forward? Getting the onboarding model right in terms of the mix between the digital and the wealth manager is important, and compulsion should never be an issue.

Carter comments: “This is about removing pain points but also enhancing the overall client experience. Private banks and wealth managers need to share data between systems but they also need to safeguard that data and actively protect privacy. The personal touch also needs retaining so that the client is informed and engaged and so that they have control over what they want to do themselves and which elements they expect the adviser to help with. Ultimately the onboarding process should leave the client with the feeling that it is going to be very easy to be a client and that they are going to be well looked after.”

And Kamm concludes: “Over time, client needs and what is perceived as complex will shift and activities that we perceive as complex today will become easier tomorrow. Today, kids grow up with digital all around them. Tomorrow, their expectation is clearly digital. Yet, at the same time the personal interaction will remain important.”

The skill then will be to resolve existing pain points but also discover new ones that will emerge over time. The right mix of technology and interaction to provide the best client experience will be an onboarding differentiator for those able to align their processes, data management and the human touch. Doing this will make for operational efficiency, better adviser efficiency and most importantly a better client experience. This translates into grown and better margins – the things that all wealth managers are looking for.