IRA Mystery Shop & Account-Opening Study

The Challenge

Our client made the strategic decision to increase its share of the individual retirement account (IRA) marketplace. To support that goal, the firm decided it needed to improve its IRA-opening process and client experience. This required insight into the current effectiveness of its account-opening process relative to key competitors across three key channels–-the branch office, on the phone and on the Web. The firm was also interested in understanding how competitors sell related products and services to mass-affluent investors during the account-opening process.

The Solution

To assist with this competitor assessment, Corporate Insight developed a framework for analyzing the effectiveness of the account opening and transfer of assets processes. This included such metrics as the time it took to complete the online application, the complexity of the transfer of assets paperwork, the assistance offered by branch, phone and Web support teams throughout the account opening and TOA process, and the time between the submission of TOA paperwork and the delivery of assets to the receiving firm.

To conduct the research, we used experienced mystery shoppers (including Corporate Insight senior staff) to open actual IRAs with several different firms, including the client firm. Shoppers reviewed their experience using a detailed matrix template and shop write-up form we developed specifically for the project. Working with the client firm, we jointly developed a script and investor profile for the shoppers, creating a consistent scenario across firms. To ensure a level playing field, prospects could not have a preexisting relationship with the firm they shopped. Adherence to the profile and script was particularly important for the branch and phone shops where FAs interacted directly with the prospect. One objective of the profile/script was to see how well FAs probed for information and the degree to which they tried to cross-sell products suited to mass affluent investors.

As part of the process, we collected the on-boarding materials and all related communication received by each shopper as part of the account opening process, copies of which were shared with the client firm. We also provided an in-depth write-up and matrix for each mystery shop that detailed the entire experience from initial contact to completion of the transfer of assets process. Our analysts then presented a summary report to the client’s senior management team, which assessed the strengths and weakness of the client firm’s account opening, on-boarding and transfer of assets processes, as well as revealing the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor firm’s experience.

The Impact

Corporate Insight identified several flaws in the client firm’s online account application, including a prominently displayed “Cancel” button that discouraged users from completing the form. We also found weaknesses in the in-branch experience, including the failure of the F.A. to take control of the transfer of assets process. Flaws in the firm’s on-boarding communication program were also revealed. Our findings enabled the firm to quickly correct some process problems, reducing online application abandonment. The research then served as the foundation for a new and more efficient account opening and on-boarding experience.