Without the scale or support of a large organization, how do independent financial advisors compete against the robo trend? With some tech of their own, say two firms partnering to offer a solution that automates a wide extent of office operations and client services.
Orion Advisor Services, a portfolio-accounting service provider for financial advisors, and Jemstep, a robo-advisory technology provider, want to help independent advisors engage clients and prospects online by integrating their existing back-end technology and operations.
“A challenge a lot of firms have right now is how they want to use online technology to engage with clients and prospects, but some have essentially been offered the opportunity to stick their logo on a robo-advisor in a box and try to monetize themselves via a once-size-fits-all solution,” says Simon Roy, the president of Los Altos, Calif.-based Jemstep.
Advisors of all stripes have to adapt to evolving technology and increasing competition from online brokerages and other investment firms. Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard have all developed online offerings, in addition to Betterment, Wealthfront, Motif and other online brokerage services that have found market share.
Jemstep and Orion claim that their new integrated solution provides advisors with access to an end-to-end platform that automates a range of processes, from engaging prospects and attracting clients to servicing and managing them.
The software suite is designed to empower advisors to engage with a wider net of prospective clients and help them to convert clients more quickly and efficiently. Another goal is to bolster client retention with automated communication and customized investment services.
The features of the integrated platform include online account opening, marketing automation, advisor-client chat and CRM integration. The technology syncs with RIAs’ existing back-office functions.
Roy says the solution enables advisors to make multiple segmented offers to different types of prospects. For example, RIA firms can offer a more expensive “high-touch” service offering to wealthier clients, while younger clients with smaller accounts may opt for a cheaper “high-tech” service offering.
In forming this partnership, Jemstep and Orion hope to create a platform that can serve as the central interface for all of an RIA’s clients, from high-net-worth investors to millennials.
“Jemstep has focus from the prospect to the client back to the onboarding and servicing, and Orion has the performance reporting to the client and other back-office functionality,” he says. “These services meet in the middle and in combination are a complete solution for the 21st century client."
In order to compete more effectively with robo advisors, RIAs will have to increase the amount of automation and digital tools that their firm offers and make sure that it is up-to-date with the latest technology, industry observers say.
“Orion is a leader in doing these types of partnerships and they tend to execute well on them, and Jemstep is one of the more promising B2B robo technology providers,” says Joel Bruckenstein, the founder, president and co-chair of the Technology Tools for Today (T3) Conferences and president of Global Financial Advisors in Miramar, Fla.
“It gives the advisor an end-to-end solution,” he says. “They both likely anticipate that there will be increased demand on the part of RIAs for robo solutions that integrate with RIAs’ existing portfolio management solutions.”
In addition, Orion recently partnered with Riskalyze and CLS Investments on AutoPilot, a turnkey robo advisor platform that advisors can white label for their own website. Clients can then use the Riskalyze web interface to establish their Risk Number and synchronize their assets via account aggregation.
CLS software helps advisors to create an online proposal for the client. Once a client accepts it, an Orion app enables the online account opening and lets the client complete all paperwork digitally. CLS provides the ongoing trading monitoring and rebalancing of the account. Clients have access to their accounts 24/7 through Orion’s client portal technology.
Orion’s partnership with Jemstep seems to follow a similar rationale. Both Orion and Jemstep participate in TD Ameritrade’s Veo, an account-management and trading platform.
“All of the robo advisors that are serious about playing in the RIA space realize that in order to be successful they have to be able to integrate into other systems that RIAs use,” Bruckenstein adds. “Orion realizes that there will be some demand for a robo platform from their own clients, and they want clients and prospects to be able to continue to use their own services.
“The Orion-Jemstep partnership is a natural extension of the business. Jemstep is a newer player in the industry and they seem to be one of the savvier ones, so this alliance seems to make sense from both perspectives."
RIAs are a diverse bunch, and while there are early-adopters of fintech, other more traditional firms are sticking with what has worked well for them in the past. While logical, that strategy carries risks as the wealth management industry and technology both continue to evolve.
“The more innovative thinkers [among RIAs] either have implemented a robo platform or are thinking about implementing a solution similar to what Jemstep and others offer,” Bruckenstein says. “More advisors are coming to the realization it’s something they might want to have.
“A majority [of RIAs] are probably not sold on the idea that they need a robo advisor service, but over time more will likely come to think it is something they want to offer,” he adds. “That’s why this is an arrangement that makes sense for both companies.”
Surveys by research firm Corporate Insight indicate that advisor interest in and adoption of robo advisory platforms have been fairly low.
Orion and Jemstep are betting that will continue to change over time.
“I hope to see a greater uptake of advisors leveraging these types of robo solutions,” says Sean McDermott, analyst at Corporate Insight. “More and more advisors will start to recognize the opportunity here.”
After initially viewing robo advisors with skepticism or as a threat to their own business, he says, more advisors see automated solutions as a way to augment their existing practice. Technology can be especially helpful in onboarding and servicing clients.
“I’m a big advocate of advisors using robo advisory technology to enhance advisors’ business,” McDermott says. “It’s not a zero-sum game – forward-looking advisors should be looking to adopt such technology.”
Corporate Insight has charted the trend of robo advisory firms starting with a direct-to-consumer model that have increasingly moved toward a business-to-business model, often rebranding themselves by launching an “institutional” or “advisor” platform. Jemstep Advisor Pro is case in point.
McDermott said that the greatest opportunity for most robo advisors to launch immediately impactful solutions is anything that will help small independent advisory practices, which he sees as the most immediate need in the industry.
“Anyone that can help with that account-opening process, that’s a big need that advisors will have to fill,” McDermott says. “Next-generation investors will want to begin their advisor relationship online or via some sort of digital platform.”
The second big opportunity for robo advisors is seamless integration with CRM systems, an area that Jemstep has addressed.
“As we surveyed advisors at firms of all shapes and sizes, it was surprising how antiquated many of their CRM systems are,” McDermott notes. “One of Jemstep’s main value propositions is that it integrates easily with Salesforce. That doesn’t seem revolutionary, but is a big step up for many firms, some of which still update manual spreadsheets."
Another big opportunity for advisors is using robo technology to target prospects who may have a low asset level right now but have high earning potential, such as young doctors or lawyers. RIAs have the opportunity to use a robo solution to start low-cost online accounts and begin relationships early in investors’ career. Once they bring in greater assets, firms can transition them from an online-only service mode to a human advisor-client relationship.
“Technology provides a way for advisory firms to service more clients and more diverse clients,” McDermott says. “That is the power behind these robo firms. Robos are not going to disrupt the industry as far as [the wirehouses] losing clients, but they will change and expand what advisors can do.
“Advisors shouldn’t see that as taking away from their value – it’s an easy way for humans and robos to co-exist.”
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