Why tech integration matters to advisers
When robo advice first captured our attention, the question was how quickly it would render advisers obsolete. Flash forward to today and the question now is how human advisers can best assimilate robolike automation into their practice.
The independent financial advisory community has historically been accused of being slow to adopt technology. Wirehouses spend hundreds of millions annually on tech, a testament to their seemingly limitless budgets. And yet independent advisers now have more choice than they have ever had when it comes to the technology profile of their businesses -- while historically they were limited and often frustrated and wary of new technology, they can now enjoy tech on their terms.
Aside from the boom in independent advice and the flood of start-ups and longtime industry titans developing technology that must adapt to the more sophisticated requirements of firms, there is another evolution taking place -- that of integrations.
UNITED BY INTEGRATION
The concept of integrations has been around for a very long time, long predating the commission to fee hype of the early 2000s. The first real attempts at integrating technologies together was courtesy of the custodians as they worked to connect batch data files with portfolio accounting platforms, like ours. Prior to this, the process was manual and grueling. In the mid to late 90s, custodians began providing data feeds to portfolio accounting platforms. Suffice to say this was very helpful and saved a relatively great deal of time back in the day.
Early on, the name of the game was simply about driving efficiencies, which effectively meant saving time. Sharing data across all systems became a top priority. We know that advisers typically use more than one custodian, and certainly more than one technology provider for their complex and unique set of needs. And for this very reason, because independent advisers have such a unique value proposition, they required a different approach to their technology infrastructure.
Anyone fatigued by integrations, or robo advisers for that matter, is missing the point.
That new approach meant that independent tech providers needed to work together to achieve one thing: simplicity and harmony in service to their core clientele, the financial adviser. The first iteration was in the form of batch files. These were effectively data dumps that would happen once per day, a push of data from system A to system B. At first, this wowed advisers -- compared to what had come before, this was the Millennium Falcon at warp speed. But advisers still found themselves re-keying copious amounts of data. More was needed.
The next evolution took the form of web APIs, whereby a specific event in system A triggers updates in system B. Web APIs allowed us to communicate across all technology systems more effectively -- CRM, planning software, portfolio accounting all started having dialogues. Today, these conversations are bi-directional -- developers at tech firms are now prioritizing integrations, with entire conferences (Fuse for example) designed not as forums for sales folks to stand up and pitch their marketing spiels, but for the tech guys to come together, code, and create new ways to combine forces for the good of advisers, and the industry.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
Anyone fatigued by integrations, or robo advisers for that matter, is missing the point. These topics, like many others in the independent advisory realm, are the tip of the iceberg -- those truly engaged in the success of the industry and its citizens know to look beneath the surface. There is a massive amount of evolution, change, cooperation and excitement at play.
And it all feeds into itself -- the independent movement has grown, prompting more technology companies to enter the space, prompting more competition for adviser attention, and also greater demand for co-existence and integration, which in turn begets more choice and empowers advisers, which signals to wirehouse reps that independent advisers can enjoy all of the benefits and more that they have become accustomed to. Technology is the great equalizer.
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So what's next? There must be a limit to which firms can integrate with one another, right? That is debatable.
At the rate of advancement in technology, and the pace of innovation our industry is currently experiencing, the truth is integrations and ways to interconnect technologies may be limitless. But advisers and advisory firms will demand more, as their clients demand more. I believe that implementation is at the forefront of adviser minds these days. It is completely commonplace for an independent firm to select three to five different technology providers, and while all of them may integrate, similar to a cocktail party, someone needs to be the catalyst, the spark, to get and keep them talking and to interpret the discussion for those not as fluent in the language.
What's needed now is an architect to weave it all together. It might seem odd to an industry outsider to watch all of these disparate companies, all of whom are competing for a piece of advisory firm budgets, working together to provide technology solutions for those advisory firms. But it makes sense when you take a moment to understand it.
If advisers have the array of options they presently do, and they can't get two technology platforms to play nicely together, they can simply find two who will. Because most advisers in the independent channel operate as true fiduciaries, it makes perfect sense that they would hold their service providers to this same standard. I believe that in this forum, we must all have a common goal: empower advisers and help them to succeed. If that is our goal, then "cooperative competition" is healthy, and we must embrace it.