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Technology training and adoption for RIAs

After much deliberation, a lengthy due diligence review and a sizable investment, you’ve equipped your wealth management firm with a new technology tool.

Now comes the real challenge: Getting everyone at your firm comfortable with the new tool and building up their capacity to use it to its full potential. And don’t forget, you’ll need to do the same for all the tools you use when onboarding new employees too.

The practice hurdles of the training and adoption phase cannot be understated. According to veteran industry technology observer Joel Bruckenstein, “most wealth management firms are only reaching 50% of the functionality their tech tools provide,” due to insufficient training and practice.

One national RIA decided it could do better.

Screen Shot 2022-04-19 at 12.17.18 PMTo sidestep common tech adoption issues, leadership at Hamilton Capital – including Adria Rosebrock, director of wealth management operations and training, Katie Arata, director of client services, and Casey Kimbler, director of investment operations – decided to invest in a system that would provide employees a virtual learning resource for every tool it employs as well as important training material for new and existing team members alike. 

Additionally, the team built up an entire content library of videos, interactive tutorials, and quizzes to make the resource engaging to use too.

As a result, the firm can track employee training progress in real-time, helping it achieve training rates of nearly 100% on its installed tools.

“We started this initiative by thinking critically about how to provide the best training experience for our team.  We know that by arming them with the right information, tools, and resources, we are going to not only help them more easily handle their work, but most importantly we will serve our clients at an even higher level,” Rosebrock says.

There were twin efforts in the strategy to raise Hamilton Capital’s capacity for training, she explains: Putting in place a training system filled with material any employee could use, and developing an approach to introducing any new tool or update that would ensure everyone gets trained on it.

For the system, the team decided to invest in technology – specifically a Learning Management System. An LMS is an e-learning software that acts as a self-contained educational environment. If you’ve ever worked at a larger company, you probably have used an LMS to complete a mandated compliance course or gain a certification, for instance.

(After researching options, the team chose the Mindflash LMS platform. According to Mindflash, pricing packages start at $4,500 for an annual subscription).

Of course, a platform is only as good as the content that’s on it, so the team began gradually building up a library of training material for every tool and key process used by Hamilton Capital.

“We wanted the LMS, which we call ‘Hamilton Capital University’, to truly feel like a library of all of the most important material for our team to access as things change and refer back to when needed,” Rosebrock says. “As we continue to grow it's hard for trainers or subject matter experts to always be available to walk a teammate through something, so we created videos, guides and an organized system so that someone can leverage that to answer their questions or supplement more hands-on training.”

By building up their own library, Arata says, the team has also been able to institute their own training methodology and deliver a repeatable experience.

“Systems that we adopt provide their own training resources, which is very helpful.  As a firm, we have our own ways of using certain aspects of these systems and capturing this information in our own videos that we leverage through the LMS has been really beneficial,” Arata notes. “HCU has also allowed us to provide consistent training, in which everyone is hearing the same message and the same content on a particular subject.”

While building up training material to add to the LMS, the team simultaneously worked on a plan to understand their colleagues’ relationship with tech tools. The team wanted to learn not only how best to introduce them to new tools, but also to motivate and guide them to become proficient users.  These learnings were applied prior to the implementation of the LMS and continue to apply.  

Among their learnings is that to successfully introduce new tools or system changes, the team notes, there must be context. That’s why the first part of the plan involves discussing and determining the impact of adopting any change.

“We probably spend more time talking about managing the change than the actual training in some ways,” Rosebrock says. “We spend a lot of time figuring out how it fits within our firm’s priorities, the purpose behind the new tool or any change, and we always keep our clients at the forefront of any decision.  We ask ourselves ‘How will this help us better serve our clients and make a greater impact?’ It’s important that we share all of this with our team so that they understand why we are undertaking any initiative.  A lot of our initial efforts are around understanding change management and adoption and then we start really focusing on the training aspect of the tool.”

Scheduling training and roll-out is another step. 

To that end, the team relies on a calendar, marking down dates for the year in advance. By working with each department, the team has normalized training sessions within firm culture to the point where they are delivering sessions on almost a weekly basis. This way, times can be allotted to either specific training or used as flex time to dive into feature updates in existing tools.

Timing is obviously important, but it can become more challenging as your firm scales up and blocks of time to set aside become harder to come by, Rosebrock notes. And knowing your team and using common sense helps.

“If you try to implement a change on December 15th, you're going to have people throwing rotten fruit at you,” she adds. “There are times within the business that are better for different departments to absorb a change than other times.  We really try to be thoughtful about the capacity for our team members to adapt to change and be in a mindset to learn and practice something new.”

Recognizing also that members of separate teams within any organization will have varied skills and priorities is another reason why consistency in training approach is important. 

“It's not always instinctive that people know the right type of training methods or the right resources,” Rosebrock says. “You do need an expert who can guide all of those involved in the training process.”  

Another key lesson: Involving leadership in the training effort. 

“We’ve implemented best when we have complete buy-in at all levels in the firm,” Arata says. “It is crucial that all members of the leadership team know how important the change is and how it fits into the firm’s goals.”

Acknowledging the very human aspect of training advisors on technology – that change can be scary and hard – is a key component of the team’s approach.

That’s one reason why the team says they work to get feedback on new tools and changes before they are implemented, Arata says.

“What are the advantages for our colleagues that are going to motivate them and how do we get their buy-in? We start with trying to show why we are changing something or why we are implementing something new, making sure they understand the purpose and its advantages.” 

Kimbler agrees, adding a collaborative approach works for users and trainers. “I like to think that we don’t say, ‘We're never going to change this once it sets forth.’ We do listen to employees and try to get feedback and answer questions with a smaller group ahead of time to make sure what we’re rolling out makes sense and will work for the team before we introduce it to the whole firm.”

Of course, pointing out compliance requirements is sometimes enough to enforce adoption. But emphasizing advantages and working to convert potential non-adopters into supporters of new tools and processes are all part of the team’s learnings from the program. 

“There are always different motivations and concerns for why people don't like change,” Kimbler notes. “For the most part, they are willing to give it a shot if they see a benefit. Sometimes, it is a timing issue, and they just don’t have time to devote to something new. We’ve found that it helps to be a little more hands-on with anyone who is struggling or apprehensive so that they’re not getting frustrated with the learning process.”

Kimbler adds that by having some colleagues learn ahead of the rest “creates advocates or maybe even a chance to train those that might be more hesitant early in the process.  It helps to include others who can then encourage the rest of the team. It definitely has been a big help to create an environment where their peers can also be part of this solution and the training is not always coming from one of us.”

Suleman Din

Suleman Din

Suleman Din is AdvisorEngine's Advisor Intelligence Lead. Previously he oversaw technology coverage for American Banker and Financial Planning. At Financial Planning, Din launched ReinventWealth, the first newsletter dedicated to covering the evolution of digital wealth management and helped establish its INVEST conference. Previously, Din was a contributing editor to Knowledge@Wharton, the online business journal of the Wharton School of Business, and reported for the Newark Star-Ledger, where his coverage of the Asian tsunami in 2004 earned him a finalist nod for the Livingston Awards.

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