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Why advisor tech had its iPhone moment: Q&A with Sunayna Tuteja of TD Ameritrade

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What major changes are you seeing in advisor technology?

Think about it. If the Wi-Fi goes down on an airplane, everyone turns into bratty toddlers. But that technology was unfathomable only a few years ago. Now, it is an expectation. The delta between something being nice to have and becoming a need has decreased very quickly. Five years ago, firms might have been asking what is our mobile strategy? Now, without a mobile experience, will consumers even want to trade with you? That has happened so quickly. Technology has transformed from a nicety to a necessity.

Even in our personal lives, society has changed so much. It wasn’t that long ago when we as parents were telling our children to never get into a stranger’s car. Instead, you should yell, shout and run away. Now, we can go to our phones, pick out our favorite ride-sharing app, get into a stranger’s car and pay for the privilege. Fundamentally, the tech that went into creating these apps is shaping the consumer experience and those same consumers are now our clients. The question becomes how do we make sure these day-to-day experiences are on par with the experiences clients have when they meet with their RIAs.

What are some of the technological challenges facing advisors?

I’m not a cook by any means, but you and I could have the same set of ingredients and come up with different dishes. The real challenges are how advisors are using the technology. There is a real inflection point happening and a lot of technologies are starting to reach a certain maturation level — or an iPhone moment where they have the utility and ubiquity. The real challenge becomes how do we combine the power of virtual reality and AI and do it in a way that is solving real problems.

Does voice-recognition technology really matter to advisors?

[Advisor workflow] is becoming an untethered experience. Advisors can come into the office in the morning and quickly get caught up on what the markets are doing and what has happened with a book of business. You could pull that up on a computer, or you could be sitting in your office talking to Alexa with on-demand information.

Voice recognition technology is helping the client experience as well. Clients can get help breaking down market information and get ideas and guidance about what the data means. It helps make sense out of the information. They can check balances and positions.

What’s holding back innovation?

The regulation piece is an important part of this industry and we often use regulation almost as an excuse. Is it really a regulation problem or do we perceive regulation as the problem? The secret sauce is partnering with the right financial services firms that are having internal conversations about innovation and that have real skin in the game. Those are ways to kick start the metabolism. Are things harder in financial services because of regulation? At the end of the day, those guardrails are there for good reason: Protecting the end clients and serving their needs. Are we solving problems for advisors and clients in a way that meets that same ethos?

Are the FAANGS coming for the U.S. financial services market?

Any good business should have a healthy sense of paranoia. Any business is disruptable. These technology companies have brand recognition and loyalty and networks with audience sizes that are just massive. They are able to capture our attention span and once you have my attention it’s a lot easier to tell me to do something and I’m more prone to do it. We just saw Apple make the move into credit cards with Goldman Sachs. Everyone should definitely be keeping a watchful eye.

The big tech companies are also very thoughtful about making a move into wealth management. They’re pretty smart and cognizant of the sophistication and complexity that comes along with financial services. You can’t just dabble. You are going in big or not going in at all. They will be prudent. It might just be a matter of time

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