Today's financial services (FS) firms are operating in a difficult environment. The spread that money managers, financial advisers and lenders can command has been going down for more than 20 years, putting considerable pressure on revenues, says Winnie Palmer, EMEA head of marketing at Seismic.

Compounding this challenging trading environment is the increased expectation from modern clients who demand personalised experiences and access to bespoke information digitally at any time convenient to them.

For example, research from McKinsey shows that more than two-thirds of buyers now favour remote human interactions and digital self-service across all stages of the sales journey.

These external factors are putting pressure on FS firms to commit resources to becoming more digitally driven. Many have embarked on a digital transformation journey, leveraging technologies and data to strengthen their operational efficiency. Some have gone one step further, adapting processes and tools that fundamentally transform how they go to market. 

So, as we look to the ahead, what are the big trends for FS firms? How can digital transformation deliver the desired impact to help them effectively compete to win?

1. Streamlined operations

Digital transformation that focuses on digitalising data processes and automation can help FS firms boost productivity, reduce costs, and improve compliance. For example, centralised data processes enable FS firms to update information quickly and accurately in a compliant fashion.

A wide range of assets including quarterly reports, fact sheets and client follow-up meetings can all be driven from a single source of truth with a streamlined approval process. At the same time, native system integrations across sales content, training, coaching and CRM tools will deliver a frictionless user experience, in turn increasing employee productivity and reducing the tech debt. 

These operational efficiency improvements can then be supplemented by the data insights a centralised, integrated platform can provide. Artificial intelligence and machine learning can help identify patterns, behaviours and new revenue opportunities from datasets that are too large for humans to process.

For example, content engagement analytics can give FS firms access to tangible insights into the effectiveness of each content piece. They can see what's working and what isn't, where clients are spending the most time, and which content resonates with certain client profiles at certain points of the client lifecycle. This allows FS firms to understand the impact of different types of content and adjust their approach accordingly.

2. Compelling client experiences

Millennials and Generation Z want to engage with financial advisors in different ways than their parents. This generally comes down to more dynamic interactions, personal connections, and online communications. Improving client engagement through the delivery of a digital-first experience is therefore vital to meeting the needs and expectations of modern clients. 

Financial advisors can now tap into content engagement data to understand how, when and where clients are engaging with specific types of content. In turn, this enables them to tailor interactions to provide a more personalised omnichannel experience across email, digital sales rooms, social media and/or in-person meetings as part of a more agile and responsive service.

Digital platforms can arm money managers with the insights and recommendations they need to build meaningful relationships with modern clients in today's crowded landscape.

Most importantly, they can help build trust. With the ability to engage clients in the right online spaces at the right time with content that is tailored to their needs and situation, financial advisors will be able to position themselves as an expert who understands their clients' specific concerns.

This will be vital to building long-term relationships with the digitally native generations that are set to inherit their parents' wealth over the coming years. And, thanks to the power of intelligent automation, this personalisation process can be streamlined to save financial advisors significant time and effort without risking compliance.

3. Engaged and performing teams

The final step involves fostering a culture of continuous learning and development. This must always supplement technology transformation - it's what will truly differentiate FS firms and their advisors from the competition.

To improve learning speed and knowledge retention, FS firms need platforms that make learning available on demand through the delivery of timely and data-informed in-the-moment coaching and training. This will empower financial advisors to perfect their crafts and deliver the engaging, differentiated experiences that clients have come to expect.

For example, this could include interactive lessons with embedded practice sessions and playbooks based on real-world scenarios or certain types of client interactions. Or it could include ongoing guidance that is personalised based on performance and optimised through analytics. Providing recommendations on what to do, say and show at specific stages of the engagement cycle will help financial advisors make an impact and build more effective client relationships.

The competitive and complex nature of the FS landscape means firms must give their teams the support they need to really make a difference. By establishing a learning culture powered by an easy-to-use training and coaching system, firms can not only ensure that every advisor has the necessary knowledge, but also that they are empowered to continuously improve specific skills throughout their career.

Ultimately, truly impactful digital transformation in FS requires a three-pronged approach. Operational excellence, the client experience, and continuous learning must all combine as part of a holistic transformation strategy that unlocks new opportunities. By understanding how these three imperatives work together, FS firms can put themselves in the best position to compete to win.

By Winnie Palmer Seismic, EMEA head of marketing at Seismic.