How to Drive User Satisfaction With an Ever-Increasing Reliance on Technology in Financial Services

July 22, 2020by Robert Cruz

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The first half of 2020 was unlike any other in history. The lasting impact of so many drastic changes to our everyday lives is only beginning to be understood. Key narratives that have impacted virtually everyone — working from home, distance learning, and virtual forms of entertainment — all share a common denominator: our tremendous increased dependency on technology. For some, the magnitude of this change has been a major shock. For others, a warp-speed acceleration along a path we were already traveling (although, instead of arriving in 2030, we arrived in April). For all, the importance of technology has never been higher.

Zooming in on the communications and collaborative tools now being used for business in financial services, we see the same broad spectrum of reactions to this sudden change. Some are using tools they are comfortable and proficient with, as well as tools that are preferred by their customers.

Many more appear to be less than satisfied. Some firms have had to repurpose legacy, on-premise tools for remote use or they have not yet approved tools that individuals need to be productive while remote.

Communication technology gap

This gap between the importance and satisfaction of technology was the subject of a recent survey by JD Power. The study noted that, amongst financial advisors, 92% rely on the technologies provided by their firms, but only 48% consider the technology provided by their firms as “very valuable.” As importantly, the survey also notes that actively addressing this gap by equipping advisors with tools better suited to their current work habits and client demands is a key determinant of advisor satisfaction (and, arguably, strongly correlated to productivity and results).

So, what are the implications of this gap for individuals and firms as we continue to work from home? Here are some key things to consider, as we continue to generate an unprecedented volume of data across an ever-increasingly diverse set of communications tools:

Can your on-premise technologies keep up?

Every content repository designed before 2010 is buckling under the weight of today’s communication volume. Adding storage and compute resources to on-premise technologies to maintain performance deemed “satisfactory” is not sustainable. According to a recent survey from Osterman Research, 64% of respondents saw an increase in the volume of email sent during the initial months of the pandemic, and nearly 50% were concerned that their remote access solutions could scale to meet the additional demand from employees working at home. The result for many: accelerating a move to the cloud.

Do conferencing and collaboration tools close the gap?

Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom are all nearly ubiquitous, in large part because of firms’ dependence on these tools. Satisfaction can be tricky if they are deployed without the proper guard rails, or worse yet if they cannot be fully deployed due to compliance concerns over the native compliance capabilities of each tool.

Are you on top of the freeware and unauthorized apps?

One natural reaction to a feeling that centrally provided technologies are not valuable is to turn to tools that are familiar or easily accessible. We’ve seen quite a few stories of an increase in the use of freeware versions of applications that lack vital compliance features, as well as the growing use of consumer-oriented tools such as Discord, Marco Polo, Signal, House Party and others.

In response, we’ve seen firms formalize processes to evaluate the risks of new communications tools and turn to forums and councils to evaluate the benefits and risks of each channel. They are also implementing more frequent inspection and surveillance of the tools used by employees to spot prohibited networks.

How integrated are your remote access tools with other enterprise apps?

Another important element impacting satisfaction is ease of use of remote tools. This includes enabling secure access as well as the ability to share and leverage data with other enterprise applications. More tools can easily result in more data silos. Considering today’s distributed workforce, a significant amount of intelligence can be harvested from client interactions that are taking place on a mobile application, over Microsoft Teams Voice, or on a video conference.

Enabling individuals to use tools that can share data easily across platforms can not only improve satisfaction with technology but ensure that firms can better preserve customer insights within KYC initiatives and CRM systems.

How are you leveraging advances in technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)?

More data generated across increasingly heterogeneous content sources can easily translate into more difficulty and frustration in finding the data that is most impactful to your client. It can also harm your ability to protect the data that potentially creates the greatest risks to your firm. According to the JD Power report, only 9% of advisors are using AI tools, but the satisfaction of those using these technologies is significantly higher than those relying on basic tools.

This difference can be a warning for firms still formulating strategies for the use of AI/ML: not equipping your staff with these advanced tools can easily drive your top performers to competing firms that have. Recent events will not only serve to increase firms’ adoption of these technologies but also speed the innovation cycles and deepen the integration of AI/ML into even more enterprise applications.

How do the regulators view this gap?

Any discussion of technology adoption by regulated firms is incomplete without a consideration of compliance risk. As noted earlier, low satisfaction with firm-supplied technology can lead employees toward the use of unauthorized networks. This was highlighted by FINRA in its Notice 20-16 that we’ve written about previously.

FINRA has also been increasingly vocal on the adoption of AI/ML, posting a report on firm adoption this past June. FINRA references a January 2020 World Economic Forum report indicating that 77% of all financial services respondents anticipate AI to possess high or very high overall importance to their businesses in the next two years. This adoption will happen across a variety of applications, including customer communications, regulatory compliance, and risk management.

What is consistent across all scenarios is the importance of data management and integrity, with FINRA noting, “Data is the lifeblood of any AI application. Accordingly, the quality of the underlying dataset is of paramount importance in any AI application. One of the most critical steps in building an AI application is to obtain and build the underlying dataset, as AI applications are generally best positioned to yield meaningful results when the underlying datasets are substantially large, valid, and current.”

Ensuring effective data management

Effective data management is a core value that Smarsh provides to our customers to close the gap between the Importance of, and satisfaction with, technology. Providing a content platform that aggregates, indexes, and normalizes content from 80+ communications and collaboration sources allows firms to leverage advances in technology to be more effective in spotting risk, knowing your customer, and generating more value from your data.

Join Robert Cruz and guests for an upcoming discussion about mobility challenges in today's work-from-home environment.

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Robert Cruz
Smarsh Blog

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