Marketing executives use it as a key tool for their success. Financial consultants use it to obtain new clients, making it a vital part of their overall business strategies. Retail-industry players see it as a necessary effort to expand their businesses. What is it? It’s strategic client interfacing, and for David Tasker, chief operating officer at NBCN Inc., it has helped his firm smooth out the potholes on the road to success.
Since he joined NBCN, a firm that operates as a subsidiary of National Bank Financial and provides back-office support to more than 80 IIROC member firms and administers $110 billion in assets, Tasker’s role has changed as a result of NBCN’s acquisition of TD Waterhouse in 2013.
Today, he’s responsible for a diverse set of areas including finance, risk, operational groups, such as transfers and transitions, and specialized groups, including managed account solutions dealing with the support of separate managed accounts. Recently, his focus has been making upgrades to NBCN’s methods of interfacing with clients—whether it is through portal access, data exchange, feedback dialogues, or face-to-face exchanges.
“With 90 percent of today’s communication being nonverbal, it is important to show commitment and be there for clients.”
“I’m part of the group of six people that make up the operating committee,” Tasker says. “We are jointly responsible for the strategic direction of the business and dealing with client-interface issues. We represent IIROC member brokers and approximately 330 portfolio managers, as well as a select number of prime brokerage clients. Obviously we have a diverse set of clients, so when you talk about how we interface with clients, it is a pretty broad spectrum.”
Because of the rapid growth and evolution of today’s communication tools, organizations that are succeeding are realizing the need to create behavioural change among industry players as it relates to client-interface strategies.
“With 90 percent of today’s communication being nonverbal, it is important to show commitment and be there for clients,” Tasker says. “Our business is complex, and it is difficult to get everything to go perfectly all of the time. And when you have 400-plus clients, chances are someone is going to get impacted by something somewhere.”
THE ROAD TO GROWTH
In addition to the need for improved client interface strategies, Tasker sees a bright future for the industry, with four issues impacting that growth potential.
Stay ahead of shifting regulations
Tasker sees more regulatory change coming and keeping up with that change is a challenge. “The independent firms are going to need a partner like NBCN to deal with the ongoing complexity of the industry,” Tasker says.
Prepare for a fee-based model
“If you think about the history of our industry, it was predominantly populated by investment dealers and the investment advisor or broker,” says Tasker. “They would get on the phone and talk about an idea and a potential transaction, he would get a commission for that transaction, and then we wouldn’t get paid again until he would get another one. Tasker sees this model diminishing, with more and more firms building stronger relationships with their clients.
“Clients’ needs and where they are going is more important than the investment decisions you make,” Tasker says. “In many ways, you will see the outsourcing of the actual investment decision-making process. Those individuals will focus on which stocks to pick and you will focus on your clients and your client relationships.”
Invest in national security
“We have an interesting environment in Canada with different securities commissions across the country,” says Tasker. “It is all provincial because, in theory, we don’t have a national securities regulator. There is a push toward an overseeing entity as businesses within the industry start to look more similar with an increased overlap of products
That’s why NBCN makes an effort to be front and centre when interfacing with clients—ensuring they have the information they need to succeed. For example, as the industry’s regulatory issues change, NBCN employs relational models whereby it interfaces with its clients through WebEx web conferencing or even old-fashioned phone calls—enabling an open dialogue with the organization and its clients. This provides the firm opportunities to answer questions and provide clarification about changes in the industry.
Face-to-face meetings are also taking centre stage in NBCN’s client-interface strategy.
“Our biggest challenge is getting that dialogue working,” Tasker says. “We spend a fair amount of money travelling to see our clients face-to-face. We try to get out and see them on a regular basis, to make sure we are getting good feedback from them. This is especially important considering the transition we’ve gone through.”
While NCBN is finding that face-to-face interaction is key to solidifying client relationships, it is also focusing efforts on improving its online strategy as it relates to its client interface. “As part of our acquisition and integration process, we’ve set aside resources to invest in technology specifically around our portal,” Tasker says. “We’ve had a portal for a long time where clients can interact with us, send us instructions, and get information. It has grown organically, but now we need to rebuild it this year.”
To further enhance client interaction, the organization has established a client advisory group with 13 different clients who represent the big- and small-portfolio manager and the broker. This unique group provides feedback as NBCN goes through the portal redevelopment process.
“If I look back to where we were before we did the acquisition, we certainly had one-on-one interaction with our clients, but that was usually because they were calling us,” Tasker says. “But very soon after the deal was announced, we set up road shows and started meeting with the clients who were going to be impacted. It started a dialogue with the clients. We’ve always done things to communicate with clients, but this was just a little bit more proactive, and we’ve seen tremendous value in it. We are trying to maintain that initiative. There are things that you get when you sit down across the table that you don’t get when you aren’t there in person.”
So how have NBCN clients responded to the firm’s new and improved client-interface techniques? The organization’s client-retention rate speaks volumes. “With the acquisition, we had a target to retail 90 percent of the assets that had been on the TD books,” Tasker says. “We retained 98 percent of them. It was our goal not to lose any clients since the acquisition. We’ve lost two—with one of them effectively retiring and the other going elsewhere. While we are disappointed in that, we were committed to make the effort to retain all of our clients. It is not always easy, but we are still working hard.”