Mark Polson: Client portals are more important than you think

The advisers in bucket two are similar to the ones who didn’t like the welcome screen on my prototype. “What do they need to know all that for?” was the response. 

My answer “because transparency and that” didn’t seem to do the trick.

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Disclosure and transparency, like spouses, deliver diminishing returns. There comes a point at which it’s just noise. But do we really object to our clients hitting the recliner, pouring a glass and idly checking the value of their self-invested personal pension? Do we believe that out of sight is out of mind? And is that a good thing?


I’ve found over the years that advisers tend to be really polarised in this regard. There is a cohort of firms who are happy to open things out – to an extent – and view any concerns that come out as a result to be positive in terms of cementing the relationship with the client. It also helps lift the veil on what the adviser is doing to earn her fees – not so much in year one, but in years two-to-X when the romance has gone.

Equally, and oppositely, there is a cohort who thinks that if you pick at it, it’ll never get better, and you have no business looking at it anyway, and that it’s the adviser’s job to tell you how things are going, and it’s that which cements relationships, not some fancy-dan app.

Providers of portals will tell you that they drive engagement and usually have stats to back it up. Advisers will tell you that they know their clients very well and don’t need them. As one (fairly venerable, quite refreshed) adviser put it to me: “I’m a walking bloody platform, why on earth would I put myself out of a job?” No answer to that.

Low trust scores for financial services don’t make any difference to the behaviour of the sector, and people keep investing, so it can’t be that. Behavioural finance biases give us some clues as to the sorts of heinous behaviour investors can engage in, and it’s advisers’ job to nip those in the bud. But there is one bias which, according to Baker, Ricciardi et al, might be worth looking at, and that is ‘worry’.

Worrying in this context tends to mean that an investor is outside their risk tolerance, and the obvious fix for that is for them to rebalance their holdings into your carefully created centralised investment proposition, of course. But what if there are other worries that you can’t prevent niggling away?

Out of sight

I think there’s a thing in here about something we’ll call ‘tangibility’. Financial services is mainly a will-o’-the-wisp; you can’t see it or touch it. It all works on trust – you trust the adviser, the adviser trusts the platform (ha!), the platform trusts the custodian, and so on. This is why blockchain has an application in this market, by the way.