Aug 23, 2022

Client portals, whether for institutional or wealth clients, are here to stay. Wealth client portals are more advanced overall, but opportunities always will arise to improve, evolve, and try out new things. And while institutional portals may currently lag behind, we think the main battle will be for asset managers to embrace portals as a win-win.

Wealth Portals: From Irrelevant to Obligatory

When I first started evaluating wealth portals in 2016, they were awful.

Compared with the retail and fintech spaces, wealth management portals came off as shockingly static ─ lacking basic functionality, looking and feeling outdated, and often offering no mobile functionality at all. It struck me as even more problematic that wealth managers didn’t seem to care. I heard many variations of the following responses: “Our clients don’t want to mess with a portal.” Or “Wealthy clients don’t need digital tools.”

Today, when I evaluate wealth management portals, I see far more innovation and buy-in from firms and advisors. Wealth managers have come to realize the value of a superb digital client experience. In reviewing portal engagement levels, we see increasing investor demand for improved digital experiences. In 2021, Bank of America announced that 85% of private banking relationships actively used its digital platform. A 2021 FactSet study also showed that 82% of wealth clients expected their wealth managers to continue developing the digital client experience in the future.

Today’s wealth portal offers far more technological advancements compared with 2016. Basic functionality now includes interactive portfolio overviews, fully paperless onboarding, account aggregation of all assets, financial planning, smart spending, and budgeting tools, direct communication channels between clients and wealth advisors, and sophisticated client reporting tools.

Wealth Challenge: Staying Aligned With Best Practices

This isn’t to say that wealth managers don’t still face challenges. The challenge for wealth managers is no longer embracing portals as a key component of the client relationship, but rather continuing to keep pace with best practices and evolve the portal with technology. Keeping up with technology means that wealth managers must make the client portal a constant work in progress — continuously meeting changing client demands while finding ways to create a hyper-personalized, rich, and frictionless experience that resonates with all client segments.

Institutional Portals: Déjà Vu All Over Again

But when we talk about portals, we’re still hearing, “Our clients don’t need digital tools.” While some of these statements continue to come from wealth clients, it’s far more likely that we hear them from asset managers regarding institutional client portals. Just as these perspectives ended up being (wildly) incorrect when wealth managers said it, we also believe it misses the mark for institutional clients.

While wealth provides a good general roadmap for asset managers looking to build out an institutional client portal, the use cases for institutional client portals are quite different. For example, institutional client portals focus more on client self-service and client reporting than portfolio monitoring and communication. And future use cases, like onboarding client accounts, managing transactions, offering even more self-service, and providing a more efficient way to service clients, will be critical.

Institutional Challenge: Shifting the Mindset

When it comes to portals, we often speak of asset managers walking in the footsteps of wealth managers. But institutional portals come with their own set of unique challenges. For instance, while wealth clients may prefer paperless reporting, many institutional clients may simply want reports emailed to them — despite email being a clear security concern. Client reports in a PDF format deliver a completely static experience and provide no dynamic capabilities, such as data visualization or interactive reporting. While wealth portals fit well with the wealth management value proposition, most institutional portals don’t support operational use cases such as giving operational staff and consultants the ability to self-service and quickly access the information they need.

The challenge for asset managers supplying institutional client portals is embracing a mindset that sees portals as a win-win — both for themselves and their clients. This means figuring out the best strategy for investing in the client portal, understanding the use cases — and how to fit these with the existing client experience — and then figuring out the sourcing strategy that best aligns with institutional needs.

If portals are an area of interest to you, we encourage you to check out the Client Experience track at Cutter Connect 2022. The role of portals will be a core discussion point at this conference.