Lead User Experience Designer
2017 – 2018
To ensure confidentiality, I have omitted and obfuscated information in this case study.
The information here is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.
Advisor Sleeve Platform
The most productive financial advisors spend more time communicating with clients than trading assets.
As the largest independent broker-dealer in the United States, LPL Financial provides 15,000+ financial advisors with the tools, services, and oversight to run and grow successful practices. LPL’s business model is symbiotic: when advisors earn more, so does LPL. After decades of working with advisors, LPL researchers identified patterns in how the most successful advisors run their practices.
Enable advisors to grow their practice by spending a larger proportion of their time on higher value activities
The most successful financial advisors usually have a large staff to whom they delegate time-consuming activities, specifically trading. How can LPL help advisors with smaller practices to minimize these lower-value activities?
Advisors Producing ≤ $500k
Advisors in the bottom tier of revenue generation spend the most time (avg. 42%) on repetitive tasks: portfolio management, investment research, and client service.
Advisors Producing ≥ $2 million
On the other hand, advisors in the top tier spend the majority of their time (avg. 74%) on proactive communication and business development.
Source: LPL Research Practice Management Survey 2014
LPL already offers financial platforms — termed centrally managed accounts — where LPL staff manage the trading for accounts, freeing up advisor’s time. However, these platforms require advisors to utilize the financial models of a third party, instead of their own carefully-crafted, tried-and-true models. Advisors gave consistent feedback that they didn’t want to trust such critical decisions to a third-party, that their own custom models were foundational to the success of their practice.
The New Initiative
Help advisors free up time by enabling them to use their own custom models while still outsourcing trading to LPL staff.
LPL prioritized this initiative — later termed Advisor Sleeve — as part a larger strategy to offer tools that help advisors be more efficient and minimize low-value tasks.
Lead User Experience Designer
After Product Management outlined the high-level business strategy, my team was commissioned to design the system by which:
Advisors create and manage their custom models
LPL administers Compliance oversight of those models
LPL staff review model allocations, prior to trading assets in another pre-existing tool
Under the direction of the team UX architect and in close collaboration with our UX researchers, I lead the UX design for Advisor Sleeve from the early phases of concept exploration through design iteration & testing to development support and eventually into Beta with advisors.
Research & Design Approach
Understanding User Needs
By understanding how advisors already use models, we created a focused value proposition for what Advisor Sleeve needed to offer…and what it didn’t.
These in-depth interviews were the foundation of our strategic design. For example, we identified that — while researching investments is an essential part of advisors’ process for updating models — re-creating such capabilities would provide only tangential value. Enabling advisors to import models from Morningstar provided a better experience and consumed much less of our time and budget, allowing us to focus on innovations that truly make a difference to advisors, such as real-time model risk assessment.
Process Map: Advisors updating models
We tested basic wireframes with users to identify the functionality and content necessary for managing models.
This deepened our understanding of how advisors utilize models and enabled us to design intuitive process flows and individual page layouts. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss Compliance restrictions with advisors, empowering them to weigh in on how to minimize the encumberance of regulations.
A Wholistic Product Approach
Silos were the mistakes of the past. We collaborated with other teams to ensure Advisor Sleeve integrated effectively with the existing platform.
While still in the exploration phase, we learned of another project underway that planned to offer financial models for client reports. At the time, LPL still operated primarily with a project approach (as opposed to product), and this team planned to offer models for use only in that single area. If our two efforts didn’t collaborate, the end result would force advisors to add and update the same models in multiple areas across a single application — a recipe for confusion, unnecessary work, and wasted time.
So, in a radical departure from LPL’s project-focused culture, we collaborated to create a Model Hub: a centralized location where advisors can manage models for use across the entire application.
Defining Information Architecture
After prioritizing use cases, I crafted an intuitive information architecture to support how advisors work with models.
Thinking ahead, I employed a change-management approach when defining the I.A. for adding, updating, and viewing models. Primarily, I separated content strategically into individual pages, even though some pages would have little content at first, and others wouldn’t be developed until much later. However, this paid off for both users and LPL. For users, this meant that the overall flow for accomplishing tasks seemed to change very little, even as more features were released. It also prevented substantial rework as development proceeded beyond the original MVP, saving time and budget and helping the larger project stay on track for 2018 delivery.
Task Flow: Creating a New Model
Design, Test, Refine, Repeat...at the Enterprise Level.
Advisor Sleeve needed to support a variety of essential user tasks, so we organized this “mountain” of work by iterating through each scenario. We separately designed, tested, and refined until the goals of each were met. Below is a sampling of the key scenarios.
Creating new models
Viewing and editing models
Viewing change history for compliance
Assigning models to accounts
Importing allocations from other tools
Sharing models with fellow advisors and staff
Product Scope: A Sampling of Key User Needs
Intuitive & Efficient Allocations Entry
In our initial research, we identified that the allocations entry experience would be pivotal to the success of Advisor Sleeve. Over several iterations, we refined this design to be exceptionally intuitive and efficient, even while enforcing compliance requirements and introducing new concepts, such as risk scoring.
"Awesome interface! So easy to use and create models and/or change models. Was able to create 6 models in less than 5 minutes. This would have taken me hours inside of enhanced trading and rebalancing. Love it!"
(Feedback received from an advisor during Beta.)
To enable advisors to create their own custom models, LPL had to introduce a new risk scoring process. In usability testing, we refined this design to make it easy for advisors to understand how risk scores relate to investment objective.
While advisors specify allocations, the model requirements display clearly in the same view, updating instantly as changes are made. It’s easy to tell when all requirements are met.
Key information: allocations are displayed in the way that advisors think about them, at both the asset class and individual position level.
Realistic workflow: advisors experiment with models before using them, so they need to save drafts and create models over several sessions.
Clarity and focus: Separate pages provide focus and clarity for each step of the model creation process. As an added bonus, this also enabled a user-centric change management approach to releases.
On-boarding & Adoption
Reducing Barriers to Adoption: Take a Test Drive
Because not all advisors are experts at creating models, LPL Compliance felt it necessary to require on-boarding training. While oversight is essential in any finance organization, we knew that careless implementation would create massive barriers to adoption.
To minimize this barrier, I designed a solution by which advisors can “test-drive” the product first. I advocated that advisors be able to create and save drafts of models, a key task that would give them a good feel for the new tool. Training would only be required in order for them to publish models and assign them to accounts.
We found this approach to be especially effective after product demos. The presenter encourages advisors to check Advisor Sleeve out for themselves. Once they do, advisors are enthusiastic, motivated to complete the training and get started.
Beta & Launch
A Win for Both Advisors and LPL
As UX professionals, we champion the mutual benefits of user-centered design: that customers will be made happier and more loyal, making business more profitable. In the case of Advisor Sleeve, I was proud to be part of an initiative that did exactly this. Though I left LPL before Beta proceeded to full launch, the product has been well received by both advisors and stakeholders. As of Aug. 2018, 28 advisors had allocated $39 million to the platform across 195 accounts.
Task Flow: Creating a New Model