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Taking on Remote Implementations in a Digital-First World

Al Chiaradonna, SVP, SEI Private Banking

It would be an understatement to say 2020 was a year filled with uncertainty. When the pandemic hit the US full force in early last year, we were all compelled to navigate a new virtual environment. The global wealth management industry was no exception. Most wealth management firms had plans in place that were refined over years of disaster response, but few addressed the effect that a global pandemic, which would force employees into isolation over multiple months, would have on their operations. COVID-19 made it clear that who you chose to do business with matters as much, if not more, than the underlying product or service you purchased.  The true difference and the degree to which the partnership succeeded was based on the people and culture with whom you were working, not the specific features or functions of the solution itself.  COVID-19 turned product features into a commodity and emphasized people and culture as the true value.

COVID-19 placed a magnifying glass on wealth management firms’ ability to adapt and confidently change in a digital-first world. Banks and wealth managers that successfully improvised and pivoted their service models to accommodate customers’ new needs certainly touted the “resiliency advantage” and were overall better positioned for growth. The challenges over the last year also put a spotlight on the importance of choosing trustworthy and reliable strategic partners that provide value and confidence to wealth managers looking to adapt, operate and continue to grow in a remote environment.

While a company’s culture of adaptability and autonomy was an important asset before the pandemic’s onset, it became a critical and immediate need as we moved into a longer term remote environment. Having a strong culture and foundation is just as important as having the right technology, which can make or break the best organizations. Cultures that lack agility and a willingness, and history, of not resting on their laurels and approaching everything differently most likely struggled as the pandemic hit.  Equally challenging was outdated technology, which made it hard to adapt to emerging solutions with remote functionality,

Consumers' technology expectations and definition of value have evolved in recent years, and the stakes have never been higher to deliver an exceptional digital wealth management experience. In addition to having the right technology in place, wealth management firms also need to consider whether their platforms are competitively meeting their clients' needs—especially in today’s virtual world. To not do so, wealth managers could easily miss out on the opportunity to demonstrate market differentiation, and worse still, risk losing clients to more agile, forward looking providers leveraging modern technology platforms that also ease operations for organizations operating in a fully remote environment. Organizational transformation driven by technology and culture delivers fully-integrated, advanced digital experiences for wealth managers and their clients, all the while saving time and allowing wealth management firms to put trust and clients at the center of their strategy.

As the days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months, it was clear that putting a hold on strategic initiatives and just waiting for the pandemic to be over was not a strategy that would succeed or help drive the change firms were looking for.  Firms needed to transform the way they did business while assuring their clients they were not alone in this unprecedented experience.  Customers were looking for providers to be more human, to be partners they could trust in good times and bad.  Technology allowed 24/7 connectivity and operational continuity, but the newness was in seeing the human side of business through video conferences and the unavoidable, sometimes comical, interruptions of life.  It became clear what really mattered were the people you were working with, not merely the technology that was used.

Not only did COVID-19 accelerate the rate of digitization in wealth management, it also changed firms' digital transformation plans. Pandemic realities created a need for a new remote approach to technology implementations, which would typically happen onsite and in person. In order to tackle this challenge, wealth managers should consider trustworthy partners with a proven history of success over economic cycles that could add value to their organizations through seamless remote implementations. These types of strategic partnerships enable wealth managers to respond to their customers’ demands with increased efficiency and scale, offer user-friendly mobile access, and enhance connection, communication and automation.

What does it take to implement technology in a remote environment? Courage, trust, collaboration and agility.  In many ways, wealth management firms embarking on remote implementations have found the overall process has increased productivity and accelerated the project timeline. This was largely due to the fact that employee travel and other “normal” distractions stemming from a physical environment were completely removed from the equation. Seamless remote conversions that provide personalization, an improved quality of work, and flexibility for wealth managers are a key business value-add and a necessity as the pace of digitization quickens across the entire value chain.

As digital transformation accelerates, consumers increasingly value personalized solutions, connections, and a sense of community in a digital world. For wealth management organizations embarking on remote implementations, consider the following:

Collaboration: Remote capabilities have made it easier to include more individuals in key discussions. Coordinate with teams at the onset of the project to establish a process with goals, phases and key milestones along the journey. Partake in regular check-ins and workshop sessions to brainstorm ideas. Collaboration allows the true value of partnership to shine through. Expert Tip: Turn video on….engagement will triple.

Adaptability: Change with the times. Be willing to undertake both procedural and technological changes. The result is an improved quality of work for activities previously performed in person with cost savings, increased time capacity, and greater flexibility in the project. Expert Tip: Remove “we’ve always done it this way” from your mindset and your vernacular.

Trust: It’s so important to lean on a trustworthy strategic partner that emphasizes reciprocal respect in the relationship when undergoing a remote implementation. Trust allows for true collaboration and gives wealth managers the confidence to successfully complete an implementation 100% remotely. Expert Tip: There is comfort when you accept you are not in it alone, let your partners help – there is relief in trust and that is when true innovation occurs.

We continue to forge ahead into uncharted territory in 2021. Whenever there is a significant period of change, its inevitable bumps will occur along the way as we adapt. The more sophisticated enterprises learn and adapt quickly, every bump is a learning opportunity – it helps inform the next task. With this understanding, it has never been more important to enable a culture of agility, foster collaborative communities, and hone in on technological and implementation capabilities. Last year, we learned a lot about the need for resiliency and the importance of picking partners for who they are and not just what they sell.   As we look to the future, embracing change confidently will drive success and resiliency for banks and wealth managers in the long run. Success in 2021 will be about driving change proactively, not merely reacting to it.  Those who think, “Why not now?” instead of those wishing to return to the days of old, will have a leg up on those who wait. 

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