What does the client want to see on the landing page of an automated wealth management website?  Four panellists at the digital wealth management (a.k.a. robo-advisor) session of the Financial Technology conference held on June 17, 2016, had theories on how to connect with clients. The session was part of a one-day conference organized by the CFA Society Toronto and was held at the Toronto Board of Trade.

Three of the panellists showed screen shots from their companies’ websites and spoke about underlying philosophies on client usage; the fourth panellist works for a company that provides “back end”, namely, the software and services for robo-advisors.

Randy Cass, founder of Nest Wealth, a subscription-based digital financial investor (or robo-advisor) firm, showed a sparse white page with “the up or down of [the client’s] portfolio in dollar amounts,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to find this in traditional portals.” He pointed out that every stage of the workflow can be seen and managed. “Our service has a crystal clear value proposition in Canada,” said Cass, because “Canada has the highest advisor fees and least transparency.”

By contrast, the landing page of SmartFolio is not sparse. It’s dominated by a large picture of ecstatically happy people. A progress bar is constantly visible to reassure the client filling out the know-your-client (KYC) questionnaire. When selecting the risk comfort level, the client can click and move a bar on an interactive graph. “It’s all about being goals-based,” said Julie Barker-Merz, President and Head of Wealth Direct Investing at BMO, the first big bank in Canada to launch a robo-advisor. The Create Goal page has buttons for Education, Travel, Retirement, and Home. “The brilliance of SmartFolio is that it’s linked to the client’s on-line banking,” said Barker-Merz.


The FutureAdvisor landing page is relatively sparse. “We’re competing with ESPN for customer attention,” said Joe Cianciolo, Head of Business Development at FutureAdvisor, a digital investment manager (or robo-advisor) recently acquired by Blackrock.

The question the client has is simply: “where am I going?” Cianciolo said “People want to take a look and move on.”

Cianciolo agreed with Barker-Merz that it is important to “lead with goals, not investments.” Instead of being told the percentage return is down two percent for the day, he suggested the client should be shown where they are on the 5-year plan for their goals. It will be less upsetting to take the long-term view.

Michael Lynds, SVP Business Development iRESS Canada, did not show a screen shot. IRESS is an Australian firm that specializes in the development of software systems and services for financial markets and wealth management. Lynds said that, regardless of the speed of changes in financial advising—the changes he’s seen over his career in going from face-to-face all the way to robo-advisors—he’s noticed a consistent thread. “It’s all about empowerment.”

After comparison of the landing pages and how to guide customers in their investing choices, conference attendees considered the broader questions raised.

Wealth management advisors have been incorporated into interactive technologies with surprising speed, leading to the commoditization of wealth management advice. There is concern about the effect of robo-advisors on the career prospects of human financial planners.  Will robo-advisors displace human advisors? Or will the availability of robo-advisors increase the number of people who seek investment advice, and who can now afford the lower costs associated with commoditized services?

“Vast innovation is freeing up time,” said Cass. “[Part of] the advisor element is going away. You can’t charge half a percent for a vanilla portfolio.”

Regardless of the design of the landing page, or the philosophy of goals versus “quick updates”, during the Q-and-A session, a member of the audience pointed out “the true quality of the robo-advisor really depends on the assumptions made and the algorithms used to power it.” ª