BlackRock's recent acquisition of FutureAdvisor has generated a lot of speculation about whether other robo advisors might be up for grabs, or if it means the world's largest asset manager is now going to compete with advisors as a robo.
However, I believe the deal is indicative of investors’ expectation that financial services providers should deliver modern and intuitive wealth management technology.
Investor expectations are driving advisors to demand of their partners, such as Blackrock Solutions, new tools and capabilities. Just as banks used to give toasters away to get deposits and now Schwab gives its robo advisor away to get assets in its bank, it is likely that Blackrock will package FutureAdvisors' technology for use for advisors with the goal of driving more BlackRock mutual fund and ETF sales.
Ultimately, there is no argument that technology is changing the relationship between advisors and clients. There is a broader recognition that wealth management requires modern tools, even while those tools do not replace the human advisor. In fact, the BlackRock deal, along with other initiatives, such as Northwestern Mutual’s acquisition of LearnVest which will be utilized by the insurer’s 16,000 agents, demonstrates a keen interest in these new tools for use by advisors.
We are seeing a tremendous interest in great technology that can be plugged into, or used to augment existing platforms and services. Given the revolution in mobile technology and the development of consumer apps meant to help in every aspect of life, from fitness to education, it is clear that advisors could also benefit from being able to utilize mobile apps in their service to clients.
Advisors and wealth management firms are realizing that they must provide technology that appeals to consumers in a modern, constantly connected world.
Digital interfaces that are accessible on mobile are increasingly in demand. Advisors and wealth managers that do not offer clients sophisticated communications technology with Apple-like simplicity and user interactions will increasingly be seen as out of date. Institutions serving advisors will certainly either build these new tools themselves, or look for best-of-breed solutions in the marketplace to solve the problem.
John Michel is CEO of CircleBlack, an online financial data aggregation platform for advisors.