Citizens Financial Group CEO Bruce Van Saun hasn’t been shy about his plans to expand the bank’s presence in wealth management.
The nation’s fifth-largest regional bank by assets has been on a buying spree that included the $149 acquisition of JMP Group in September 2021, the $3.5 billion deal for Investors Bancorp earlier that year and the $7.5 billion purchase of Clarfeld Financial in 2019.
Leading the expansion is Chris Weyrauch, Citizens’ head of wealth management. Weyrauch joined Citizens in April 2021 after spending 28 years with TIAA, where he served as CEO and president of the financial services firm.
After a year of settling into the new position, InvestmentNews spoke with Weyrauch about his role and the firm’s vision for growing its financial advisory business. Weyrauch share why he thinks banks are positioned to attract advisers from the independent space and important of technology.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
InvestmentNews: Why is Citizens expanding into wealth management, and how is the firm looking to carve out market share?
Chris Weyrauch: It comes from a real position of strength, number one. A result of the great success that Citizens has had in growing a really strong brand amongst a really wide and diverse client set is that it positions us well for that next leg.
Citizens has had a wealth management business for a couple of decades and it has done quite well and is continuing to grow, but we have a really great opportunity to escalate that growth and do that in a much more meaningful way. We know the opportunity is there because of all those clients across segments and being positioned as a bank to provide holistic services from banking solutions all the way to in-depth managed money offerings is something we look forward to doing.
We’ve invested tremendous amounts of money into our training program so we can onboard the right talent and develop our people. We’ve invested extensively in our financial planning and advice capabilities. We onboarded 25 certified financial planners within the last 6 months to support our entire adviser channel, and we think that the combination of investing in our people and investing in our advice and planning capabilities really positions us well to complete against any financial services or wealth management organization out there.
IN: What role does technology play in Citizens’ wealth management plans, both for end clients as well as attracting and retaining advisers?
CW: I don’t think anybody’s having it easy when it comes to finding talent, keeping talent and harnessing that talent for the good of the organization and clients, and we feel that pressure too. Technology plays a critical role and it’s an increasing investment percentage in everybody’s budget.
If I’m an adviser and I’m out there looking at firms, my questions coming in that door are always going to be around the technology stack. What makes you different or unique versus the other firms that I’m working with? We’ve got to be in a position to tell a compelling story around our CRM and how our CRM serves as an enabler to our advisers to allow them to manage more client relationships. We’ve got to make sure that we can tell a story on how we’re [generating] next best action [alerts], using our data to keep our advisers informed about their clients and allow them to be more productive in their touch points.
IN: In 2018, Citizens did a partnership with SigFig on a digital advice product. Can you share where that is at now? Are you still working with them or going in a different direction with digital advice?
CW: I was not here for the initiation of that relationship, but I did hire an individual here who is overseeing our advice, planning and product, and that is Christina Hurley. What I can tell you is SigFig is still a strong partner to us, still very much an offer to go direct to consumers. It’s absolutely something we value. We are working with them actively to figure out how do we take it to the next level.
IN: What is the opportunity for a bank like Citizens around digital investing, advice and planning as opposed to other segments of the wealth industry?
CW: Banking today is becoming more digital. How people engage with us through deposit accounts or through lending experiences, it’s digital. It’s a natural extension to also be able to offer more sophisticated investment management solutions through a robo, digital-type offer.
One of the things that’s really unique about Citizens is we do have an offer where we can serve the UHNW in a meaningful away. We did an acquisition of an RIA, Clarfeld, back in 2019, which is really a full family office suite of solutions, everything from tax planning services to robust financial planning to CIO investment management capabilities. And then if you think about other [client] segments as we start to come down that pyramid … being able to provide those various different solutions that are scalable in nature and economic to deliver but meet all of the needs of clients does make us unique.
We think that being able to provide those services so early in one’s careers — opening their first deposit account, opening their first checking account and hopefully simultaneously opening their first investment management account through a robo-like offer — positions us very well. As their lives become more complicated, as they grow in their careers and they grow in their wealth, we’re very well-positioned to have that client move from segment to segment through Citizens and be able to provide services no matter where that client is in that journey.
IN: What else can you say about Citizens’ view of technology for the next few years? What is on the road map, what you think is going to be important or where are you looking to invest?
CW: As long as we’ve been talking about advice and planning, which for me has been decades, not all firms have been able to implement it and execute it across their entire footprint or ensure that clients are going through an advice and planning experience. So when I think about technology, my first interest is to continue to invest in that advice and planning experience and continue to digitize the intake process of how we collect data, how we deliver that financial plan, and digitize those continuous touches as we learn more and more about our clients. I think that is still the greatest opportunity for this industry to differentiate and make an impact on the lives of clients, and that is going to be where we place our heavy bet.