How Washington Trust invested in change to power future growth
When you have been in business since 1902, you likely have seen it all. The wealth management team at Washington Trust - the largest closely held and one of the most respected banks in the Pacific Northwest - had built a strong business and diverse client base over decades. Like so many financial institutions, what started out as a simpler business model grew in complexity over the years. When we met them, the firm was still using disconnected legacy systems even though the business had grown, and while those systems were becoming increasingly outdated, the firm itself remained service-oriented and progressive. Clients routinely sought them because of their outstanding reputation built on fiduciary trust and a focus on the client.
Why would they change?
They were an incredibly reputable and valued partner to their clients. They were successful—but the industry was changing.
A few years ago, they noticed a dramatic change in financial services. “Our competition isn’t always just other banks,” says Rob Blume, Managing Director and Senior Vice President of Wealth Management at Washington Trust. “It’s registered investment advisors, broker-dealers, insurance companies—a variety of different organizations have entered into our market recognizing the value of investment management, and trust and fiduciary services.”
In this new landscape, continuing to provide superior service would require doing things differently. Simply offering fiduciary capabilities is no longer enough to build the business. “I’ve never had a client ask me, ‘Tell me about your fiduciary accounting system.’ Never. In 30 years, nobody’s ever asked that. It’s a given that has to work,” says Blume. “We want to move forward into a very dynamic, challenging environment, and our business is very competitive. We’ve got to open our eyes to changes that are coming."
The team needed to be able to communicate with clients in various ways, including through client-facing digital technology with a premium look and feel that’s also easy to use. In addition, to free up more time to invest in client service solutions, they needed to achieve greater efficiency by modernizing their back-office capabilities. It would mean a technology overhaul, which “is not something you jump into lightly,” says Blume. When they discovered the SEI Wealth PlatformSM (the Platform), still in the early stages of development, the firm recognized the opportunity to become an early adopter of tools that would be table stakes in five years; to have their feedback considered as the technology was being developed; to potentially help build the new platform according to their specifications. It was an opportunity that had always seemed reserved for larger firms.
Washington Trust faced a decision
Keep things as they are or take a huge leap of faith with a new partner, a new platform, and a focus on the future.
Four years later, the strategic partnership between seems inseparable. The Platform technology continues to evolve often based on Washington Trust’s customized requests, such as client trading capabilities, for example. Integrated technology makes it easier for staff and clients to communicate on everyone’s terms. There is increased transparency into operations, allowing them to respond to timely business decisions. Ultimately, the new technology provides the team more time and energy to focus on nurturing and improving end-client satisfaction.
Giant steps in communications and capabilities
“With SEI we have something that can more appropriately service the client, give them this experience they want,” Blume says. For example, a firm can distinguish itself in its communication. Today that means having the flexibility to communicate in different ways. In a technological age, clients are less likely to want to receive something in the mail each month. They want access to account information at all hours and to have that information delivered easily to their phone, desktop or tablet.
Another important differentiation for Washington Trust is providing its clients with the ability to trade individual investments. Its wealth management platform needs to accommodate a client-facing website that is easy to use, is accessible at home or at the office, and will allow individuals to trade securities in real time. “The look and feel and ability to trade with reliability is huge for us,” says Blume.
Almost as exciting as the finished product was the experience of having functionality built around the team’s needs. As a midsized wealth management operation, the team always had the sense that they were not getting the same personalized attention that vendors provided to larger competitors. New capabilities in a platform would more likely be dictated by the needs of big-league clients. With us, the team gained a flexible partner who was willing to listen to ideas and help Washington Trust envision what the system would look like and what the future of the business could be.
A powerful, 360-degree view of the business
Since the Platform’s technology integrates the front, middle, and back office on a single infrastructure, Washington Trust has a new ability to extract and analyze data about clients or its business as a whole. The team can pull, sort and view client or firm information in different ways, potentially gaining new perspectives in a few clicks. Tasks that used to be time- and spreadsheet-consuming exercises in frustration now are easily automated, and at any time it’s needed, staff can get a snapshot of business health.
The staff is grateful for the ease of use. “The time we used to spend extracting data to analyze, it was time lost. We were just digging for it all the time,” says Peri Pentz-Brown, Risk Manager for Wealth Management at Washington Trust. Now this functionality and others are embedded in the Platform and can even be customized to provide a snapshot at login. People can customize the views they see on a home screen. “When I log on, I get a visual—straight up, right away, customized for me,” she says.
Along with improved efficiency also comes the ability to see how the team is using it. The end-to-end unified technology allows the team to track and analyze internal workflows in order to see how quickly the team is handling requests. This increased transparency is great for improving client-service measures, and it helps with regulation compliance.
A workday and a half in saved time
Perhaps the most exciting outcome of Washington Trust’s big leap is what it has done for team morale. In a business that values relationship building, employee happiness is a measurement that counts. “We have a great team, and we want to make sure that they leave at the end of the day happy about and satisfied with the way they spent their day,” Blume says. “The Platform makes it easier for relationship managers to do their work.”
The technology is a tool to help them meet their goals—one of which is to spend less time behind a desk interacting with technology, and more time talking to clients. The Platform has allowed them to automate tedious tasks and Blume estimates, as a result, each relationship manager has gained 12 hours per month.
A full workday and a half is time to manage relationships. It’s time that will set the firm apart and allow the team to become more responsive to clients as well as more creative about offerings. “It’s substantial,” says Blume. All it took was the willingness to do things differently, a strategic partnership with us, and a bit of faith.