Among the 47 bank brokerage firms that participated in our recent survey on omni-channel segmentation, one-out-of-five reported having a digital platform where clients can obtain advice. Many more aspire to have a digital advice platform, but that leaves nearly half of the firms surveyed who do not currently have a digital platform and have no plans to deploy one.

Large firms are further ahead in developing their digital advice platforms, relative to smaller firms. Among banks that own their broker dealer, 29% reported having a digital platform where clients can obtain advice, as compared to just 14% of institutions that outsource to a third-party BD.

No matter how you slice it, our industry’s use of digital platforms to deliver advice to clients is still in its infancy. The question everyone is trying to answer is, when will it mature? (I.e., when will it become profitable?)

At our recent study group meeting of executives responsible for guiding their bank or credit union’s omni-channel strategy, one answer seemed to emerge: perhaps never.

High development costs and low fees make it very difficult to turn a profit off digital. But focusing on profit misses the true value that a digital platform brings to the table. By servicing clients that might otherwise go elsewhere for advice (Millennials, online-only clients, and those with low account balances), digital platforms provide a way for bank brokerage firms to hold onto those clients as they accumulate wealth, and one day reap the benefits by capturing those additional assets. Positioning digital as a loss leader might be the best way to ensure that it can mature to compliment the rest of your practice.