Clients want great service. Does your financial advisory firm leave them hungry?

I’m spoiled. Yes, I’m willing to admit it. You probably are, too.

When I need to buy things like groceries, stamps, socks, and memory cards for my camera, I don’t need to go to the grocery store, post office, department store, and electronics outlet. Today I have my choice of big-box stores where everything I need is under one roof. It’s truly one-stop shopping, offering both convenience and time savings.

Pie by the slice or whole?

Such convenience makes us spoiled. We want access to products and services that meet our needs with minimal effort required. Service providers that can deliver what we want (i.e. everything) have a distinct competitive advantage over those who deliver only a slice of the pie.

account aggregation

Understanding where your financial advisory business stands in light what people want is simple. So answer this question for me: Are you positioned to provide clients with insights to their whole financial health, or are you only able to give them a slice?

Give them their fill

Whether you know it or not, your clients have increasing expectations of the services you deliver to them. If they’re not yet asking for the “whole picture” of their personal financial situation, they will soon. The capability of aggregating account data into a single source or dashboard available to clients is beginning to form a dividing line between advisors: those than can and those that can’t.  If you can’t aggregate your client’s whole financial picture, you give the competition an opportunity to attack your relationships with simpler services built on delivering the whole pie.

Account smorgasbord

In the past, clients really didn’t have an option to view all their accounts in one report. If they selected you as their advisor, they needed to move all of their investable assets to your custodian. Doing so gave you the ability to trade securities on the client’s behalf, download and reconcile transactions in the account, and generate performance and net worth reports from your portfolio accounting software. But even back then, accounts moved to your custodian didn’t always represent the client’s entire financial picture.

Now, most clients have retirement accounts and outside holdings that can’t be moved to your custodian for a variety of reasons. Until recently, you’ve had to ask for statements from those outside accounts and manually enter holding information into your software, or just chose not to monitor them at all. Neither route is the most productive way to use your time and resources.

Over time, account aggregation vendors entered the market to provide a partial solution to this problem by automatically pulling the data into your software. But advisors have been slow to adopt these tools, in part because it’s not always clear that the value of automating backend data alone outweighs the cost. Meanwhile, consumer expectations of convenience and accessibility continue to trend up. How is it that a cell phone can be used to set the house alarm, but my financial advisor can’t give me a way to see all of my investments? Is there someone who can?

If you don’t offer the answer – the whole pie – someone else will

Consumers have a growing number of free options to view all their personal finance and savings data in one place. Web software like Mint.com, Bundle, and yes, [unapologetic commercial message] even Blueleaf can aggregate information from a variety of financial institutions and produce informative reports in an easily digestible format. The thing is, if your clients use those consumer-only services, you’re left out of the conversation. Worse than that, alternative service providers like Personal Capital get to MARKET DIRECTLY TO YOUR CLIENTS. And yes, Personal Capital allows users to see all their accounts in one place.

Just desserts

If you choose to exclude clients’ outside holdings from your reports, clients will be taking a step backwards when they engage your firm. They already have the means to access comprehensive reports with all their holdings for free without having to move a single account to your firm.

That means if you want to remain relevant and stay a part of the conversation with your clients, the ability to aggregate all your clients’ account information is no longer optional for your firm. They value the “whole pie” view financial planning software gives clients far outweighs a single slice.

Bill is a CFP® professional and is a technology consultant to financial advisors. He writes the monthly technology column for Morningstar Advisor, provides technology commentary for the Journal of Financial Planning, and blogs at his own website, FPPad.com