Accelerating the client experience toward the future


September 30, 2020

By Sara Tresch, Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation and User Experience

We’ve started a new school year in this COVID-19 world, and my kids have an entirely different experience delivered at home via video conference. I’m grateful to the educators working with so many constraints to overcome inherent user experience challenges. My kindergartner’s lessons are designed with touchscreen as she’s learning to read, while my second grader is learning to type and record videos.   

Just as schools are working hard to serve the unique needs of children, Schwab serves a range of investors: from those opening their first brokerage account to retirees entering a new life stage. I lead Digital Transformation and User Experience, including our Client Journey Accelerators whose mission is to develop innovative digital experiences using design thinking and agile practices.

Sometimes our Client Journey teams focus on details, like which colors and fonts retirees see best in a mobile investing app. Other times they focus broadly, such as helping independent advisors start their own practice or launch digital solutions. The result is an easier, more accessible investing experience.

I sat down with the leaders who run our three Client Journey Accelerators to see how digital innovation has evolved during the pandemic.



SARA: What is the goal of your Client Journey Accelerator team?

KATHIE: We’re focused on making the retail client onboarding experience as simple as possible. My team has the room to get messy, break things, and challenge the way we’ve been operating so we can solve common client roadblocks. We get to work in a way that is less common in a corporate environment.

ALISON: My team focuses on serving independent advisors who custody assets with Schwab, improving experiences like onboarding new clients, maintaining existing relationships, and creating more fully digital client experiences. Clients and advisors seek ease and efficiency, and we help them do digitally what typically requires two and a half trees-worth of paper. The demand for this only became more prominent as advisors and clients started working from home.

KRISTINA: Our vision is to walk with clients through their unique retirement journey, helping them feel confident and secure in the process so they can enjoy the life they’ve been financially planning for.

SARA: How have client needs changed since the outbreak of COVID-19?

KRISTINA: Six months ago, a lot of people felt the “safest” or “most secure” option for submitting financial documents or handling financial activities was to go to a branch. Now, security means being able to do these things from home without coming into physical contact with anyone. A small silver lining has been seeing clients discover digital processes that Schwab offered all along.

SARA: How have clients responded to using digital tools?

ALISON: Going into the pandemic, some advisors feared it would be harder to maintain personal relationships with their clients. However, many have shared that communicating with clients from home over video has helped them learn more about their lives, building a deeper personal connection. Instead of hiding pets and kids, they have become a part of meetings, and it makes financial conversations more human.

SARA: How does your team stay connected in this new environment?  

KATHIE: We’ve become more creative in the virtual environment. At one point we had 70 people on four different teams running around their homes doing a virtual scavenger hunt. It was awesome seeing everyone’s pictures of teammates doing headstands in their kitchens, tracking down random stuff around their house, dancing to music videos, and all kinds of crazy things. The reality is that often people get even more creative when they’re dealt with constraints.

ALISON: My team recently invited a magician to host a magic show for families working from home with young kids. We all have to acknowledge that this new environment doesn’t just include us, it includes everyone in our households.

KRISTINA: My team came up with “Beans and Bandwidth,” where we had a randomized virtual coffee buddy assigned each week. We miss the connection that happens when you’re chit-chatting in the hallway, or filling your coffee at the same time as a coworker. It’s good to intentionally connect.

SARA: What excites you most about your work?

ALISON: I’ve been in the trenches with advisors. I’ve been there as they onboarded their first clients. I’ve broken the heels of my shoes jumping over boxes of paperwork. So, I’m extremely passionate about making an advisor’s transition into their own business an easier, more digital experience. There is nothing more important to advisors than how they start their relationship with clients, and our ability to support that is critical.

SARA: What outcomes have been particularly impactful during this time?

KRISTINA: Our clients go through big financial moments every day, and that didn’t stop when the pandemic hit. If you’ve lost a loved one, for example, and have to figure out how to settle an inheritance but can’t talk to someone in person, we provide a digital channel to keep that process moving forward. Many financial moments are very painful. It’s really an honor and a privilege to help clients navigate these difficult moments – to show up for people when it matters most.

SARA: Is there a non-financial digital experience that inspires you?

KRISTINA: I love the way content streaming services show up seamlessly when you change devices. If you’re watching a show on your phone and pause to switch to your TV, it knows where you left off. There are no questions or steps, just the enjoyable seamless kind of action that we’ve come to expect from a good digital experience. I like the idea of bringing a seamless content streaming-type experience into everything we do.


About Charles Schwab

At Charles Schwab we believe in the power of investing to help individuals create a better tomorrow. We have a history of challenging the status quo in our industry, innovating in ways that benefit investors and the advisors and employers who serve them, and championing our clients’ goals with passion and integrity.

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The Charles Schwab Corporation (NYSE: SCHW) is a leading provider of financial services, with more than 360 offices and 14.3 million active brokerage accounts, 1.7 million corporate retirement plan participants, 1.5 million banking accounts, and $4.5 trillion in client assets as of August 31, 2020. Through its operating subsidiaries, the company provides a full range of wealth management, securities brokerage, banking, asset management, custody, and financial advisory services to individual investors and independent investment advisors. Its broker-dealer subsidiary, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (member, and affiliates offer a complete range of investment services and products including an extensive selection of mutual funds; financial planning and investment advice; retirement plan and equity compensation plan services; referrals to independent, fee-based investment advisors; and custodial, operational and trading support for independent, fee-based investment advisors through Schwab Advisor Services. Its banking subsidiary, Charles Schwab Bank (member FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender), provides banking and lending services and products. More information is available at