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By Cyril Tuohy
For the amount of time and the size of investment dollars many mutual funds and insurers spend making their websites easy and friendly for advisors, satisfaction levels among advisors are still surprisingly low, according to a new report.
The detailed report, issued by the consulting firm Practical Perspectives, also shows that many advisors continue to rely heavily on referrals from peers or clients when it comes to using websites and relying on web support for professional use.
“Advisor level of engagement and satisfaction is lower than I would have anticipated,” said Howard Schneider, founder and president of Practical Perspectives in North Andover, Mass. “Firms are spending a lot of time and corporate resources supporting advisors but the satisfaction level is modest. Most advisors are not spending an inordinate amount of time on the sites.”
Results were tabulated from data collected online in January from more than 600 advisors working for wirehouses, regional and independent broker/dealers, and registered investment advisors (RIAs).
The report titled Enhancing the Effectiveness of Financial Advisor Web Support: Insights and Opportunities 2014, is the first survey of its kind by Practical Perspectives. There is a benchmark by which to measure this year’s results, Schneider said.
Many websites, launched in the early 1990s, are nearing 25 years old and a generation of young advisors has grown up on the Web. As a result, much of what defines a good website – ease of use, intuitive navigation, depth of content, little self-promotion – should be considered “table stakes.”
Table stakes act as a starting point a company cannot do without if it is committed to the Web. As many as 82 percent of advisors surveyed said they found websites and Web support to be “very or somewhat” important to their practice, for example.
“These are the basics at this point, but not all firms are up to that standard,” Schneider said. “Many are too difficult to navigate, or information is not updated, or the providers are being too promotionally oriented.”
Websites are often cluttered, cumbersome and uninviting, Schneider also said. Indeed, many sites, all designed by information technology (IT) professionals, seem more geared toward other IT professionals than they are toward advisors.
Advisors favor websites run by their broker-dealers and custodians rather than websites run by mutual funds, insurance companies, annuity providers or third-party websites like Morningstar and Standard & Poor’s, the survey found.
Mutual fund companies, which provide investment products, and insurance carriers, which provide protection products, can improve their websites by offering advisors access to research and portfolio analytics, better design and navigation, frequent updates and more customization, the survey also found.
Advisors’ biggest barrier to using websites hosted by mutual funds, insurers and annuity companies, is the multiple website syndrome, which requires users to land on a half-dozen or more Web pages simply to access information.
Advisors rarely have time for that, Schneider said. “They have so much to do in their jobs.” Advisors, he also said, tend to find shortcuts. “They focus on firms they have the most significant relationship with,” he said.
To a certain extent it makes sense that advisors spend more time with their broker-dealer and custodian websites than they do on mutual fund and insurance company websites since advisors simply distribute investment and protection products.
Most advisors spend two hours or less each week accessing web support available by product providers, the survey found, and most advisors also tend to use a limited number of websites in their daily activities.
Mutual funds and insurance companies spend a lot of time marketing and selling their websites to advisors “but at the end of the day it’s still words that matter, whether it’s wholesalers versus other advisors or with other professionals or broker/dealers,” Schneider said.
The survey also underscored the variety of advisors working today, and how websites often come up short with regard to serving a specific advisors audience.
Advisors, Schneider said, “are not monolithic,” and websites that tailor the advisor experience, either through better support or more specialized information often attract more interest from advisors, he said.
Only 14 percent of advisors said they access product provider Web support through their smartphone, and only 22 percent said they accessed Web support through their iPad or tablet, the survey also found.
By contrast, 55 percent of respondents said they accessed product provider Web support through their broker/dealer workstation or terminal, and 59 percent said they did so through their desktop or laptop, the survey found.
Cyril Tuohy is a writer based in Pennsylvania. He has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at [email protected].
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