Schwab Advisor Services’ 2020 Independent Advisor Outlook Study

Focus on technology


Advisors report unexpected investments, accelerated adoption, and rising operational complexity in their tech stacks 

Almost half of RIA firms made investments in technology in 2020 that were not part of original annual plans

For the past 13 years Schwab Advisor Services has sought the perspective of independent advisors in an ongoing effort to better understand the current and evolving state of the industry. Through the Independent Advisor Outlook Study (IAOS), Schwab shines a spotlight on topics which are top-of-mind for advisors.

The latest study comes at a time when firms are dealing with the impacts of COVID-19: on their businesses, the markets, and the industry at large. This first wave of a two-part release of the 2020 Study focuses on the impacts of the pandemic on the advisor tech stack.

The data highlights the importance of agile strategic planning when it comes to technology spending, implementation, and adoption. Moreover, the data emphasizes that seamless, cross-operation digital workflows is a best-practice for today’s RIA firms and a key to making technology deliver full ROI for clients and the business alike.

Andrew quote

“At Schwab, we believe opportunities for enhanced technology adoption and integration are ceaseless – a belief that has been solidified by this year’s unexpected transition to a remote work environment.  Advisors are dealing with many hurdles as a result of the global pandemic, and they are leaning into technology more than ever to work with their employees, peers, clients, and prospects as seamlessly as possible."

Andrew Salesky, Senior Vice President, Digital Advisor Solutions
Andrew Salesky

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Technology presents some challenges for clients, but opportunities for firms overall

Technology presents both challenges and opportunity for advisors running their businesses in a remote work environment.

According to the survey, one of the biggest challenges facing advisors’ businesses this year is their clients’ abilities to use technology to connect virtually (35%). On the flip side, 37% of advisors view leveraging technology infrastructure to be able to seamlessly work remotely as one of the biggest opportunities to their business.

COVID-19 propelled technology to the top of the operational agenda for independent advisor firms in 2020

Advisors indicate they have made unexpected technological investments and accelerated adoption amid the pandemic. More than two-thirds of survey respondents (61%) say they are adapting to new technology at a faster rate in the COVID-19 environment.

Not only were firms forced to adapt and adopt quickly, but the vast majority (71%) made investments in new technology this year, and for almost half of firms (46%) these investments were not part of the 2020 plan.

"We also see technology providers working to deliver solutions that meet advisors where they are in the adoption and integration processes. The virtual environment coupled with a rich array of available technology choices puts advisors in a unique position to build the technology stack that works best for their clients and their business.” - Andrew Salesky, Senior Vice President, Digital Advisor Solutions

Operational complexity has increased for many firms

As a result of COVID-19, operational complexity has increased for four in 10 firms. Half of these firms (53%) have taken it in stride and feel they are on top of the increased operational complexity, while the other half (44%) is not working through it as well as they would like. A small number of firms report that they are struggling (3%) to keep up with the increased complexity of operations.


About the study

The Independent Advisor Outlook Study (IAOS) is an online study conducted for Charles Schwab by Logica Research. Logica Research is neither affiliated with, nor employed by, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. Read the results here.

The survey responses come from 1,347 independent investment advisors who custody assets with Schwab, representing a total of $513B in assets under management (AUM). The survey has a three percent margin of error at the 95% confidence level. Participation is voluntary, participants are not incentivized, and the typical (median) survey length was 16 minutes. The study was conducted from August 3 through August 16, 2020.


Schwab Advisor ServicesTM serves independent investment advisors and includes the custody, trading and support services of Schwab.  Independent investment advisors are not owned by, affiliated with, or supervised by Schwab.  © 2020 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. ("Schwab") All rights reserved. Member SIPC.