Fidelity's Purchase of eMoney Advisor: Why Reinvent the Wheel?
Developing its strategy for a digital platform, Fidelity sought feedback on how to build it and what the final product should look like.
But repeatedly, Fidelity says, they were given another suggestion: consider eMoney Advisor.
“We had been working on the vision for our next-generation platform for Fidelity advisors and broker-dealers,” says Ed O’Brien, the head of platform technology at Fidelity Institutional.
“In meetings and calls with them we heard over and over that folks were either already using eMoney or liked the features and functionality, and a few of our partners even said, ‘Why don’t you just go and buy eMoney?’
Fidelity has been actively developing financial technology for some time -- it has an annual firm-wide technology budget of approximately $2.5 billion.
But in the end, time to market and eMoney Advisor’s loyal following in the RIA community were both factors in Fidelity's decision to acquire eMoney in February rather than build a platform in-house.
“We’ve been very good at providing tools for advisors, but we hadn’t seen a lot of technology that gets clients engaged in big decisions,” says O'Brien, who is responsible for the technology that underpins clearing provider title insurance provider Fidelity National Financial, which serves more than 500 broker-dealers and banks, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, which serves more than 2,500 independent advisors, and Fidelity Family Office Services, which counts more than 270 multi- and single-family offices as clients.
In his view, “eMoney is incredibly strong in empowering advisors to make decisions, but it also engages investors in the process of working with their advisors to make those important financial decisions.”
Though its purchase ruffled some who worried about eMoney Advisor losing its ability to remain independent, Fidelity sees its acquisition in simple terms: as wealth management increasingly is rooted in the digital realm, the firm needed to expand its suite of tools and technology for customers, financial advisors and their clients.
Founder Edmond Walters will continue to serve as eMoney Advisor’s CEO, and Fidelity’s stated plan is to keep the rest of the newly acquired company’s leadership team in place for the time being as well. eMoney Advisor will remain in its current offices in Pennsylvania and California.
Fidelity Institutional provides clearing, custody and investment management products to RIAs, retirement record-keepers, broker-dealers, family offices and banks.
Many of Fidelity’s 10,000 advisory firm clients already use eMoney Advisor, and Fidelity hopes to boost adoption among that existing base. Advisors who partner with that division of Fidelity will be among the first who can begin using the eMoney Advisor platform with their own clients.
At the same time, Fidelity wants eMoney Advisor to continue to expand its business relationships with advisors who do not work with Fidelity in any other capacity.
Fidelity claims that eMoney Advisor will operate independently and continue to further its growth strategy, remaining focused on serving a wide range of financial services professionals, whether or not they are Fidelity customers.
“eMoney will remain an independent division of Fidelity, and in fact two-thirds of eMoney Advisor users do not have relationships with Fidelity for custody or clearing services,” O’Brien says. “We have outreach for any client that is concerned, but so far the feedback we’ve been getting is positive.
“We have been serving advisors and broker-dealers for decades, we are committed to the space, and we really understand them,” he says. “We want to make it clear that [eMoney Advisor users] don’t have to do business with our clearing and custody [division] to be a valued client.”
Fidelity sees eMoney Advisor as the latest significant piece of the puzzle to round out its broker and advisor platform. The eMoney Advisor software complements Fidelity’s pre-existing workstations, Streetscape for broker-dealers, which launched in 2000, and WealthCentral for RIAs, which debuted in 2008.
Fidelity’s mandate is for eMoney Advisor to evolve further to offer data management, integrated office capabilities and tools for investors, advisors and home offices to collaborate using the platform.
Fidelity executives believe that eMoney Advisor will accelerate their firm’s efforts to enable a more integrated approach to data aggregation and collaboration.
In December 2014, after eMoney reengineered its platform, it came to market with emX, with a new, simpler interface and enhanced data integration capabilities, as well as resources to help users to improve collaboration and boost their efficiency. The emX software also features additional financial-planning options that advisors can gear toward investors’ objectives.
According to eMoney, its software helps about 25,000 financial professionals to track more than $1.4 trillion in client assets. Its user base includes independent RIAs, banks and accounting firms. It claims that 46 out of the top 50 broker-dealers and 50% of the top insurance companies in the U.S. use eMoney Advisor.
“We see folks of all ages and backgrounds interested in getting more engaged in their financial well-being, so there is no particular target demographic,” O’Brien says, and “eMoney provides a very easy to use, intuitive portal that gives investors the ability to interact with their advisor.
“They can go as far as they want to with estate planning and getting involved in the formulation of their financial plan, or they can just check in to see how they’re doing,” he says. “Many investors want to be more involved and engaged in the [financial advisory] process, and this is a tool and a technology that helps them to do it.”
Fidelity Investments has assets under administration of $5.1 trillion, including managed assets of approximately $2 trillion as of Dec. 31, 2014. The firm already provides technology platforms to 10,000 advisory firms, and Fidelity executives hope that the acquisition of eMoney Advisor will help it to increase that total.
O’Brien argues that “eMoney puts a lot of elements together, from screen sharing to high-definition video conferencing, that helps advisors and investors to manage their money together, which is unique.”
“There is only one eMoney, and there are synergies between us, so we felt that it was a great move for Fidelity and for eMoney,” he adds. “Looking at some of the things on their roadmap, we felt we could help them get there faster through investment.”