If you can find your husband or wife online, why not your financial advisor?
That's why Andres Garcia-Amaya launched Zoe Financial, an online matchmaking engine that hooks up investors with registered investment advisors.
A recent Stanford University study found that 39% of people surveyed met their spouse through a dating website — by far the most common way to find a significant other these days. Garcia-Amaya is betting that consumers want to find their other significant other — namely. their financial advisor — the same way.
"Online research gives people a lot more options, but often too many options," said Garcia-Amaya. "One of our taglines is "we reject 95% of advisors so you don't have to."
It's hard to overstate the impact of technology on the financial advice industry.
For advisors, the software for customer relationship management (CRM), managing investment portfolios and dealing with the back office, has enabled them to serve far more clients and by extension spend much more time with them.
And how is technology changing the client experience with advisors? In a word, profoundly. From how investors find advisors, to how they interact with them, to how they exchange information and content and draft financial plans, the relationship between clients and advisors is evolving rapidly.
Ten years ago, quarterly reports from advisors were still a vital source of information for investors. Today they're a quaint reminder of how things used to be.
People now have the ability, if not always the desire, to monitor their investments in real-time. They demand clear pictures of their portfolios and updated financial plans on a daily basis.
"Younger people want everything aggregated at their fingertips and they want it quickly," said Brandon Hayes, managing director of Atlanta-based RIA oXYGen Financial. "They want a moving balance sheet and a cashflow analysis updated every night."
Baby boomers and retirees increasingly want the same the same thing, and they want it on their phones, too. Easy-to-use client portals have become essential to provide investors with the ability to see their accounts, exchange secure emails with their advisor and share documents.
Large firms may build their own portal, while websites such as Mint.com and financial planning software like eMoneyAdvisor are being widely used by advisors for that purpose.
"A good client portal used to be a strong value proposition," said Garcia-Amaya. "Now, it's a basic requirement."
For many retirees, a face-to-face meeting with their financial advisor is a good opportunity to get out of the house. But for growing numbers of people, a videoconference call via the web does the trick.
"Our client relationships usually start with a face-to-face meeting, but it's amazing how fast most clients want to go digital now," Hayes said. "Whether they live in cities or rural areas, more people want to check-in with virtual meetings."
Advisors no longer have to worry about setting up cameras and coordinating participants. Remote-conferencing websites such as Zoom and GoTo Meeting handle it simply and inexpensively.
Danielle Fava, director of innovation at TDAmeritrade Institutional, sees videoconferencing growing rapidly among the nearly 7,000 advisors on the TD custodial platform. She recently posed a question on the firm's internal messaging network with advisors about the use of videoconferencing. "I got over 900 responses from advisors and almost 70% said they were doing it," said Fava.
Technology provides more opportunity for touches between advisors and clients. Granted, many of those touches may be machine-hatched messages from customer relationship management software wishing you a happy birthday or reminding you about an upcoming event.
Indeed, advisor Tom Powers, a principal at California Financial Advisors in San Ramon, California, said the greatest challenge on the horizon for the sector is "the growth of automated, formula-driven, less personal advice." (His firm is ranked No. 7 on the CNBC FA 100 list.)
BombBomb, a video email website, enables advisors (and anyone else) to deliver those birthday wishes in a personalized video. "Constant touches are important," said Hayes. "As the landscape becomes more competitive, advisors need to go with the technologies that enable them to reach people and connect."
Fava sees growing numbers of advisors using voice and video technologies to interact with their clients and deliver content on a more regular basis. Flash briefings, personalized videos, podcasts and even YouTube channels are now more common tools for advisors to connect with clients.
"If you can stay in the ear of your client, it's a good way to build relationships and to remind them that you're working for them," Fava said.
Podcasts talking about financial planning issues or investing ideas can also be a useful tool for reaching potential new clients. "If I tell a friend to listen to an advisor's podcast, it's kind of like a soft referral," said Fava.
Ted Jenkin, a certified financial planner and founder of oXYGen Financial in Atlanta, has produced thousands of podcasts and videos accessible on the firm's website. Hayes credits the content with raising the firm's profile and driving growth. "Good content can drive customers to make decisions," said Hayes. "It's a non-abrasive way to connect with existing and potential clients."
One caveat? The potential for cybercrime. Cory Robinson, vice president and portfolio manager at CNBC FA 100-ranked firm Tom Johnson Investment Management in Oklahoma City stressed not only "protecting client data from hackers, but also educating clients about the potential phishing scams and the like that seem to get more and more sophisticated every year."