Culture Clash Behind eMoney CEO's Sudden Split with Fidelity
In the end, Edmond Walters was just too much of a cowboy for Fidelity.
Walters, the former advisor who founded eMoney Advisor 15 years ago, quit seven months after selling the financial software firm to custodial giant Fidelity for a widely reported $250 million.
When asked if a cultural clash between Walters' entrepreneurial style and Fidelity's corporate culture fueled the split, Erica Birke, a spokeswoman for Fidelity, indicates that it had.
"Your theory is valid," she says. Walters could not be immediately reached for comment.
eMoney serves 25,000 advisors for whom it tracks $1.5 trillion in client assets. Many of Fidelity's 10,000 clients were using eMoney before the former bought the latter in February. The company is growing 20% year-over-year, Birke says.
The discomfort between the entrepreneur and his new corporate parent was everywhere on display at the T3 technology conference in March just weeks after Fidelity announced the deal, says industry consultant Timothy Welsh of Nexus Strategy. Welsh says he met Walters there, during what amounted to the first public display of the acquisition.
'ROLLING THEIR EYES'
"He was surrounded by five or seven Fidelity handlers," Welsh says. "He would start talking off-the-cuff and you could just see them rolling their eyes, particularly when he got up on stage."
"We're going to kick robo advisors' asses," Welsh recalls Walters saying from up on the main stage, before pointing to Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of Advisor Services Technology Solutions at Schwab, who had just introduced him.
"Schwab, why don't you ever do business with me?" Welsh recalls Walters demanding. "He just called her out right there in front of everyone. It was a riot. It was awesome.… He's like a cowboy who shoots from the hip, not conventional at all, an ex-advisor with a vision."
Walters' departure throws into disarray plans for next month's eMoney Summit in Orlando.
"You would never have the CEO resign before that," Welsh says.
The eMoney summit in May heavily promoted Walters as a speaker.
"It was abrupt," Birke acknowledges of the departure. "This was not our decision."
Last week eMoney tweeted out birthday congratulations to Walters, its "fearless leader" on Aug. 26, adding, "Thanks for all you do." On Friday Walters lead a webinar for eMoney and less than a week later, he was gone.
Michael Durbin, president of Fidelity Wealth Technologies, is stepping in to take over Walters' position temporarily.
This week, both Durbin and Birke were working out of eMoney's Conshohocken, Penn., headquarters.
'SPIRIT WILL CONTINUE'
A new CEO could be chosen from among eMoney's senior leadership team, which remains intact, Birke says.
Durbin, who was not available for comment, said in a statement that Fidelity remains committed to eMoney's mission.
“That will mean ensuring the eMoney team continues to foster an independent spirit, fierce entrepreneurialism and unrelenting focus on clients," Durbin continues in the statement. "The team is incredibly strong and driven to transform the wealth management industry. That spirit will continue.”
Without Walters, Welsh wonders how this is possible.
"He was the driving force, the visionary, the project manager. Now [eMoney] becomes a Fidelity product and they are not known for speed.
"You have to ask yourself," Welsh says, "What is the vision here if he is gone?"