FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — Joel Drake is a member of the new generation of financial planners.

A senior at Utah Valley University, the 24-year-old switched from music production to economics, before settling on the school’s personal financial planning degree program. In his spare time, he likes to study Python programming. And after he graduates in December, Drake wants to work for a firm that aligns with his goals: “Genuinely helping people and making a huge difference in their lives.”

Drake is also a member of a team from Utah Valley that finished first in the inaugural student fintech competition at the T3 Advisors Conference, which also counted entries from Delaware State University, Western Carolina University and the University of Akron.

Drake and his colleagues, working with advisor tech services provider Orion, developed a chatbot called Rigel that seamlessly integrated with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Slack and Skype. The bot was able to take either typed requests or spoken questions for information about clients or accounts.

All the schools will share over $5,000 in scholarship funds raised by Abacus Wealth Management and TradePMR. Some students were also offered jobs on the spot.

Utah Valley University students celebrate their win at the inaugural T3 student fintech competition.
Joel Drake (l.) of Utah Valley University celebrates the winning entry at the inaugural T3 student fintech competition with teammates Lovina Roundy, Chris Russell and Carey Young.

“Having human elements mixed with artificial intelligence is going to be the future,” Drake says. “AI and humans make the best combo. The only people scared of that are those that completely ignore AI. You can’t fight something that is going to be that beneficial.”

Brian Thomson, a junior at Delaware State taking its CFP program minor, says he doesn’t see future industry innovation as disruption, since the next generation of planners will lead development of the technology they use in their practices.

“Technology will only increase advisor capabilities,” said Thomson, 21, whose team developed Medi4, a tool to help advisors project long-term health care savings requirements for clients.

“Every conference I’ve gone to, there’s been a discussion about AI and machine learning," he adds. “I don’t think they are going to take over advisors. We’ve got to learn from that technology, and realize how to use it to advance your own practice and grow.”

Thomson, like Drake, is committed to becoming a financial advisor. Having already completed a summer internship with MassMutual in Philadelphia, he sees himself one day running a practice in the area, working with young clients. “I want to build that relationship for years,” he says. “I just feel like I’d be able to assist those clients.”

University of Akron senior Jake Durr is not a financial planning student — the 21-year-old is working toward a degree in management information systems. But his team’s project — a tool for advisors to vet vendor compliance — was an introduction to the potential of fintech, he says.

“At first I didn’t know what to expect, because I had no exposure to financial conferences — only technical events,” Durr says. “But it’s gotten me interested to see how involved technology is with the field.”

That’s the idea behind bringing together financial planning and computer science students, says Barry Mullholland, director of the financial planning program at the University of Akron.

“The technologies are changing so quickly and these are the folks that are going to be using it going forward," he says. "They’re taking what they are learning and applying it in a vision we may not have, setting the stage for 10 years down the road."

For schools offering CFP programs, it's an opportunity to develop fintech programming minors for advisors-in-training, Mullholland adds.

That's the big win for the entire financial industry, says J.D. Bruce, president of Abacus Wealth Partners in Santa Monica, California.

"It's important for programmers to understand financial planning," Bruce says. "When I asked why leaders at some tech firms weren't hiring CFPs, they said there weren't any programmers who understand the RIA industry. That's gotta change."

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