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Episode 37: “A Virtual Focus” with Kirby Horan-Adams, Executive Vice President of Investor and Investment Solutions at LPL Financial

Kirby Horan-Adams, Executive Vice President of Investor and Investment Solutions at LPL Financial, and Matt Swain discuss how to build digital relationships, how the mindset around adopting digital tools has shifted from “I’ll get to it” to “I need it now”, and how to prioritize your technology stack.

Matt: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to catch up with Kirby Horan-Adams, executive vice president of Investor and Investment Solutions at LPL Financial during the company's annual Focus event. Focus is one of the premier sales and education events in the financial services industry, with over 10,000 financial professionals registered to attend this year. As with other events, the disruption caused by the pandemic forced the event virtual. Here's our discussion. Kirby, thanks for joining today.

Kirby: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Matt: [00:00:52] Certainly. And Kirby, you know, also thank you for taking time out of the Focus event. And I know this is a different event this year, but maybe you could give some perspective on LPL Financial for those who aren't familiar, your role, and also the Focus event.

Kirby: Sure. So, for those who aren't familiar with LPL, we're the largest independent advisory for our NAB provides broker-dealer, advisory, custodial, and technology services to advisors who want to affiliate with us. And my role here is I have the privilege of leading the product management team, which is responsible for the advisor and investor-facing technology solutions that we make available to those advisors who partner with us. And Focus, as you said, is very different this year. But the premise remains the same is we do the Focus Conference every year. We've done it for decades.

And it's really where we have all of our advisors come together, hear about our strategic direction as a firm, the capabilities and tools we have to offer, network with each other, and meet some of the people who they talk to all the time and our service teams, and our operations teams, they really put that name to a face. And so, we missed that part of it a little bit, but it's really an awesome event. And we had over 10,000 of our advisors and their staff registered this year. So, it's the largest that it's ever been, though it's just being done virtually.

Matt: [00:02:15] Oh, well, congratulations on that. And I do not envy anyone putting on an event in this atmosphere just because it's different. Anyone hosting a virtual event is trying to bring as many components of that in-person experience as possible, but also with the technology platform limitations and opportunities that they have. You know, I'd be curious, one of the things that you did last year was you had the board that, you know, what do you want from us? What enhancements can you provide? Do you have a similar virtual board where people are providing feedback to help you on that journey?

Kirby: So, we're doing it a little different this year, not with the board per se. But we're doing it through different ways to get that information, whether it's through conversations, interactions through some Zoom rooms that we're using, or if it's through kind of, I'll call it a survey, not really a survey, but, right, that kind of more larger scale feedback mechanism that we have that people can do kind of pseudo anonymously without having a conversation. So, we are still doing that because as you're right, it's an extraordinarily important piece of this is really being able to get the feedback and really being able to understand what those problems are that the advisors need us to solve for.

Matt: [00:03:29] If I were to take away just a few key things from the event, what are the things that are going to be most important for attendees to learn?

Kirby: So, really, in this era of COVID, right, where we're social distancing, we're working from home, or we're working more separately from each other, we really have a whole suite of tools that we are making available to them, whether it's enhancements to some of our old tools, bringing back some old tools that maybe people just hadn't thought about or some new ones that we rolled out. We are really trying to focus on all these different ways that you can have that digital relationship with your client that feels as good and personal as when you were kind of face to face.

So we're highlighting things like our mobile app for investors called Account View, we're highlighting some calendaring tools, the IM tools that we have through Slack, our texting solution that's compliant through MyRepChat, we're highlighting eDelivery and eSignature because no one wants to touch stuff in the mailbox right now, and those types of things. We're really trying to not just kind of promote tools as we have historically done, like "Here's the problem and here's the need," but trying to think creatively about what's really, really important in front and center for advisors in this kind of COVID era, but also what are some of those tools that we've historically brought out just to help them with growth and efficiency, regardless of how you're doing your job and running your business?

Matt: [00:04:58] Yeah, and those investments are so critical today…companies that did not invest or were not being proactive about that or were in a much more difficult position. I ended up doing a fair amount of research relative to how COVID impacted those relationships, and just the tools and toolsets that you need, and that was a big theme was, "Wow, like, now that my advisor isn't in their office, how do we do e-signature instead of wet signature, or this paper-based approval process that now we need to make digital?" And, you know, these are real challenges but at the same time, it's real opportunity. We see COVID as an accelerant to this digital transformation that everybody has been on over the past 10 years for some organizations.

Kirby: I agree. I mean, it's terrible to say, but COVID has really driven the adoption of technology tools because I think, more and more, it's not like, what do I need to learn? It's more of what tool do you have to enable me to run my business as best as I can in this situation. So, we're seeing lifts out a whole variety of our technology tools, whether it's more like eSignature and what have you, because people now are like, "I need it." And so, before when I was like, "I'll get to it, I now need it," and worst thing, actually an adoption increase, so it's actually a positive of the COVID situation for us.

Matt: [00:06:22] Right. There's always that silver lining in some sense. I'd be curious, the investments that you've made and you've been investing heavily in your wealth platform in recent years, I think last year you were talking about digitizing the advisor workflow, that was a central part of Focus 2019. And the independent broker-dealer spaces are ultra-competitive.

Kirby: It is.

Matt: [00:06:45] So, I'd be curious about your thoughts. What are some of the advantages that you feel like you've gained through the investments that you've made in your platform?

Kirby: So, I think, you know, you called it out, right, the ClientWorks portal that we spent a lot of money in has really allowed us to go out to our advisors and the recruits that our teams were going after to say, "This is a real differentiator, right? It is more efficient. It's helping you with growth. It's helping you go after new clients." A big thing that we also went after was ClientWorks Connected, which are those integrated workflows, whether it be tools that our advisors use that are kind of homegrown or are they being, you know, the third-party tools that are really important to them? We're doing more and more with those integrations, right? Because it's not just having tools to have tools. If they don't talk to each other and they're not integrated, it creates a lot of inefficiency, a lot of entering data twice, a lot of questions for the advisor and their staff.

And so, that story of integrations, and integrations and workflows is really resonating, and advisors are really seeing the rewards, I would say, of those things. I think the other thing that's been a great advantage to us is kind of the virtuous cycle of as we deliver more technology solutions that drive efficiency and growth in the advisor practice, it helps us, right? We also see growth. It helps our bottom line as the home office and we've been able to take that money, and intelligently keep putting it back into that cycle of driving more efficiency and growth.

And it's really starting to kind of show up for us in terms of a couple of key stats, right? We've seen our organic growth double in the first quarter of 2020. Our Net Promoter Scores for our advisors is at 55 points. Our retention is at 98%. More recruits are coming to us. And those recruits that are coming to us, which is awesome, the second reason why they come to us, the first is the payout for independent, of course, you know, payout. No one can really kind of argue with that. But the second reason is our technology stack, right? Because the advisors are really understanding that we do have an advantage here with the systems that we have. And so, it's great to see the investments pan out. There's always more to do.

Matt: [00:09:07]The interesting thing is when we think about our clients and whether it's an advisor, investor, or other consumer or customer, the expectations for the experience that they're looking for sometimes require significant under the hood or behind the scenes investments. So, a seemingly small improvement to the advisor could be a massive undertaking in terms of getting to a single view of advisor or investor account across different data silos or whatever else it is. And I'd be curious from your perspective, how you balance those investments, the quick wins that the advisor can see versus those longer-term bigger overhauls that are going to have the impact or the effect that the advisor maybe didn't even realize was an underlying challenge in the technology stack?

Kirby: So I think we kind of do it in two ways, right, is as we are trying to rethink some of these experiences, really, we always have to remember that even though not all elements are advisor-facing, they're advisor-influencing. And we need to make sure that we're thinking about that from the front all the way to the back. And as the investor role and investor self-service and investor wanting to do it more themselves is coming into play, we need to start even on the investor side on some of these. Like, what is the investor experience, and what is the advisor experience, and what is the home office experience?

To your point, to make sure that that feels as seamless as possible. Because it's great that you made it easier for me to request the thing if it takes me three days to get it, well that really wasn't that meaningful to me. And so, really making sure that we're pulling that all the way through. And as we kind of reimagine some of our different tools or these workflows, that is part of it. There are definitely times, though, where I think we need to just say like, "Look, this is primarily a back-office system. It's your commission system, right?" It's really a guts system as I call it. And sometimes what we have to just do is say, "We're going to go after this guts system this year and kind of change it out."

And so, what we do is we're doing our portfolio process of allocating funds, we have an enabler bucket, which are some of these guts systems. And we allocate funding to that every year to make sure that none of those guts systems are going to bite us later when we're trying to improve experience. So, it is a very conscious decision within our planning and our portfolio allocation to make sure that we're not forgetting those. Because those are the things that become rickety. Those are the things that bring your system down during COVID, right? Those are the things that we, fortunately, have not had that, we've had the resiliency that stayed in our systems, and I think it's because we kind of keep that enabler bucket allocation in there to make sure that it doesn't get de-prioritized because it's not something shiny and new, it's something that really just has to be done.

Matt: [00:11:55] Yeah. And I think that's where it's so important to have those open conversations across operations, and client experience, and technology to understand how everything comes together for that end game.

Kirby: Absolutely. You have to.

Matt: [00:12:11] Now, this morning, the kickoff for Focus, there was a session talking about advisor stories and how they're connecting with clients in new ways in today's environment. And whether it's from the content from Focus 2020 or other things that you're hearing, I'd love to hear how advisors and the investors they serve are interacting during this pandemic, how that's impacted or affected those relationships.

Kirby: So, we have a lot of them using Zoom, using texting, doing virtual happy hours, doing virtual family events, virtual movie night. Like, a lot of different things to really try and not only keep those open lines of communication about things that they would naturally talk about, like, "How's my portfolio doing? You know, XYZ changed in my goals," but also making sure they still have that personal touch that a lot of your really good advisors have with their clients, you know, have that interaction with their families, right? When you do movie night, you probably do Disney or something if you want to kind of serve that part. And so, they're doing more and more of that. I think what a lot of them are saying is these kind of trying times, whether it was the market volatility we've seen or just the kind of strain and stress that this COVID situation is bringing is they are feeling a lot more connected to their clients, and the clients are feeling much more connected to them, right? Trying times make us all kind of come together.

And so, they're also learning more about their clients as they're having different conversations through different media about, "I didn't know that you wanted to buy a boat at some point in time, right? I didn't know that these things were important to you." Whether it's because that conversation is happening differently, or... I mean, I've done it, you think about what matters right now, right? But what matters at times like this when people could be getting sick or we're home more with our family, like, what matters? And so, they're seeing a lot more of a strengthening and personalization coming out through these times that are actually really enjoyable, even though you're doing it a little bit differently. To your point earlier, right, there's silver linings in COVID. I think that's one where people are really focusing on what's important and sharing with their financial advisor who can help them make those things happen through their money.

Matt: [00:14:42] Well, and when things are good, nobody touches anything. And they keep it on autopilot, right?

Kirby: Right.

Matt: [00:14:48] So, in this sense, it gave everybody a chance to reset, revisit their portfolio allocations, have those discussions. And it's great to hear that it's also making people feel more connected. And hopefully, that's also because of the technology. It's our first virtual financial advisor discussion or whatever it is that that the technology is enabling that connectedness.

Kirby: Absolutely. I don't know if maybe too when you're having the conversation from your home, you have different things around, you do have different people around you. You have different people that you're bringing into the conversation, right? I don't necessarily bring my daughter to my financial advisor's office, but I can tell you when we're in a Zoom call, she's going to pop up because... Right? So, you know, does that bring a different conversation? I don't know, but it is making for an interesting time.

Matt: [00:15:37] Right. Well, it certainly brings up a 529 plan, if nothing else, right?

Kirby: It does. It does. And she has one.

Matt: [00:15:44] Right. There you go. We've been looking at the longer the pandemic persists, what temporary measures turn into longer-term behavioral changes. Do you have any hypotheses on what is going to stick for the long-term in terms of some of these changes that you've seen in the last few months?

Kirby: I'm hopeful a lot of it sticks. I do think from our conversations with our advisors that they are finding benefits with some of these changes. But the vast majority are saying they can't wait to get back to in-person because they do think that there is a little bit of a connectivity that is missed. But they have seen how these different tools and solutions they're using are opening different opportunities, so "Maybe I do want to get back to those in-person meetings, but I realize that there are benefits of doing these things virtually." So, I think we'll see a little bit of a hybrid because there are kind of good nuggets coming out of this. But there is the, "I'm not going to be all digital and virtual if I don't have to."

Matt: [00:16:47] And anecdotally, have you seen upticks in app downloads, or digital engagement, or online account creation and opening?

Kirby: Yes. So, we're rolling out our new account, our new version of our industrial portal. In the past month, the amount of folks who were migrating over there has doubled. When we look at our texting, both the volume of texts going through the advisors that are signing up to use it, we're up about 60% in the past several months since the beginning of the year. So, we are seeing kind of texting kick in. We're seeing the Account View usage. You know that new e-calendaring that we made available, we rolled that out around Memorial Day, right, where people are gravitating towards some of those newer ones and some of those that have been up for a while. We're seeing the growth in those tools, which is good.

Matt: [00:17:40] Yeah. Notably, anything that you're seeing on the paperless delivery side and the people going paperless for good?

Kirby: I'm hopeful it's for good. But yes. Yes, we have seen an uptick in the usage of our eSignature, as well as our paperless. Ironically, not as much as I would have anticipated on the paperless delivery, but more on the eSignature side. As people start coming into offices to facilitate wet signatures, it's much easier for me to send you an eSig packet, than print it in FedEx, and all that good stuff. So, I'm hopeful that that eDelivery kicks in a little bit more. We're making some enhancements for eDelivery process to make it even easier. And I'm hopeful that we'll really see those enhancements really spur people over there and in the next couple of months.

Matt: [00:18:28] Well, and I think that's the key piece is the enhancement angle because, otherwise, what's in it for the investor on the back end or is it a better or superior experience? Many of them keep it because it's their chance to sit down offline, flip through, you know, a complex statement, potentially. It's the reminder to review. And I think the enhancements, in terms of what makes that digital experience better and, you know, how is it connected to my cloud storage or, you know, other things, right, that start to increase the value to the investor in making that transition.

Kirby: I mean, my husband is still paper. As soon as I figure out what his password is, I change him to paperless because I hate the paper sitting on my counter. But yeah, that's what it is. It's for him, it's that, like, "Okay, I need to pay attention now," which can easily be done if your app is helpful and useful. We're working on it with him. But I do think, right, it is that kind of, "Oh, I need to do something." It's that trigger. And so how do we make sure that the digital tools are facilitating that. Like, it arrived in your mailbox, kind of really that same perception of need to do something.

Matt: [00:19:43] Right. And I'd be curious, AI came up a little bit last year for you at the event. If you put your product management hat on, which you've had on this whole time, but look in the crystal ball in the coming years, how do you think the communications will continue to evolve, whether it's between you and advisors or between advisors and investors, given some of these technologies that you're starting to implement?

Kirby: I think as you mentioned AI there, I think what we'll see is using AI, or natural language, or all those cool type things that our tech team does, we will see more insights and more kind of automatic conversations, I think happen based upon the data. Right? We're working on something now. Meeting Manager is a new thing that we're doing, which is a program that we've put together to really make the meetings that advisors do, make them spend more time in the meeting or coming up with insights as opposed to the administrative function of putting things together. And a big kind of piece of our roadmap for that is, how do we take what data and information is compiled automatically through the Meeting Manager process? How do we take that and have the system just say like, "Hey, you should talk to Matt about XYZ because he looks like he's coming up on retirement." And we just talked about this.

Talk to him about RMDs, talk to him about, "Oh, you took $5,000 out? Why'd you do that, right?" So, make it to be that those types of insights are more obvious and prevalent throughout the system. And kicking off communication, right, to say, like, "We want to kick off XYZ to be sent to a client because this event happened in their life." So, I think AI and other kind of machine learning and things like that is the insights are going to become more and more important that are created from those. As we have these tools out there more, people will expect them to do more things for them, as opposed to just be an open line of communication. Like, if we're going to expect more, then we need to make sure that we're evolving in that way.

Matt: Excellent. Well, Kirby, thanks so much for taking some time out of your event to speak with us today.

Kirby: Thanks so much for having me. It's an awesome event. I'm glad I got to share some thoughts with you about it.

Matt: Certainly. I’m Matt Swain, and you've been listening to the "Reimagining Communications Podcast." If you liked this episode and think someone else would too, please share it, leave a review, and don't forget to subscribe. If you are ready to reimagine your communications, the Broadridge Communications Cloud is an end-to-end communications platform for creating, delivering, and managing omni-channel communications and customer engagement. Learn more by visiting broadridge.com or find us on Twitter and LinkedIn.