The Decision Making Process

Traditional and Alternative Sources

Balancing High Tech and High Touch

Key Finding from a Previous Phoenix Synergistics Survey:

According to the 2016 Phoenix Synergistics survey, Online Financial Management and Advisory Tools, only about one-third of Internet households have heard of robo advisors and an even smaller number use them.  How likely is it that these new automated advisory services will catch on with consumers as awareness in the market grows?

Highlights of the Study

This study examines the experience of mass affluent households with financial advice and planning.  Sources of influence, preferences, and reaction to automated and non-traditional services are assessed.


National Internet Survey – The survey will include 1,500 online interviews with consumers age 18 or older. Asset quotas include: 200 – <$100K; 275 – $100K-$249.9K; 275 – $250K-$499.9K; 275 – $500K-$749.9K; 275 – $750K-$1M; and 200 – more than $1M.

Key Dates

April 28, 2017 – Final acceptance of client comments on the questionnaire.

April 28, 2017 – Charter fee date.

June 2017– Initial results available.

July 2017 – Project Report available.

Strategic Objectives

  • Profile households’ savings and investment activity – encompassing accounts and services held, relative conservative/aggressive orientation, reasons started to save or invest, and approach to decision making.
  • Assess consumers’ approach to financial planning – including the perception of current planning efforts, dealings with advisors or professionals; the types of services, products, or areas addressed through the planning process; and the degree of confidence in current relationships.
  • Gauge the future potential for planning and advisory services – such as determining future specific financial needs, the likelihood of working with a professional or advisor, important criteria in selecting an advisor, and reasons for non-interest.
  • Explore the role of technology as competitive or complementary to traditional financial planning – examining usage of online personal financial management, online planning tools, and experience with robo advisors or robo investors.
  • Examine the process of implementing an advisory relationship – detailing the motivations for first starting to use an advisor or professional, the initial method of contact, what types of initial discussions or assessments took place, types of pricing arrangements, and moving or ending relationships.
  • Determine communication preferences in dealing with an advisor or professional  – covering aspects such as frequency and channels of contact, satisfaction with degree of contact, expected response times to a question or issue, and the importance of human contact for robo advisory services.
  • Identify, segment, and target those consumer households that are primary markets for financial planning services – utilizing variables such as age, household income, asset level – and attitudinal factors related to needs, perceptions, and priorities.

Research Issues

  • Households today are faced with a wide, and perhaps confusing, array of options and choices for obtaining financial advice and planning.  Traditional players – such as bankers, brokers, and financial planners – certainly continue to have a strong presence but are faced with challenges and opportunities related to technology adoption and integration, the expectations of emerging market segments, and non-traditional players.
  • Consumers are bombarded by offers of advice on household budgeting and finance, saving and investing, insurance needs, and estate planning.  How they sort through the deluge of magazine articles, blog posts, webinars, community forums, emails, and phone calls to determine what is valuable information or not is an important process to understand.  Concurrent to this, looking at the role of personal interaction – not just from financial representatives but also friends, family, or other reference group members is vital.  The level and depth of financial planning available to households also represents a wide spectrum.  Ascertaining what degree customer segments want – ranging from frequent face-to-face contact and guidance to a technology-driven “do it yourself” approach – is a key objective.  Determining how a “personal touch” and technology can interact to deliver value to customers is also important.
  • Prior work by Phoenix Synergistics has found that robo advisory services – despite being thought of as displacing the human element – have broader appeal when there is an option for contacting a representative.  How frequently customers want to be contacted, and by what channels, is a critical element in any advisory relationship.  Financial institutions and investment organizations are faced with the challenge of understanding the consumer perspective in designing and marketing their financial advisory and planning services – in terms of the degree of information, advice and recommendations, and transaction capability desired. [F254]


PFM; Account Aggregation

Robo Advisors

New Competitors

Key Finding from the SYNERGISTICS Report:

Results reveal current usage of Robo advisors is reported by just a narrow slice of consumers, with usage slightly higher among younger consumers.

A87 Prop Graphic

Highlights of the Study

This study examines consumer reaction to a variety of online financial management services including PFM, online tools, account aggregation, and robo advisors.  The threat of new competitors in the market is also assessed.

National Internet Survey – 992 consumers age 18 or older.

Key Dates


August 2016 – Project Report available.

Strategic Questions

  • How do consumers assess their financial situation – encompassing aspects such as analyzing expenses, tracking assets and liabilities, and measuring investment performance?  What methods are used – including software, personal financial management sites, provider websites, or other applications?
  • What types of online financial planning tools are used or seen as valuable by consumers – including bill or payment alerts, investment planning, loan calculators, budget planners, retirement planning, and tax planning?
  • How widely has account aggregation been adopted?  Is there an opportunity for further adoption? What benefits and drawbacks do consumers see in account aggregation?
  • Is account aggregation a tool for strengthening main provider relationships – or is there a threat from third parties?  What types of providers are currently used by consumers for this service?  Does having a longstanding relationship give a provider a competitive advantage in this market?
  • What is the current level of familiarity and experience with robo advisors?  Are users placing significant portions of their assets with these organizations?  Are they satisfied with the investment returns they are receiving?
  • How wide is the potential for expanded adoption of robo advisors?  Does an option for human contact broaden the appeal?  What are the perceived advantages and disadvantages of this service?
  • What is the profile of current users of online planning tools, account aggregation, and robo advisors in terms of demographic and behavioral variables?  Are potential adopters similar or different?

Research Issues

  • Online financial management and advisory services comprise an exciting area of innovation in financial services. The ongoing development of services, applications, and access channels makes this area something of a moving target. Personal financial management (PFM) encompasses an array of online money management, tracking, information, and planning tools.  Many parties – depository institutions, investment providers, financial planners, and third-party providers – have become heavily involved in PFM in recent years.  At their most advanced, some PFM services utilize account aggregation to import data from multiple providers and offer analytical capabilities to provide a total view of a consumer’s financial position.  Ideally, these tools, in conjunction with online banking and bill payment, may add “stickiness” to a relationship.
  • A more recent, and potentially disruptive, development is that of automated or robo investing services. These services utilize computer models or algorithms to recommend investment allocations and choices based on factors such as a customer’s investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon.  Some even make actual investment transactions and reallocate balances on an ongoing, automated basis.  Both traditional and non-traditional players are active in this area.
  • As online financial management and advisory services evolve, it may become essential for providers to incorporate these options into their customer relationship strategies.  It is very important to understand the customer perspective in terms of the degree of information, advice and recommendations, and transaction capability desired from such services. [A87]


Advisory Services

Changing Needs and Priorities

Wealth Management

Key Finding from a Recent SYNERGISTICS Research Survey:

Results from a 2013 SYNERGISTICS Mass Affluent survey revealed that many of the Mass Affluent use some type of professional or advisor, with advisors at their financial institution being most widely mentioned. Even so, they are cited by a minority leaving significant room for growth in this area.  Does this change as they approach being a high net worth segment?

F234 Prop Graphic

Highlights of the Study

This study examines the financial activity, behavior and perceptions of those with investable assets of $100K or more (including those with assets of more than $1M) in order to assess the changes that occur as the mass affluent market transitions to a high net worth segment.

National Internet Survey – 700 consumers age 18+ – including 600 with assets of $100K-$1M and 100 with more than $1M.


Key Dates

May 1, 2015 — Charter fee/Intro pricing ends.
May 1, 2015 — Final acceptance of comments on questionnaire.
July 2015 — Project Report available.

Strategic Questions

  • Are there differences between mass affluent and highly affluent households in terms of attitudes, perceptions, and expectations that will impact providers’ marketing and communication strategies for reaching these customers? How do aspects such as market volatility, health care costs, changes in tax laws or tax rates, and financial product complexity impact this environment?
  • How does the financial profile – including provider relationships, banking products, savings and investment accounts, and credit services – change or shift as households move from a mass affluent to a high net worth status? How does the demand for new financial products and services differ among these segments?
  • How do relationships with various financial professionals and advisors broaden or change when assessing activity among mass affluent and high net worth households? Is there a shift from a “DIY” approach to a need for more professional guidance?  Are there differences in communication preferences in terms of the desired frequency of contact with professionals or advisors and channels used?
  • Do channel patterns for financial information and advice change or vary as asset level or financial status increases? Does social media have a role as a marketing and communications avenue for reaching mass affluent and high net worth households?
  • Is there an asset level or other point of financial status at which receptivity to the concept of “wealth management” – encompassing services such as estate planning, tax minimization strategies, and specialized credit and insurance services – becomes more positive and broadens? Are there segments for which it is more appropriate to market these services using an ad hoc approach?
  • How extensively are PFM services used by mass affluent and high net worth households? What is the potential for certain types of planning tools and services positioned under the PFM umbrella – such as for tax planning, reaching investment goals, examining loan scenarios, net worth calculations, and budget planning?
  • How can financial institutions identify and target those segments that are mass affluent, high net worth, or possibly a transition group in between?  Beyond traditional descriptors such as age, household income, and asset level – are there more in-depth variables related to household needs, perceptions, and priorities?

Research Issues

  • Financial providers – including banks, mutual fund companies, and brokerage companies – have for many years recognized the mass affluent sector as an important segment for relationship expansion and revenue opportunities.  Although definitions vary, investable liquid assets of $100K to $1M is the typical criteria for segmenting these households.  The improving economy and rebounding stock markets have made mass affluent customers even more attractive.  Cross-selling efforts for deposit products, investments, and credit services have intensified as this market “shakes off” the effects of the economic recession and credit market crisis.
  • A key question to address, however, is at what point do mass affluent customers transition to high net worth?  What are the implications of this for providers – in areas such as product design, communication tactics, delivery channels, and advisory services?  Will personal contacts and a higher level of service become more important to a customer segment that is largely technology savvy and comfortable using channels such as online and mobile banking, as well as dealing with online providers?  And very importantly, how will customers’ own self perceptions impact how providers approach them?  Do once objectionable terms such as “affluent” and “wealth management” become more acceptable when financial assets or net worth reach a certain threshold?
  • These are the types of issues that must be addressed as providers adjust marketing strategies and tactics for that portion of the mass affluent customer base that is transitioning to a high net worth status. [F234]