For advisors, technological change can seem both lightning fast and very slow. As Victor Fetter, LPL Financials chief information officer, pointed out in his keynote session at Februarys Technology Tools for Today conference, the broad technology themes for advisors the cloud, mobile, social tools and business intelligence are largely unchanged from a year ago. In fact, almost every session or product announcement at the conference was in some way tied to one of those themes.
But this years conference (of which I am a co-producer) showcased newer common threads, as well. Advisors were looking afresh at technology integration and the impact of online financial advice sites; I also saw a renewed focus on educating the next generation of planners, and attracting more young people to new financial advisory technology.
Here are a few of the biggest trends that emerged over the course of this years event.
Much of the industry including many of the big players still seems fearful of the growing presence of online financial advisory sites.
During an engaging general session, Money-GuidePro CEO Bob Curtis openly mocked the group he called robo advisors, suggesting that online advice providers might be able to create model portfolios, but that they could not provide individual financial advice.
Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of Advisor Technology Solutions at Charles Schwab, agreed: Has WebMD replaced your doctor? she asked the audience.
Yet the conferences tech-savvy attendees dont seem to agree. In an audience poll during one general session, 98% of respondents viewed the types of technology being created by the new breed of online firms as an opportunity rather than a threat.
One of the new products unveiled at T3 is actually designed to allow advisors to compete effectively with online rivals. Folio Institutionals new Advisor Connexion tool provides an online, self-serve client onboarding process, combined with a totally automated, low-cost investment management platform.
Folio itself is an unusual RIA custodian that allows advisors to buy and sell fractional shares of most U.S. listed stocks, ADRs and ETFs twice daily. It lets advisors construct their own portfolios to manage client assets, or use some of the more than 140 preassembled folios either as is, customized or combined with other assets.
Folios new Advisor Connexion goes a step further: It gathers data from a prospect online, provides a customized client questionnaire, scores the responses according to the advisors specifications, generates an investment policy statement and allocates the clients assets into a model based upon the score. The platform generates all documents, which the client signs electronically, using
Folio Institutionals proprietary authorization process.
The advisor then monitors and manages the investments, while the client can access everything through the client portal. The first iteration of Advisor Connexion lacks account aggregation, but Folio Institutional says it will be adding it in a coming release.
I found a couple of the product launches particularly innovative.
YHLSoft announced the release of its cloud-based Advyzon platform, which includes client management and monitoring, portfolio management, data aggregation, professional-looking reports and business intelligence in a single, integrated product. The platform has a modern, clean look, is multilingual and can handle multiple currencies. It also includes the downloading and reconciliation of custodial data by YHLSoft employees.
Normally, Id be skeptical of a new product with such broad ambitions, but Advyzon was created by Hailin Li, one of the primary architects of Morningstar Office and Morningstar workstation; he has the technology and industry experience for such an undertaking. YHLSoft has priced Advyzon aggressively; annual fees start at $6,000 for a software license that includes the download and reconciliation services.
Another noteworthy product, RetireUp, produces software to create simple, graphically pleasing retirement plans. It addresses such issues as the sequence of returns during retirement and can stress-test a plan. It also includes an income optimizer that answers common retirement questions: How much retirement income can I receive? What if I retire sooner (or later)? How much do I need to meet my goals?
A couple of the T3 announcements had the potential to shake up the industry.
SEI, which provides outsourced services to more than 5,700 advisors who collectively manage more than $41 billion in assets, announced a strategic partnership with Redtail Technologies, MoneyGuidePro and ActiFi. The deal creates the first true cross-application workflow automation system for end-to-end processing that will let advisors execute actions on the custodial platform or the financial planning application from within the Redtail CRM system.
The system is scheduled to be released late in the year. It is seen by many as a precursor to SEI becoming a custodian for independent RIAs, competing directly with Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Pershing and others.
Also, MoneyGuidePro announced a deal with account aggregator Yodlee. MoneyGuidePro will offer account aggregation and a dashboard tool to existing subscribers for only $495 per year a price that significantly undercuts their former aggregation partner, CashEdge, as well as just about everyone else in the industry. The deal is likely to create a great deal of additional demand from Money-
GuidePro users, as well as some headaches for Yodlees competitors.
For years, experienced CFP advisors, custodians and software technology firms have griped that the industry does too little to train the advisors of tomorrow on the relevant tools they will need for a successful, modern practice.
The industry has been working harder to raise awareness about the opportunities of a financial planning career. T3 hosted what we hope will be an annual FAStech Cup Competition for college students in financial planning programs. The competition included a number of technology-related challenges: creating a financial plan using MoneyGuidePro software, delivering the plan via a recorded video conference and building a website for a hypothetical firm.
William Paterson Universitys team walked away with a $5,000 first-place award for their program, as well as bragging rights. San Diego State finished second, and Texas Tech came in third.
Clearly, the field of advisor technology is healthy; firms continue to innovate and many broad trends continue to ripple through new products. Although there are still challenges, the overall buzz at this years conference was positive, with custodians and vendors focused on delivering better, more intuitive applications and advisors more actively pursuing solutions that can help them achieve their growth and efficiency goals.
Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist in Miramar, Fla., is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today conference series and technology guides for advisors, including Technology Tools for Todays High-Margin Practice. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FinTechie.
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