Thousands of Ameriprise advisors are using technology to interact with clients, and the results are promising, says the lead executive of the firm's advisor group, Pat O'Connell. Ameriprise, O'Connell explains, has invested agressively in technology, but isn't currently considering robo advisors. 

The executive also discusses recruiting and heacounts at the regional brokerage in the following Q&A with On Wall Street. Like Raymond James, Amerprise has both employee and independent advisory channels. Raymond James also is not considering automation on the level of robos.

HOW HAVE YOU INVESTED IN TECHNOLOGY IN THE PAST YEAR?

We’ve invested aggressively in putting the systems and the architecture in place to allow advisors to use tools, for example, like Facebook and LinkedIn to connect socially with their clients. There are significant compliance issues that need to be done, and systems and processes to be put in place to allow that.

We’ve invested in technology to allow advisors to meet with their clients when, where, how they want to, so we still have plenty of clients that will come into an advisor’s office and meet face to face, but we have to build out the infrastructure and the technology to do things like WebEx-type meetings.

WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAVE YOU ADDED OVER THE PAST YEAR?

A program called Go Social, which is the ability to allow advisors to interact with clients through mediums like Facebook, and create an awareness of value proposition and communication in a social forum that typically people wouldn’t think would be used for business purposes.

Literally thousands of advisors have started to use it, and it is very well-received.

HOW ARE YOUR RECRUITING EFFORTS GOING? CAN YOU SHARE SOME SPECIFICS OF NEW INITIATIVES OR TRAINING EFFORTS?

We continue to recruit from the wirehouses. We also added a strong track record over the past couple of years of bringing independent advisors back into our branch business, and what’s made it attractive to these independent advisors is we give them the ability to leverage resources of the firm, but also, as they get close to retirement, work with advisors that are at a branch to transition their book.

When it comes to specifics, we continue to attract higher-producing advisors. This year, year-to-date, we have already brought more than $100 million-in-asset advisors than we did all of last year, so we have a very strong team in place to help these advisors transition over.

DO YOU HAVE A SENSE FOR HOW MANY AMERIPRISE ADVISORS YOU EXPECT WILL RETIRE NEXT YEAR?

I don’t have a specific number for Ameriprise. What I would tell you is that our advisor base is a bit younger than the advisor base in general in the industry.

We are seeing retirements, but we’re not seeing a spike right now in retirements. Right now, as a matter of fact, our more-tenured advisors, based on their satisfaction — based on their clients and working with their clients, we’re seeing many of them work longer, so that has not become a meaningful spike in retirement over the last 12 months.

ARE YOU WILLING TO ADOPT A ROBO ADVISOR PROGRAM? IF SO, ARE YOU LOOKING AT ONE OR CONSIDERING ONE IN PARTICULAR?

The answer to the second question is no. On the first, we clearly believe in going to market with our advisors. Those advisors are working one-on-one providing personalized advice to help individuals successfully plan and implement their retirement strategies.

Clearly, there is a role for technology in financial planning and that is where we have made our investments, in terms of a number of tools that advisors are using, they’re leveraging, and you see some are doing advertising along with our Confident Retirement approach; that’s where we made investments in technology. But we are not exploring a robo advisor-type of model. A lot of the data that we have seen show that millennials, Gen Xs, especially if they accumulate more wealth, really do prefer a face-to-face relationship with advisors.

ARE YOU SWEARING OFF ROBO ADVISORS?

We’re not necessarily swearing them off.

We just believe the value proposition we have is resonating extremely well and that’s why we’ve invested aggressively in the advisor model.

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