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‘Everything is changing’: Edward Jones’ CIO Frank LaQuinta on the modernization of brokerage

  • In a digital world, traditional stock brokerages are trying to evolve with changing expectations.
  • Edward Jones' CIO joins us on the podcast to discuss technology and how his firm is positioning itself for change.
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‘Everything is changing’: Edward Jones’ CIO Frank LaQuinta on the modernization of brokerage

Online trading platform Robinhood just raised more money at a valuation over $11 billion. Traditional brokerage firms are keenly aware of what’s going on and they’re also undergoing their own dance with digital.

Frank LaQuinta, CIO at Edward Jones, joins me on the podcast to discuss how the brokerage firm is positioning itself to provide more modern experiences in branch and over digital, for its 7 million clients as well as for its financial advisors. Frank has had a 30 year career at bulge-bracket firms, so he’s seen up close the impact technology is having on financial services.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Evolving expectations

We’re in an experience-based economy. Full stop. Think about how folks have blended their personal and professional lives every day using different types of tools. And it doesn’t matter the demographic or the age group — it’s about efficiency. It’s about productivity. It’s about that experience.

Technologists don’t own technology anymore. It’s really the market and the consumer that drives that. And that’s really worked its way into everything that we do. When we think about how we go from our current 7 million clients to the 42 million more that we seek to serve, it’s really about taking this digital strategy and investing in, not only the firm capabilities, but in the capabilities that create a great branch experience that also can, in turn, create a great client experience. This whole innovation, this whole digital play is really done in collaboration with the clients themselves, and they are essentially driving that innovation.

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Managing brokerage channels

The way that we’re approaching this is that we’re going to modernize our entire technology estate through a combination of our business segments. So as our business segments emerge in terms of the types of clients that we want to serve, in terms of long term serious investors, we’re remaking a lot of the capabilities that we have today, both building and buying, so that we can modernize and simplify everything that we do.

Overall, we have our own strategic roadmap because we’ve got to move to the cloud and we’ve got to move from waterfall to agile. And we’ve got to get into a test and learn, minimal viable product mindset that allows us to get products out there to learn, grow, and also help that experience with those clients with the branch teams right off the bat, so they can help co-create some of this technology with us. So, our approach is really to try to take a look at how we rebuild front to back and retooling of our systems is really key, so that they provide greater flexibility and simplicity. We want the optionality of building and buying so that we can deliver great capabilities to our clients and our branch teams and fully support our home office.

Transformation projects

We have several projects in play right now. We just rolled out our new online access system with a modern look and modern feel, built from the ground up. We’re trying to instill a digital first mindset, so all of the services that we build are being reused throughout the organization. So when I talk about front to back, it’s every tool that we’re developing: we’re rebuilding the infrastructure and rebuilding the capabilities with a cloud-first, mobile-first mindset.

But we’re also building these tools to enable the branch and client experience and allow our branch teams to grow, serve and lead in that space. We’ve got an application Starting Point, which is a digital questionnaire that allows the prospect to provide basic information and then delivers some personalized results back, so right away, the financial advisor can understand the client and really have a comprehensive conversation along those lines.

We’ve got Edward Jones Match, which is essentially a digital platform that recommends a financial advisor to a prospect based upon the fit and their personal situation and what the expertise of a financial advisor is. I go back to that human centeredness of who our clients are, what our financial advisors do best in terms of building that relationship and building that trust. We want to know about what matters most to our clients and our prospects. And this My Priorities application is a sort of online quiz that they can start a conversation on the front end with the prospect or the client, on what’s most important to them. And, by doing that during the first initial conversation, the client feels understood. They feel in control. They feel like this is a secure relationship that’s being built. It changes the dynamic of that first meeting and also strengthens the relationship throughout the process.

Brokerage is changing

Everything’s going to evolve. But what stays the same is the strength of the relationship and trust. I mean, just think about what’s going on today. Right? In this environment, you’ve got social unrest, you’ve got the situation with COVID. You’ve got displacement. You’ve got folks who need that help more than ever. And what’s interesting about this time is that all of these tools that we’re using to connect with with folks are digital platforms: web conferencing, webinars, and how you do outreach during the situation that we’re in, all require that digital platform. The business and the tools that we use continue to evolve.

That relationship that’s required to earn the trust, which is built across the moments that matter for our clients, is key. So I think that’s the durable piece — the relationship and the needs that clients have. We want to think about how we can use technology to serve those needs. Think about the arc of somebody’s life. They’re just graduating college and they’re thinking about what their future looks like in terms of a place to live and investments and whether they want to get married. And then fast forward 10 years and it’s a house, it’s children and saving with a 529. So, that whole continuum continues to change, continues to evolve, and technology runs right alongside to help build trust along with the financial advisor.

Digital talent

I think about change and innovation across three principles: leadership, learning and communication. It takes a strong leader to say we’re going to change, especially change in a firm that’s been successful to date with the way that we’ve done things both from a business perspective and a technology perspective. So that leadership aspect is key.

With learning, we want to absolutely offer every option possible for our folks to come up to speed on the new technology. And they have. When somebody comes to Jones, we want them to build their career. We want to advance their career. We want them to continue to learn and advance, so those options are always there for folks.

With communication, we want to communicate the why — why are we changing? Why are we doing things differently? It’s about competitive advantage.

And with all of that, we’re still moving so fast that we’ve got to partner with strategic partners to help us get in the game and have multiple irons in the fire. So, that whole notion of leadership, learning and communication, but also partnering with some strategic partners that will grow with us and be part of the Jones family is really, really important to the success of this firm going forward.

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