“[We] can see the writing on the wall. The real debate is not over whether to run, but over how far and how fast.”
— Charles Stross, British writer
Asset managers have seen the writing on the wall.
It’s not enough to just push products and expect to continue gather assets. Advisors’ expectations are increasingly focused on technology and a better investment management experience. The smart asset managers are making moves to build out their own proprietary technology offerings.
BlackRock has been strongly pushing their iRetire product, which they launched in 2015 and refer to as an “end-to-end retirement planning framework”, with a steady stream of new feature announcements, integrations and external investments. Atlanta-based Invesco purchased digital platform Jemstep in 2016 and invested heavily to build out their infrastructure which has been paying off with a string of successes in the bank channel. And turnkey asset management platform (TAMP) SEI reportedly spent over $1 billion to redesign their wealth management offering. (See Is BlackRock-Envestnet Deal a Tipping Point for Lite Financial Planning?)
“Smaller” players (isn’t everyone smaller compared to BlackRock?) are rushing to catch up with their own splashy advisor-facing software.
Assetmark became one of the leaders in the TAMP space primarily through their product shelf and white glove service and support. Their technology took a back seat with what would now be considered an old-style website and static pages to manage portfolios and interact with advisors.
This has all been changed with the launch of WealthBuilder, a suite of digital investment and planning tools designed to help financial advisors research and create portfolios in the Assetmark universe and improve client interactions. These tools are free to advisors.
AssetMark, which recently passed $50 billion in TAMP assets after their acquisition of RIA Global Financial Private Capital, has been making aggressive moves to compete with SEI, which has around $65 billion in assets and TAMP leader Envestnet who is closing in on $150 billion. (See Envestnet is Transforming into The Alibaba of Wealth Management)
eWealthManager was their old portal, where advisors got access to their digital experience, but Assetmark will be merging all their front-end functionality into their Advisor Workstation brand with a total redesign and new user experience.
Advisor Workstation has three components, all of which are free to advisors who are Assetmark customers:
- Portfolio Engine – Analytics tool
- Investor Portal
- WealthBuilder Dashboard
Portfolio Engine vs Morningstar Direct
Portfolio Engine is a tool for building model strategies within the Assetmark investment universe. Advisors can compare portfolios’ risk/return, performance characteristics and view different benchmarks. It provides similar functionality to Morningstar Direct, although without the breadth of asset types as it is limited to just the Assetmark universe.
There are three major use cases for this application: 1) Create Portfolios, 2) Compare Portfolios and 3) Planning. The compare feature is quite robust allowing up to a dozen different portfolios to be compared side-by-side in a backtested performance chart and a risk vs return scatter plot.
Assetmark developed the entire system inhouse, with the exception of the portfolio accounting engine, which is Fiserv’s Unified Wealth Platform.
The Advisor Workstation (not the most original name) has functionality divided up into different widgets that can be configured by the user. The UI enables drag and drop of widgets onto the screen. Advisors could add a stress test widget or a performance reporting widget and place them as they desired.
Assetmark provides dozens of pre-defined models that advisors can use as templates and adjust for different client situations. When a portfolio is built, all of the key attributes can be analyzed including risk score, yield (if applicable) and fees.
There is also the option to import outside portfolios for analysis and comparison, which is useful when talking to prospective clients and visualizing how much better their portfolio would be if built in the Assetmark universe.
They have included what I would consider to be “lite” goals-based financial planning, but it is tightly integrated to the application and has a smooth transition from creating and comparing portfolios. Building in basic goal creation and retirement illustration tools has become a common theme across many wealth management applications. It is targeting the large percentage of financial advisors who do not use a stand-alone application such as Naviplan, MoneyGuidePro or eMoney Advisor. (See Stranger Things Are Happening to Financial Planning Software)
Six or more WealthBuilder portfolios at varying risk levels are available for comparison in client’s retirement likelihood of success calculations. There is also a control panel that enables the advisor to adjust the input parameters on the fly and view the results across different risk statistics including max drawdown, volatility, and risk/return. A nice feature is the display of projected rate of return versus required rate of return when viewing a shortfall or surplus in retirement income.
The firm also launched an entirely new, modern Investor portal experience, providing investors with secure and streamlined online and mobile access to their accounts.
Assetmark says that WealthBuilder positions their advisors to engage clients and prospects in guided, consultative conversations framed around their goals rather than focusing on portfolio performance. All smart advisors should already be moving in this direction, in my opinion. These objectives are reflected in the Investor Portal, where investors can also view transaction history and holdings through a customizable dashboard.
The managed portfolios available through WealthBuilder provide globally diversified investment solutions that are consistently monitored by AssetMark’s due diligence team. Also, the underlying investments in the WealthBuilder portfolios leverage core markets ETFs and actively-managed mutual funds to provide low-cost diversification combined with the flexibility to adjust to changing market conditions.
Client Portals are another crowded space where every wealth management platform, financial planning tool and CRM bundles one in with their standard offering. The inclusion of investor-facing functionality leads me to believe that Assetmark has bigger plans for their Advisor Workstation line of tools.
Newly-minted hybrid heavy-tech-TAMP competitors like Orion-FTJ, Vestmark-Adhesion and Focus Financial-BAM-Loring Ward are pushing other TAMPs more towards their proprietary technology offerings to stand out and make their products and services stickier with advisors. (See Beam Me Up, Scotty! Orion Enterprise Warps Into a Next Generation TAMP)
I would proposed that AssetMark’s hiring of Mukesh (Muk) Mehta as Chief Information Officer in 2017 was a driving factor in this redesign and relaunch of WealthBuilder. Mehta has over 20 years of experience developing technology solutions for financial advisors at Cetera Financial, TD Ameritrade and Schwab Institutional (where he worked with Assetmark CEO Charles Goldman), so he has a strong understanding of what they’re looking for.
They have a full roadmap for Wealthbuilder for 2019:
- Account aggregation – This is table stakes for most wealth management platforms and will help their planning tool give advisors a 360-degree view of their clients’ financial lives.
- On demand reporting capability – Skate where the puck is going is how I would describe this. PDF reports are a dead end. Make it live!
- Proposal generation system – I would suggest they just buy this from Advisory World and customize it, but Mehta seems intent on building everything in house.
I’m not sure where Assetmark is going with their platform, but they’re building out a lot of technology that puts them into competition with a broad swatch of existing vendors. Maybe it is more of a way to build tighter partnerships with key tools that their advisor base is already wedded to. Their financial planning features are definitely in the “lite” category and this was reinforced by their announcement late last year of an integration with Fidelity’s eMoney Advisor.
Their portfolio rebalancer (with the creative name of “Investment Change Tool”) can only handle one client account at a time. Hardly a robust product that couldn’t challenge any of the integrated or stand alone tools on the market.
Sounds like a mix and match grab bag of free software to entice a broad range of advisors to try Assetmark’s products or stay with them instead of switching to as cheaper competitor. I expect a steady stream of technology announcements from this top 5 TAMP player as they look for new ways to differentiate themselves in an ever-more crowded market.