Q&A With David Lessing, Chief Operating Officer, Wealth Management, US, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney

I had a chance to catch up with David Lessing, COO of wealth management at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, in advance of his keynote next month at the Customer Experience Forum. I spoke with David about what it means to have an outside-in perspective on customer experience at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Here are some of his thoughts.

Q: How would you describe the experience that you want Morgan Stanley Smith Barney customers to have?

A: The most significant driver of a client’s experience with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney is that client’s financial advisor and service team. We are focused on ensuring that our firm offers clients the most talented financial advisors with access to the best tools and investment insights in the industry. Although each client has somewhat different expectations of what they’d like to receive from us, we are committed to both excellent service and deploying our expertise to help drive investment results in line with the client’s goals, something we define as “investment excellence.”

Q: How does Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s customer experience provide a differentiated experience from direct competitors?

A: We’ve had the opportunity to invest in a new platform over the past three years to a greater extent than any other competitor. We’ve used that opportunity to add new tools for financial advisors for portfolio construction, external asset aggregation, client relationship management, and internal networking with other financial advisors who may have complementary expertise. By hiring talented advisors, providing appropriate training, and deploying a sophisticated platform, we have confidence that we’ve assembled the best advisors in the industry — and this is backed up by the fact that we have the most advisors of any firm in the Barron’s Top 100 rankings and the most fee-based, managed account assets of any firm. Clients recognize the access to intellectual capital they get from being at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MSSB), and they have rewarded us by giving us some $1.7 trillion in total assets.

Q: What are one or two of the most critical activities MSSB performs that enables the delivery of a great customer experience?

A: Consistent, in-depth professional development for our financial advisors and providing them with tools that distinguish them from advisors at other firms.

Q: What gets in the way of delivering the right experience to your customers?

A: MSSB is a big place, and while scale is an advantage in supporting our ability to invest in the business and provide an enormous range of resources to our financial advisors, it can also present challenges. People need to know all that is available and how to access it, so it’s a constant process of communication and education. Also, if a client and advisor are mismatched for any reason, we need to be proactive in addressing that. 

Hear more from David at the Customer Experience Forum, June 26 to 27 in New York.