Work Unleashed: The accelerated path to digital for Mariner Wealth Advisors

Mariner Wealth Advisors

Welcome to our Work Unleashed series: a collection of posts from Box executives and conversations with Box customers on navigating the "new normal" of work today. Here, you'll find insights and resources that enable your teams to do their best work, anywhere, anytime.

A relatively young company in the traditional finance industry, Mariner Wealth Advisors was founded just 14 years ago. Top-ranked by Barron’s for several years in a row, Mariner has grown exponentially in the last few years, to roughly 40 locations in about 20 states. Success hinges on their mission-mantra, according to Chris Cook, SVP of IT: Client first, associate second, shareholder last. Sometimes, doing what’s right for clients and staff might not be most profitable for the business right now, but that approach supports long-term business.

Cook leads the information tech and cybersecurity teams for Mariner Wealth Advisors, overseeing DevOps, service, infrastructure, and the future vision of technology for a team of about 700 employees. He has a distinct point of view on change: “A lot of wise people have said, the phrase ‘the way we’ve always done it’ is probably the most expensive phrase in business. Sometimes legacy becomes an anchor around your ankles.” 

Consequently, he’s spent his 4+ years at Mariner setting down a path to digital. To get there — through acquisitions and now, through a pandemic — Cook has put the needs of every stakeholder, from customers to executives, into a collective vision of unified work.

Work is where you are, not where your office is

The tired old phrase “I’ll do it when I get back to the office” makes Cook bristle. He believes your office should be in your hands, no matter where you are — particularly in a field such as financial advice where clients expect high-touch service at their convenience. Mariner Wealth Advisors coined the phrase “mobile-first advisor,” but turning that idea into a reality meant using the right cloud-based solutions.

The path to digital started with content — the foundational platform of all the work done at Mariner and the arena that would give advisors the biggest payoff when sitting in a coffee shop with a client. The company started using Box as a cloud content platform a few years ago. Why Box? Cook says, “We pick the biggest names because we’re not in a position where we want to build middleware.” Integrations with other apps Mariner uses, including Salesforce, RingCentral, and Office 365, were essential. 

Cook and his team also attended BoxWorks to get an idea for what other companies were doing with the platform, and he says “The stuff that goes on at BoxWorks opens your eyes to what’s possible on the platform. Seeing all those possibilities made us excited about moving really quickly.” Box Consulting helped with prescriptive advice and team training on migrating new content and staff to the cloud. From there, Cook’s team migrated the rest of the company’s core systems away from on-prem to an all-cloud digitized framework.

“I wouldn't say we were planning for a pandemic or anything,” he says, “but it definitely set us up to handle this transition really well.”

A quick shift to entirely digital work

By transition, Cook is referring to the sudden mandate to work at home. For the first few days of the COVID-19 shutdown, Mariner’s staff was given the option to remotely if they wanted to. About 75% of the staff took advantage. “Because that happened so easily and so rapidly,” Cook reports, “We were able to go to a full office closure a week later. It was a quick transition, and the tools we had allowed us to do it. A lot of my peers in the industry spent a lot more late nights and truckloads of equipment supporting it.”

Still, the first few weeks of working from home contained a lot of change management around social norms. People who were used to walking out of an office and asking a question in person, or going out for coffee, had to get used to instead using instant messaging (IM) and arranging remote meetings. To keep the team connected socially, Mariner Wealth Advisors used Workplace by Facebook as a hub for information, knowledge, and policies.

Interactions with clients, too, went virtual. Being able to continuously support clients was imperative, particularly during a time when financial markets were in question and a market correction was imminent. “Those things don’t come very often,” Cook says, “but when they do, it’s what you have a financial advisor for. It’s a highly stressful environment, and we wanted to be there as much as we could for clients. ”

Moving faster in the cloud

Thanks to the company’s level of preparation, performance did not suffer for Mariner Wealth Advisors during the pandemic, either from an IT or a business point of view. “It’s really incredible to see the adaptation to the environment we’re in today,” Cook says. “From a competitive advantage approach, the cloud has been fantastic for us because of the speed we can move.” 

Watch the full session with Chris Cook below.