Firm Ground - Striking the balance between efficiency and experience

Financial Advisory

05 October 2023

AIClient ExperienceConsumer DutyDataDigital platformFinancial AdvisoryWinning Advisers

Expert: Chris Jones, Proposition Officer, Dynamic Planner Facilitator: Gilly Green, FoxRed Insights


  1. Soliciting Feedback from customers needs to be done in the right way and with purpose
  2. Customers need to be able to respond honestly
  3. You need to care about the answer – the customer needs to feel that you have listened
  4. An answer of “good” is not useful if it is culture driven or the wrong incentives are in place (Boeing is an example of a culture where staff were driven to say things were “green” resulting in a crash)
  5. Understand the customer experience then act on it – it must result in doing something


Just asking if a client is happy or how a client feels may not be enough.  If everyone says they are happy, you should be concerned that you are not asking the right questions.

You can’t get clients to innovate for you – they don’t know what is possible e,g if Ford asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse instead of a car. One firm creates a Client Board by inviting 10 most critical clients for dinner, and ensuring the right people are there, such as Marketing, rather than the RMs from the firm.

Some firms use “Vouch for” and have found it really interesting – you think you know what a client would say, but the results are surprising.  There is an aversion to Trustpilot, asking too quickly and about basic services (e.g. parcel delivery).

The more touch points you have with clients, the more input you get. It’s important to understand where there is feedback but the hardest thing is to collate ad-hoc feedback. Record it in the right way and then make use of it.

This is an area in which one firm is using AI on an automated transcript (from recording meetings) to bring out the common themes, although we still  need to be conscious of the predictive element of AI and whether it is giving true interpretation of results.

Management information needs to be gathered and used within the following context:

  • MI could be telling you everything is alright, but the customer experience may be a different story – so measure the right things
  • What happens in the customer meeting (not what is in the Compliance file as MI) is what is more informative

A key challenge of getting information is industry wide, for example, platforms are not geared up to deal with customer challenges on performance or enquiries for MI.

No CRM systems are currently available do everything needed, including to support the data that needs to be given to the regulator.

One participant that was happy had built up his own data set and development based on Azure and has created essentially a “data lake”. Design was driven from the requirements of the regulator, but it covers all the different elements of advice and means they can report on everything ever advised and what happened.  It makes the review process easier and allows them to handle more clients per adviser. (See below case study section for more.)

The industry is very poor when it comes to data and what we really need is a sensible world in which data is exchanged for the right reasons between parties.

Segmentation is important when assessing feedback – Consumer Duty has driven/reinforced consideration of holistic advice, not just investment performance, for example:

  • Customers are individuals – but many are the same
  • Assess exceptions – if these are consistent, then need to analyse and understand if this is a segmentation response (for similar clients) or if is really an exception
  • Value vs. price assessment may be client choice related, or your choice for them
  • Segmentation should be on client experience in the context of services and products/solutions as well as assessed against value

Client expectations for each segment should be assessed against the Past, Present and Future:

  • The past can’t be changed
  • The present may need some expectation management and improvement
  • The future can be articulated with assumptions (e.g. of likely performance) and with examples – need clients to understand sometimes there is an uncomfortable period/journey

We also need to ensure assessment covers the why in each case, e,g: What happened? Why? What might happen? Why?

Discussion points

What is described here is a financial planning service based purely on performance/investment, whereas performance is most often a discussion on long-term performance, even in an annual review.  It is difficult to differentiate purely on performance (particularly in last 18 months).

Reporting from platforms on performance is very poor.

Consumer Duty is considered by some as a strong positive in the industry – it is pushing towards holistic planning – which means driving MI with details of what client did or didn’t do as a result of advice given and across multiple facets of advice and planning.

After a bull market for so long clients have become obsessed with returns and didn’t really care about what advisers do - we need to dial up what they care about regarding the planning and allocation to the right products and wrappers. 

The key is to hold on to the relationship and if advisers do that they will keep hold of the bulk of the money – it is not about trying to pay less and buying tracker funds – it’s about giving good advice that you can measure and report on.                                                                                                           

What does the regulator really want? If you can show what was the premise for any advice, show the workings and demonstrate what happened (actual outcomes at client level) the regulator is happy that Consumer Duty is being recognised.

The regulator has said in private that they are less worried about advisers than other market participants and they are largely happy with the approach as it stems from a good relationship with the clients and doing right by them as a culture in the industry.  They are more concerned about those firms that have never been regulated in this area (e.g. insurance brokers).

They are less concerned about the actual fees charged than ensuring that they are for something that is actually a service and not something that the firm needs no effort for (e.g. a turn on cash interest or on an admin fee of a platform).

Is it possible to scale advice and manage customer expectations? The following case-study was provided:

3000 clients (individuals) managed by one adviser is possible (others have a problem with 350) if all the systems and support is in place to report and engage the client on the right things. This means the adviser does not need to be constantly on the phone. Clients are engaged in a clearly defined and communicated process and are a lot happier to have a structure – their expectations are managed and the phone call becomes the exception, or when the client’s needs change. In this firm, clients don’t take up every annual review in person.

It’s about giving good advice and then trusting the systems and MI to monitor it, report on it, and to understand what was taken up and the outcome.

We still have lots of face-to-face meetings, but with better data and information, you can train the team to support the process better and be consistent with what the client experiences, no matter who is in contact with them, taking the focus of the adviser for things that are systematised. The firm has 28 admin staff (3:1 ratio), which reflects the focus of the tasks – industry average is approximately 1:0.8

Have a centralised process. Advisers don’t manage the money – the investment team are completely accountable.

The firm has 5 new clients per week without advertising.

They work on an Agenda concept, where they put out the advice structure at the outset to the client, which includes reporting frequently and access to the portal – chat is used frequently and have a responsive approach to hand off as needed. This has been popular with intergenerational clients.

Ad valorum charges are still used.

Not everyone wants to do what we do, but it is possible to be scalable with the right infrastructure – it allows us to offer a wider range of advice, make sure it’s compliant, supports a wide proposition and we are able to train the next generation behind the adviser.

Waste, errors and reworking account for 35% of time spent by adviser employees on average (from an earlier session) and the level of automation here has avoided this.

Where would one start to get to this level of efficiency?

CRM – hardly any of it is used – instead simplify with a hub structure pulling in all the data you will use and make it accessible to be able to communicate to clients quickly.  Don’t try and do what we do straight away – it took us 15 years.  Start with one area, we have been able to evolve to a wide range of advice.

Our firm has been able to create an environment for new advisers where all they do is go out to clients, do the fact find, suitability etc, and then they are fully supported with everything else (reporting, annual reviews, communications done for them in the background.

Key takeaways:

  • Getting the right client feedback is important - good feedback is less helpful than critique and remember that clients can’t innovate for you
  • Manage client expectations and understand past, present and future aspects of positioning with them
  • Good MI is important and collating client feedback in a structured fashion is difficult – AI can help here
  • Scale requires the right infrastructure (admin support and automated structured processes for the adviser, reporting and access to data for clients, MI
  • If you manage client expectations of the process (agenda) when highly automated they are happy to buy into it (including self-help to access data) and the need for face-to-face time reduces significantly