Online document vaults—the secure and convenient location for clients to upload and store personal documents—can serve as a major competitive differentiator within the brokerage space. This underused feature improves client-advisor collaboration, helps clients better organize their financial lives and increases secure site engagement.

In November 2021, CI’s brokerage team published an Online Document Vaults report (subscription required) that established several best practices. Currently, only eight of 18 firms in our e-Monitor coverage group offer document vaults in any capacity, so this is clearly an area where firms can distinguish themselves and gain a leg-up on competitors. Here are three top tips to help online brokerage firms develop stand-out document vaults:

Make online document vaults easily findable

Including a link to the document vault via the top-level menu structure is a common and effective method to ensure the vault is visible to clients. An alternative would be to integrate the vault intuitively within the account document section housing clients’ statements, 1099s and trade confirmations.

This image shows Merrill Lynch's dropdown menu in the header
Merrill Lynch Header Dropdown Menu
This image shows Ameriprise's documents flyout in the main menu
Ameriprise Documents Main Menu Flyout

Notably, Fidelity, Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch cross-promote their document vault in the sidebar sections of account document pages.

This screenshot shows the statements and documents page from Merrill Edge/Lynch
Merrill Edge/Lynch Statements & Documents Page Documents Vault Promotion

Allow for collaboration

The ability to exchange comments with financial advisors or other professionals enhances a vault’s utility and ease of use. Collaboration is particularly important for advised clients, who may want to make quick notes or ask an advisor about a certain document. Morgan Stanley and Raymond James allow clients and advisors to add, edit and delete comments within each file. These features, along with clearly denoted comment authors and publish dates, enable advisors and clients to communicate effectively within files. Both firms also stand out for issuing secure site notifications when new comments have been added, allowing clients to view and respond quickly to potentially urgent comments. Raymond James clients can also enable email notifications for new comments.

This screenshot shows Raymond James' documents page, including the comments section that allows advisors and clients to communicate
Raymond James Document Lightbox with Sidebar Comments Section
This image shows Morgan Stanley's documents page with a sidebar that allows clients and advisors to communicate
Morgan Stanley Document Lightbox with Sidebar Comments Section

Provide clients with a list of suggested documents they should upload

Clients may lack an understanding of the types of documents that would be helpful for them to upload. As such, a suggested list can help them make the most of the service.

TIAA includes a library of suggested document types users can upload to create a well-rounded estate plan. The firm’s secure site Safe Estate offering contains “topics” for estate planning documents, including last wills, funeral arrangements and general power of attorney. These are displayed in a comprehensive Topic Library that lists each topic’s status, category, priority and number of files alongside a Start link. Each Start link functions as the document upload process and leads to a tailored Start Topic process for each document. Once clients upload a document, its respective Start link turns to an Update link, leading to the last step of the upload process.

This screenshot shows TIAA's Safe Estate dashboard topic library page
TIAA Safe Estate Dashboard Topic Library
This screenshot shows TIAA's safe estate edit documents page
TIAA Safe Estate Edit Document Page

Document vaults are growing in popularity, representing a rising interest in personalized archives. For more tips like this, check out our e-Monitor research services or contact us using this form.

Sam Marlowe

Sam Marlowe is a Senior Analyst on CI's brokerage team.