What is ‘client onboarding’ and why does it matter?

Onboarding is the perfect opportunity to provide a new client with a first-class experience – but for many it feels like an exceedingly protracted and purely transactional data-gathering exercise, writes Johnny Beloe, Head of Pre-Sales, Wealth Dynamix. 

Onboarding and the associated systems, processes and people are at the heart of the client relationship and represent a key priority for every wealth management firm.  

Increasingly, wealth management firms are focusing on the area of client experience and investment into digitising elements of the client journey. The pitfall that exists lies in how firms define the components of what holistic onboarding really means – and by getting this wrong they miss the target for improving the entire process front to back. 

What is onboarding in wealth management? 

Often the term ‘onboarding’ is used by technology providers to describe parts of the onboarding process, such as account opening or fact finding (i.e. KYC, or Know Your Customer). In fact, onboarding extends to a myriad of different activities, such as risk attribute assessments, document collection, document generation, internal risk assessments and signoffs, creating a proposal and validating suitability.  

When this misconception occurs, firms often implement technology that solves that one small part of the puzzle before later realising that they must find other solutions to cover the rest of the process. One result of these disconnected systems is the requirement for rekeying data – introducing a major source of operational risk and a significant restriction on efficiencies. There may also be questions around the source master of a given data attribute in such scenarios. The outcome of such a technology stack, all too often, is frustrated staff, high expense and unhappy clients.  

It is those in senior level operational roles that are generally responsible for improving client onboarding processes – but they are not necessarily those that are most acutely aware of the problems being encountered. 

Why does getting onboarding matter to the wealth management firm and end investor?  

Improving the client onboarding experience has become an imperative for wealth management firms, especially in an environment where margins have been falling and client loyalty among the new breed of digital native end investor has been reducing. 

Get the onboarding process right and wealth management firms start client relationships on a good footing, with a clear mutual understanding of the portfolio’s goals. Getting it right, however, is often not that easy.  

Onboarding matters to wealth management firms and their clients for many reasons. 

1. Greater efficiencies 

Onboarding is a costly process for wealth management firms and often a long one for the recipient. Typically, wealth management firms will involve many staff (working in various departments that may also be using several different systems) within the process of onboarding. Multiply these costs by the numbers being onboarded throughout the year and one can rapidly see why this area presents such an opportunity for greater efficiencies, thereby allowing increased capacity for improved client servicing.  

2. Differentiation 

As far as the client is concerned, onboarding can sometimes be a challenging time. According to Compeer research, in over two thirds of instances it takes at least an entire working week to onboard a client. 

Clients who are accustomed to excellent service in other areas of their lives can be frustrated by some aspects of onboarding, including providing the same information twice and having their assets tied up in delays rather than earning valuable income. Is it possible that far more of this onboarding process could be streamlined? Is the onboarding process a place where wealth firms can still make a mark?  

3. Regulatory risk 

Of course, there are other benefits that can be accrued from automating the client onboarding process. For example, some of the thematic reviews from the Financial Conduct Authority have focused on the lack of effective, enhanced ongoing monitoring of high-risk persons. This has led to subsequent enforcement actions, where failings in firms’ systems and controls in this area have been identified. The FCA’s 2019 Senior Managers and Certification Regime has compounded this issue, with the new rules enforcing greater individual accountability and setting higher standards of personal conduct. 

Summary 

In 2020, Capco conducted a sentiment survey across wealth management firms, focused on users of leading custodian workstations and financial advisor platforms. The objective of the study was to understand the user experience of advisors and end clients to capture their sentiment towards the various platform capabilities they use. According to their survey, Wealth Planning & Client Onboarding received the highest negative sentiment score when compared to other aspects of the wealth management value chain, with 30% of respondents viewing their onboarding experience as unsatisfactory.  

Clearly there is a recognisable need to improve the onboarding experiences of wealth management firms and investors alike. 

Available for download now

Our Defining Onboarding whitepaper is available for download now. If you feel your clients could benefit from a better onboarding experience, now could be the time to take some decisive steps to improve it for the future.

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Wealth Dynamix delivers Client Lifecycle Management solutions to the world’s leading private banks and wealth and asset management firms.

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