Welcome to the May 2019 issue of the Latest News in Financial Advisor #FinTech – where we look at the big news, announcements, and underlying trends and developments that are emerging in the world of technology solutions for financial advisors and wealth management!
This month's edition kicks off with the news that Schwab's PortfolioConnect is now available – for free – to all RIAs on its platform. Thus far, PortfolioConnect is a downscale portfolio performance reporting system that is meant to appeal to "smaller" RIAs, with less than $100M of AUM, for whom the other performance reporting tools may be too costly and who may be attracted to the Schwab platform for the potential cost savings of a free alternative. But the real question is what happens if and when Schwab adds more features to PortfolioConnect and it becomes a more head-to-head competitive offering to the likes of Orion and Black Diamond … but available for free, because Schwab can profit indirectly from its core custodial business simply by attracting RIAs and their clients' assets to the platform.
From there, the latest highlights also include a number of other interesting advisor technology announcements, including:
• Envestnet launches a new Credit Exchange to facilitate independent advisors offering mortgages and eventually business loans to clients as a part of a more holistic advice offering (and providing Envestnet yet another means to monetize transactions that occur across its platform)
• Fidelity announces a further expansion of its Integration XChange as the company continues its shift towards a more open architecture approach (building around Consolidated Data as its unique value proposition instead)
• MoneyTree financial planning software is acquired by Accutech as the company goes deeper into wealth management in the bank and trust channel (and raising questions about the fate of MoneyTree's traditional financial advisor user base)
• The former TradeWarrior leadership team relaunches as AdvisorPeak rebalancing software after a falling out with Oranj
• Vestwell raises a massive $30M Series B round from Goldman Sachs to scale up its digital 401(k) platform for independent advisors (and giving Goldman Sachs another toe-hold into the RIA channel)
Read the analysis about these announcements in this month's column and a discussion of more trends in advisor technology, including Invent.us partnering with Envestnet to bring cloud-native software design to replace legacy broker-dealer technology systems, Allianz invests into Halo Investing's tools for designing custom structure notes (and perhaps in the future, custom indexed annuities?), FINRA established a new Office of Financial Innovation to support FinTech developments, and "cash" becomes the new battleground to compete for assets as Wealthfront boosts its AUM by 8% in just a few months by offering a competitive cash yield over 2% (while RIA custodians continue to scrape the bulk of their profits from advisors' client cash instead!).
And be certain to read to the end, where we have provided an update to our popular new "Financial Advisor FinTech Solutions Map" as well!
I hope you're continuing to find this new column on financial advisor technology to be helpful! Please share your comments at the end and let me know what you think!
*And for #AdvisorTech companies who want to submit their tech announcements for consideration in future issues, please submit to TechNews@kitces.com!
Schwab (Finally) Launches Downscaled PortfolioConnect For Free To Entice "Small" RIAs. After nearly 5 years of Schwab making promises to the RIA community that it was working on a revamp to its legacy PortfolioCenter software, the company announced a major shift late last summer that it was abandoning a full-scale PortfolioCenter replacement and instead was working on a scaled-down alternative dubbed PortfolioConnect instead. And after piloting the tool with 60 RIAs, this past month Schwab announced that PortfolioConnect was going into general release for all advisory firms. Notably, the new PortfolioConnect is more limited than a "traditional" full-scale portfolio performance reporting solution, as it does not currently include performance by security or position level, internal rates of return calculations, nor blended benchmarks; on the other hand, the solution is also free to any/all RIAs that want to use it (and solely custody with Schwab, as PortfolioConnect is not multi-custodial). It appears that Schwab is specifically aiming to target "smaller" RIAs – with less than $100M of AUM – which the company's internal tracking finds are actually adding assets and clients faster than their peers … with the presumption that smaller firms have more limited budgets (who only have a few alternatives like Capitect or Portfolio Pathway) and may satisfice for a scaled-down "free" portfolio performance reporting tool (while larger RIAs with larger budgets may still prefer much-more-expensive-but-"full-service" alternatives like Orion or Black Diamond). On the other hand, Schwab is clearly not "done" with PortfolioConnect, and as features get added in, it raises the potential that eventually Schwab will have a more "full service" tool that it can give away to larger RIAs as well, where the cost savings over an alternative like Orion or Black Diamond would be very material and would be a substantial enticement to move away from another custodian (or cease to be multi-custodial) in exchange for the software savings of Schwab's platform. Which also helps to make the point that while a lot of advisor FinTech companies like to talk about how they're "platforms," they don't truly run a platform model – where the company generates revenue by participating in the transactions that occur on the platform, and not from selling the software itself. And raising the question of whether someday, "free" performance reporting tools from RIA custodial platforms that can monetize in other ways (i.e., ticket charges, revenue-sharing and shelf-space agreements from asset managers, securities lending, cash spreads, and all the other ways RIA custodians make money) will undercut standalone software solutions that advisors now pay for, eventually disrupting performance reporting software solutions as Google's "free" (advertising-driven) Maps platform ultimately did to Garmin and other GPS navigation tools 10 years ago.
Envestnet Expands Platform Model To Offer Pre-Qualified Loans For Advisors' Clients On New Credit Exchange. Historically, financial advisors have focused on giving advice regarding insurance and investment products, because that's how we were paid (as insurance company agents or registered representatives of a broker-dealer). However, the ongoing shift to providing more holistic financial advice means supporting clients on a wider range of financial issues, including the entire liability side of their balance sheet, from mortgages to sometimes-substantial business loans. In this context, it is notable that Envestnet this month announced the launch of a new "Envestnet Credit Exchange" (in partnership with Advisor Credit Exchange) that will serve as a kind of "credit storefront" for advisors to help clients shop directly for loan offers (generated in real-time and available immediately) in areas ranging from traditional real estate, to commercial or business loans, as well as securities-based loans. From a practical perspective, the appeal of Envestnet's Credit Exchange is that independent advisors, from RIAs to those at independent broker-dealers, can now support clients on borrowing and bank lending needs that traditionally have only been available at wirehouses or banks offering wealth management. Strategically, though, the real significance of Envestnet's new Credit Exchange, especially when coupled to its recently announced Insurance Exchange, and its existing marketplace for third-party investment managers, is that Envestnet is increasingly pivoting into a platform model, where its technology is the distribution channel for financial services products, allowing it to participate in every transaction from investments to insurance to banking products. Which raises the question – what happens if and when Envestnet's platform is successful enough at supporting product distribution, with product recommendations built directly into (and able to be implemented directly from) its newly acquired MoneyGuidePro software, that eventually MoneyGuidePro, Tamarac, and its other technology solutions become free, because Envestnet makes the bulk of its revenue from the platform itself?
Fidelity Expands Offerings In Its "Open Architecture Digital Store" Integration XChange. In the increasingly commoditized business of custody and clearing, all RIA custodians are looking for ways to both differentiate from the competition to attract advisory firms, and to better and more deeply bind those advisory firms so they'll remain on the platform. From the platform perspective, arguably the "ideal" solution would be to create an entirely proprietary full-service solution, available exclusively from that particular custodian, that would both attract firms to its unique offering, and retain those who don't want to give it up and move to another (inferior) alternative. The caveat, of course, is that building the "perfect" all-in-one solution is far easier said than done, and in practice, most advisor platforms that have tried to build an all-in-one offering end out either building Frankenstein's monster (a grotesque patchwork of solutions stitched together) or end out being unable to maintain competitiveness in each of the software's core components (effectively becoming an all-in-one that is mediocre at everything and best at nothing). As a result, while in the 2000s the RIA custodial platforms became increasingly "captive" in their proprietary technology, over the past decade the pendulum has begun to swing the opposite direction, first with TD Ameritrade pioneering an "open architecture" RIA offering through its VEO platform, and now more custody/clearing platforms are trying to walk the fine line between what they can best develop in their core competency, and what they must or should partner with externally (with third-party best-in-class solutions). In this context, it was notable that last fall Fidelity announced the launch of its own "Integration XChange" open architecture digital store, and now the company has announced it is expanding the number of partners in Integration Xchange with new integrations to high-end performance reporting system Addepar and advisor CRM Wealthbox, and also announced deeper integrations coming with Orion later this year. Although with Fidelity's new Consolidated Data business strategy – where the value is in the data itself – it's not entirely surprising that the company is shifting to a more open-architecture approach (which simply allows it to touch more valuable data). Nonetheless, it's striking to see Fidelity adopt an increasingly open-architecture approach, as a way to reach more data, even as Envestnet increasingly acquires its key partners and attempts to build an all-in-one platform to participate in the transactions that move across the platform. A powerful reminder that in the end, there's never an end to the debate between closed-architecture and open-architecture platforms… because there are always strategic platform business opportunities with both.
Cloud-Native Invent.us Lands Mega Envestnet Deal To Convert Legacy Broker-Dealer Technology. The financial services industry suffers tremendously from outdated server-based technology. As while 20 years ago, technology had to be developed on local computers and servers (as there was no "cloud" yet), and 10 years ago it was often still appealing to maintain software on standalone servers to speed and security, in the modern world, server-based software turns into software that can't effectively (and quickly and scalably) interact with the rest of the increasingly-cloud-integrated world. Over the past decade, this has led many software solutions to shift to the cloud themselves, migrating from local servers to cloud-based servers, and using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to connect and integrate to one another. The challenge, however, is that APIs are ultimately still an incomplete solution, relying in one software company or another to build the integrations to the APIs of another (leading to a lot of finger-pointing about whether A should build an integration to B's API, or whether B will build to A's API instead), with an ever-multiplying series of API integrations needed (as the number different of point-to-point connections grows exponentially as the number of software providers increases), and with the constraint that not all software programs "expose" to their API all of the components that other providers might want to interact with. Accordingly, the next generation of software past cloud-based APIs is beginning to emerge to deal with this problem: cloud-native software. The key distinction of cloud-native software is not merely that it lives in the cloud, but that it is designed for a world where all software lives in the cloud – by breaking up all the components of the software into small containerized microservices that then interact with each other to execute the needed processes. Ultimately, though, the reason why cloud-native software services can be more effective is that they provide a common center point for all other software to interface, eliminating the need for an endlessly growing number of point-to-point API integrations, while being built to more easily scale up and down the necessary resources as the software is utilized. And now, former FinanceLogix founder Oleg Tishkevich has created the first cloud-native solution for the wealth management industry, dubbed Invent.us… and after just a few months, has already taken on half a dozen major broker-dealers, and is now announcing a major deal with Envestnet to further expand its reach. Of course, Tishkevich wouldn't be the first to try to pull legacy broker-dealer technology into the 21st century, but the appeal of Invent.us is that it can begin to build all of its centralized cloud-native microservices on its own… and let broker-dealers struggling with legacy technology come to them as a centralized clearing-house of cloud services (rather than trying to exhort each of their current technology providers to build better deeper integrations to each other… as every broker-dealer is requesting of their providers all at the same time). Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Invent.us can really gain adoption to its more centralized cloud-native solution – especially since the company is self-admittedly still in the early building phases – but as the rest of the internet increasingly shifts to more cloud-native solutions, eventually the new software approach was going to come to financial services as well, and Invent.us seems well-positioned to capitalize on the opportunity (especially with the experience of its founder, and the reach of partners like Envestnet).
MoneyTree Acquired As Accutech Pivots From Trust Accounting To Holistic Wealth Management. Financial planning software has become a "hot" FinTech category in recent years, as the ongoing commoditization of investment management drives financial advisors towards more holistic financial planning advice to differentiate and justify their value proposition. This shift towards financial planning has been expressed quite dramatically in the marketplace of advisor technology itself in recent years, with Fidelity acquiring eMoney Advisor for $250M in 2015, and earlier this year Envestnet acquiring MoneyGuidePro for an eye-popping $500M, as broad-based platforms that provide some combination of portfolio management and reporting tools (and often CRM systems as well) look to acquire and deeply integrate financial planning software to become the all-in-one platforms of the future. In this context, it both is and isn't surprising that Accutech, which provides an "all-in-one" for bank trust companies called Cheetah, offering performance reporting and model management trading and rebalancing tools, a client portal, and a centralized CRM with document management… announced this week that it has acquired MoneyTree financial planning software (deal terms were not announced). Notably, while MoneyTree was not one of the "leaders" by market share of financial planning software (showing "just" a 3.1% market share in the latest T3 Advisor Technology Survey), it is actually one of the longest-standing financial planning software providers (established all the way back in 1981), with deep roots in cash-flow-based financial planning (having originated during the spreadsheet era of planning software). For Accutech, acquiring MoneyTree is a natural extension, adding financial planning to its existing "all-in-one" solution, appealing to trust companies that are increasingly feeling their own pressure to expand further into wealth management to compete (especially with MoneyTree's detailed cash-flow-based approach that fits well with bank-and-trust-company-style wealth management). In fact, perhaps the only surprising aspect of the MoneyTree news is that the company was not gobbled up by another strategic acquirer already in the advisor ecosystem, or more generally a provider that would have better synergy with MoneyTree's existing (primarily financial advisor and not bank-and-trust-company) user base and/or could have extended MoneyTree where it was already strong (in cash-flow-based retirement planning). Nonetheless, the acquisition of MoneyTree makes the available marketplace of financial planning software solutions even narrower for companies that do want to expand in that direction, with only a few legacy cash-flow-based providers like WealthTec remaining, and or recent upstarts like RightCapital … making it increasingly likely that any big companies that may have wanted to acquire their way into the next generation of financial planning software will have no choice left but to build their own, instead.
TradeWarrior Rebalancing Software Team Splits From Oranj And Relaunches As AdvisorPeak. Back in 2017, wealth management platform Oranj (which at the time was primarily a client portal system) acquired TradeWarrior rebalancing software, in what turned out to be a pivot for Oranj into the Model Marketplace business model of using rebalancing software to distribute models from asset managers (who pay to have their models included), making Oranj's MAX platform free in the process (as the revenue would derive from the asset managers instead). However, it appears that after the Oranj-TradeWarrior acquisition, there was acrimony between the leadership of Oranj and TradeWarrior about the direction of the company – and whether to go deeper towards the model marketplace solution, or in building out the rebalancing software as a standalone offering – ultimately culminating in an arbitration that failed to resolve the matter, a lawsuit by TradeWarrior against Oranj, a counter-suit by Oranj against TradeWarrior… and now, the announcement that the former TradeWarrior leadership team, including its CEO, CTO, and COO (alongside former RedBlack rebalancing software CTO Pete Giza), are back out on their own with a new rebalancing software venture AdvisorPeak. According to recent coverage by Bob Veres, the new AdvisorPeak is aiming to implement the latest cutting edge in "Advisor Alpha" opportunities in portfolio management, from "tax-aware" tolerance-band rebalancing to tax loss harvesting, along with more proactive alerts on everything from clients who have "excess" cash to integrating with risk tolerance software to also monitor whether client portfolios drift outside their risk tolerance thresholds as well, and some firms are using AdvisorPeak for "direct indexing" strategies (replacing index funds with the underlying stocks of the index instead, managed with rebalancing software and stripping out the mutual fund or ETF costs). As while there are a number of advisor rebalancing software solutions, overall adoption of rebalancing software is relatively low, which means there's still plenty of room for "new" providers like AdvisorPeak to grow – especially given that rebalancing software is arguably one of the most time- and cost-saving software solutions there are for advisory firms managing client portfolios.
Vestwell Raises $30M Series B Round To Scale Up Its "Robo" 401(k) Platform For Advisors. The rise of the so-called "robo-advisor" put a big focus on the technology (or lack thereof) used to sign up and onboard clients into new investment accounts, leading to a series of robo-advisor-for-advisors solutions that aimed to overlay their onboarding portals and workflows on top of existing RIA custodians and broker-dealer clearing firms. However, arguably it's the 401(k) channel that is even more overdue for some "robo" upgrades, as the patchwork connectivity of investment platforms, 401(k) providers, and record-keepers makes it slow and costly to implement 401(k) plans… especially for those advisory firms who don't necessarily do a lot of 401(k) business in the first place (and don't necessarily have a lot of existing systems and infrastructure in place to support just the occasional retirement plan from a business-owner client). And it was this problem that Vestwell founder Aaron Schumm set out to solve – taking his knowledge and experience of the founder of TAMP technology platform FolioDynamix, to be applied to the 401(k) channel instead. In essence, Vestwell operates as a "digital 401(k) platform" for RIAs offering 401(k) plans, using its technology to weave together the myriad back-office platforms so advisory firms (and their 401(k) plan clients, and their plan participants) have a single place to go for everything from initiating the plan documents, to the plan participant enrollment process, and the ongoing 401(k) plan maintenance… whether it's the RIA that only occasionally deals with 401(k) plans in the first place (and therefore needs to do it easily and simply when it comes up), or the 401(k)-centric RIA who needs scale and efficiency. And now, as Vestwell gains traction, it has raised a massive $30M Series B round, from none other than Goldman Sachs, to scale up its offering, as Vestwell has grown from 100 RIAs using the platform to 300 in just the past year, and has grown to more than 1,000 401(k) plans on the platform (with a pipeline of 5,000 more)… focused almost entirely in the $25M marketplace that most other 401(k) providers struggle to reach effectively. From the perspective of 401(k) distribution, Vestwell's edge is leveraging the fact that the RIA channel can be an incredible asset-gathering machine… and it's not even necessary to "pay" RIAs to distribute the solution (i.e., use commission incentives), as RIAs are skilled at taking quality solutions to market and selling the value themselves in exchange for the fees the clients pay instead (as evidenced by the growth of DFA and Vanguard's advisor channels). Though for some industry commentators, the most notable aspect of the Vestwell deal isn't merely that Vestwell appears to be rapidly growing and scaling by providing 401(k) technology to RIAs… but that Goldman Sachs is the one that took the lead in staking the company and its growth in the RIA channel, as the buzz grows that Goldman Sachs is looking to make an ever-bigger push into the RIA channel itself.
Allianz Invests Into $7M Series B Round For Halo Investing's Structure Note Platform. Structured Notes first gained popularity in the mid-2000s, as a way to offer investors a portion of market upside, paired to limited downside exposure. In essence, the structure note is simply a combination of various put and call options, attached to a bond as a chassis, that pays "interest" based on the return profile of the options – for instance, by providing 80% of the upside of the S&P 500 up to a 20% cap, in exchange for a floor of losing no less than 5% in a decline. With the caveat that the structured note is still first and foremost a note – a bond – and subject to the credit risk of the issuer. Which, unfortunately, meant some catastrophic losses for structure note investors during the financial crisis, as Lehman was a popular issuer of structure notes at the time. Now, however, structured notes are experiencing a resurgence, as the memory of the financial crisis failures fades, but fears are rising that markets may again become more volatile – given the long-in-the-tooth bull market – and structured notes allow for that appealing trade-off of "some" upside, in exchange for far more downside protection. The challenge for many investors, though – along with the advisory firms that serve them – is that pre-packaged structured notes are not always efficiently priced (due to the opaque pricing of the underlying options), cannot be customized for individual clients (unless they're very sizable), and are not easily divisible and carved up amongst multiple clients. Accordingly, Halo Investing was founded in 2015 as a technology platform to facilitate the creation and implementation of (more customized) structured notes, which RIAs can craft for themselves at a minimum of "just" $250,000 (and allocated to individual clients down to $1,000 minimums). And now, Allianz Life Ventures is investing into Halo's $7B Series B round… which is notable not only because of Halo's own success and growth rate (and ability to raise a Series B round), but also because Allianz Life is already the biggest issuer of fixed indexed annuities, which have very limited partial-upside-plus-limited-downside payout options for investors (which is not a coincidence, as both as similar combinations of options strategies, simply with different thresholds for upside and downside targets). Raising the question as to whether Allianz sees a future for indexed annuities "beyond" the annuity wrapper (in the form of structured notes instead)… or whether Allianz perhaps sees the Halo Investing technology as an opportunity to begin developing more customized indexed annuity products in the future instead?
Envestnet Launches "Advisor Analytics" Business Intelligence Dashboard For Advisors. At its recent Envestnet Advisor Summit, the mega-TAMP-turned-wealth-management platform announced a new Envestnet Advisor Analytics platform. The core purpose of the platform is to provide a level of business intelligence for advisory firms, allowing them to see practice-level analytics about how their portfolios and performance compare to other advisory firms, the overall tax-efficiency of their portfolios, a weekly snapshot of how they compare to other peers… and a rolled-up Enterprise-level dashboard for larger advisory firms to see how all of their advisors are doing in the aggregate. Of course, the reality is that many performance reporting tools already give advisors the ability to see the performance of their client accounts (and enterprises the ability to see the performance of their advisors in the aggregate), the key distinction of Envestnet's new Analytics platform is the ability to compare to what other (ostensibly similar) advisory firms are doing – for instance, to see whether the advisor is charging a competitive fee relative to other firms offering similar services. Of course, large advisory firms often already participate in industry benchmarking studies for such comparisons, and smaller advisory firms are often so varied that it's difficult to make comparisons in the first place. Nonetheless, Envestnet noted that with a growing number of advisors using the system, along with bringing in data from Yodlee regarding clients' spending and other outside accounts, and applying their own machine learning algorithms to the data, their hope is eventually to provide an even greater level of insight about client trends – for instance, being able to warn advisors which clients may be most at risk of firing the advisor based on the client's aggregate behavior. Or stated more simply, Envestnet is hoping that with a superior amount of data, it can identify trends – and provide insights to advisors – based on their aggregate data, that no one advisor could identify on their own. Whether Envestnet can find those unique insights remains to be seen. But at a minimum, most advisors will probably at least be curious to see how their practices compare to their peers… and with Hidden Levers' recent blockbuster deal with Focus Financial to provide enterprise-level business intelligence, emphasizes how the use of big data for better advisor business intelligence (especially for large enterprises) is quickly becoming a hot new advisor software category unto itself!
FINRA Establishes New Office Of Financial Innovation To Support FinTech Development. From the perspective of industry progress, "innovation" is good; from the perspective of a regulator, though, "innovation" is bad… or at least, introduces new risks and dangers to consumers that are difficult to identify in advance, and can create new systems and structures that are difficult to oversee and "regulate" using rules that may become outdated. As a result, highly regulated industries like financial services tend to lag on innovation… to the point that regulation can actually hinder industry progress. And in recognition that regulation may be unduly slowing the pace of progress in financial services, FINRA recently established an "Innovation Outreach Initiative" in 2017, and is now extending it further by creating a new "Office of Financial Innovation," which will aim to better engage stakeholders across the industry on financial innovation initiatives in the broker-dealer community (including better coordination with other regulators and internally across the divisions of FINRA itself). Potential focal points, at least initially, will include the uses of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotic automation, as it pertains to broker-dealers (i.e., FINRA member firms). Of course, regulators are still responsible for protecting consumers, which means the initiative isn't necessarily about going "hands-off" with FinTech companies; after all, Wealthfront was fined $250,000 for not executing its tax-loss harvesting trades properly, and Betterment was fined $400,000 for failures of books and records and the customer protection rules… regulatory breaches that would have been (and were) violations for any investment platform ("FinTech" or not). Thus, instead, the goal of these new regulatory FinTech initiatives, as articulated by SEC Commissioner Pierce regarding similar initiatives underway at the SEC's own FinHub, is to reduce the temptation of regulators to disqualify FinTech simply because of its uncertainty and new-ness, and instead to give investors the opportunity to determine the value of FinTech innovations… albeit within the confines of the existing regulated markets (where regulatory protections exist regarding transparency and there are rules governing market interactions).
Cash Becomes The New Battleground For Attracting Client Assets As Wealthfront Brings In $1B. In the increasingly commoditized world of the custody and clearing business, one of the highest margin opportunities is generating a profit on "low-yielding" cash; in fact, more than 50% of Charles Schwab's entire revenue is the net interest margin it generates on its cash accounts, Ameriprise recently announced that it was going to launch an affiliated bank and move nearly $2B of cash sweep accounts over to the bank, and in recent years more and more brokerage firms have begun to sweep investor cash to their affiliated banks where they can earn a healthy net interest margin. Yet the caveat is that in order for brokerage firms to generate net interest margin on their cash… it means that investors don't get much yield for it, which has also led a growing number of investors – and their advisors – to move cash away from brokerage platforms, in search of higher yield opportunities. Which has opened the door to both online bank platforms competing for business, advisor services like MaxMyAdvisor that automate the process of moving client cash across online banks for better yields (now up to 2.66%!)… and competing platforms to offer better yields in an attempt to win business away from brokerage firms. Accordingly, when robo-advisor Wealthfront recently launched a cash account that actually has a healthy yield – at 2.29%, slightly higher than Goldman Sachs' new Marcus (at 2.25%) and Ally Bank (at 2.2%), but far higher than the national money market average of just 0.21% - the company added a whopping $1B in deposits in the span of just a few months, largely from existing investors who had been holding their cash elsewhere but brought it to Wealthfront once competitive yields were available! Which raises the question – if Wealthfront was able to add $1B to its existing $12.5B of assets by offering a competitive cash yield (a nearly 8% boost in AUM in just a few months), and other robo-advisors are similarly growing by offering cash options, to what extent are RIA custodians actually limiting their advisors' ability to grow by relying so heavily on earning a hefty scrape from client cash, and how many hundreds of billions of dollars might RIAs be able to bring to their RIA custodians, if only RIA platforms offered their advisors a competitive yield on cash as well?
New Product Watch: Benjamin Digital Assistant Communication Tool For Financial Advisors. One of the biggest challenges in financial advisor technology is that, relative to the direct-to-consumer marketplace, financial advisors in the aggregate just aren't that big of a marketplace. Successful advisor FinTech companies get sold for tens of millions of dollars, and a few of the biggest for hundreds of millions… which may be more than enough of an incentive for founders to create wealth for themselves, but is still a far cry below what most venture capital firms are seeking as investment opportunities (where they're hoping to find the next billion-dollar "unicorn" company). As a result, there's remarkably little investment capital flowing into advisor technology tools; instead, the most common path for advisor technology are "homegrown" solutions, where advisors create technology tools to solve their own problems… and then sell it to other advisors, and end out forming an advisor software business. Thus was the path of CRM from Junxure to Redtail, performance reporting from Orion to Tamarac, rebalancing from iRebal to TradeWarrior and RedBlack, risk tolerance tools like RiskPro and Tolerisk, Hyperchat Social, and our own AdvicePay. And now the latest in "homegrown" advisor technology tools, created by an advisory firm for themselves and now being sold to their peers: Benjamin, from Wela. In essence, Benjamin is a "digital assistant" to support client communication in common areas like chatting with prospects, scheduling meetings with clients, and following up on onboarding paperwork, all facilitated via a chatbot (on your website or via text message). Of course, "scheduling software" apps like TimeTrade and Calendly are already in the marketplace, but Benjamin is built with custom integrations directly to advisor CRM systems (e.g., Salesforce or Wealthbox), includes a pre-built template library of common communication messages, while also centralizing the tracking of the communication into a dashboard to help advisors keep track of what's been communicated to whom. Which, ultimately, has always been the differentiator that has allowed homegrown advisor solutions to grow into successful advisor tech companies – developing more customized, specific solutions, to the real-world needs (and workflows) of advisors trying to be more efficient in what we do for clients.
In the meantime, we've updated the latest version of our Financial Advisor FinTech Solutions Map with several new companies, including highlights of the "Category Newcomers" in each area to highlight new FinTech innovation!
So what do you think? Did Envestnet pay too much at $500M for "only" $50M of revenues from MoneyGuidePro? Are financial advisors really the right investors for Advisor FinTech startup companies? Has Hidden Levers found a real gap in the marketplace for advisor business intelligence software? Will Apple (or Google, or Amazon) ever really try to launch a 'robo-advisor' or similar competitor for financial advisors? Please share your thoughts the comments below!
Michael Kitces is a Partner and the Director of Wealth Management for Pinnacle Advisory Group, co-founder of the XY Planning Network and AdvicePay, and publisher of a continuing education blog for financial planners, Nerd's Eye View. You can follow him on Twitter at @MichaelKitces.
Kyle Van Pelt, who contributed to the commentary on Blackrock's acquisition of eFront, is part of the Strategy team at SS&C Advent. You can connect with him via LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter at @KyleVanPelt.