Morgan Stanley hiring hundreds into wealth unit to train technophobe advisers

(Reuters) - Morgan Stanley is hiring hundreds of tech-savvy specialists at its wealth management branches to train advisers on the firm’s new digital tools, the bank’s co-head of wealth management Andy Saperstein said in an interview.

FILE PHOTO - The logo of Morgan Stanley is seen at an office building in Zurich, Switzerland September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

The digital adviser associates will help advisers get up to speed on new products, such as software that recommends customized investment ideas and apps that let advisers text or video chat with clients. They will also help advisers promote their presence through social media, Saperstein added.

The effort is part of a broader technology push by Morgan Stanley, which has been investing heavily in new digital tools and products, many of which will be rolled out later this year. Although the tools will not necessarily generate revenue, they will help financial advisers do their jobs better, Morgan Stanley Chief Executive James Gorman said in January. They may also attract and retain customers who prefer digital options.

“We’ve realized that our ability to invest resources in tools and technology is only as good as the advisers’ ability to implement this into their practices,” Saperstein said on Friday. “We need to figure out ways to support advisers in that change.”

The digital specialists will be trained at Morgan Stanley’s Purchase, New York wealth headquarters. They will then move to branches throughout the U.S. beginning this summer. They may eventually be incorporated onto adviser teams, Saperstein said.

Morgan Stanley’s digital revamp reflects a broader industry effort to keep wealth management relevant to younger Americans, who are accustomed to conducting their financial lives online and may not see the need for professional advisers.

The average age of a wealth management customer industry-wide is 62, according to data services company Pricemetrix, while the average age of a financial adviser is 51, according to research firm Cerulli Associates. Only 11 percent of advisers are under the age of 35.

As traditional brokerages get older, several wealth-management startups have been launched, offering automated, low-cost investment advice geared at younger clients. These so-called “robo-advisers,” like Wealthfront and Betterment, manage clients’ money using algorithms and allow clients to see and alter their investments online, bypassing human advisers.

Morgan Stanley plans to introduce its own digital-only investment platform later this year, geared primarily toward children of existing clients. It is also using technology to automate some of the rote processes in branches, like opening accounts, to free advisers to spend more time with clients.

Morgan Stanley has made a number of key hires to build out its digital department, including Naureen Hassan, who joined as chief digital officer for the wealth business from Charles Schwab & Co Inc last year. It has also hired several technology executives from Bank of America’s Corp Merrill Lynch wealth unit.

Reporting by Olivia Oran in New York