The world produces an incredible amount of data. Research firm IDC estimates that approximately 97 zettabytes – that’s one billion billion bytes – of data will be created, with the amount expected to double by 2025. That’s almost 25% of all the data the world has ever created!
Businesses produce a large percentage of this data, but most are not taking advantage of technology available to help them analyze it.
Businesses should be using this data to manage and optimize their processes, but they’re not. Business intelligence (BI) software provider Wiiisdom found that only a quarter of companies worldwide were using BI to help guide their business decisions.
There’s no magic solution to making sense of all this data. As IDC’s study shows, the amount of data companies produce is growing exponentially, and things will only get worse. Companies have fallen behind, often falling back to a we’ll worry about it later approach to data organization and poor if nonexistent data analytics.
BI is critical to corralling the incoming data tsunami and staying competitive in this increasingly data-driven world.
Ezra Group recently produced a webinar called Changing The Game: How Executives Can Level Up Advisors With Better Data, which is the sixth in our series in partnership with Xtiva Financial Systems.
Our panel consisted of industry leaders Linda Wittich, Advisor & Consultant at Top Line Focus FinTech, Envestnet Head of Data Analytics Farouk Ferchichi, and BMO Wealth Management Regional President Jamie Loughery.
In this article, we summarize Farouk’s insights on leveraging BI in wealth management firms to equip their advisors better to serve their clients and the challenges they might face. If you’re thinking about BI, this webinar was full of helpful information.
If you missed this webinar, you can click here to unlock your access to the full recording.
How Envestnet Embraced Open Architecture
Envestnet started as a SaaS wealth management platform when it first launched in 2000. The company soon realized that integrations and APIs were the future of wealth management, resulting in two key acquisitions. The first was data aggregation and data analytics company Yodlee in 2015, and Wheelhouse Analytics the following year.
Yodlee’s vast IP and pre-existing connections to thousands of financial services firms enabled Envestnet to launch Open ENV in 2016, a set of open APIs that allowed partners to develop integrations for Envestnet’s platform. The acquisition of Wheelhouse added necessary IP and user tools that powers Envestnet’s BI platform.
Envestnet Cloud Services was the next big step for the company, which aims to assist advisors in gathering data from various systems and eliminate difficulties in transitioning from conventional bookkeeping systems, which are pain points for advisors.
Through these acquisitions and Envestnet’s own development work, its platform now offers proposal generation, planning, integrated practice management, and comprehensive reporting to offer real insight that benefits both the firm and its clients.
“If you want to run your business competitively, you need to go deeper below that ‘iceberg’ and use data for prediction and prescription,” Ferchichi said. Envestnet’s analytics platform treats BI as a layer cake, with each piece building on the previous to empower its customers to understand their client’s financial needs better.
Business Intelligence is Like a Cake
Envestnet debuted their Wealth Data Platform at the Envestnet Advisor Summit in May, after years of listening to its 100,000+ customer base on the issues they struggle with around data.
“That’s where the ‘BI cake’ came from,” Ferchichi explained. “Can we also solve a unified data problem as we transform our core systems? Can we ingest data at scale? You can’t wait for that transformation to get value out of your data.”
Envestnet started with the foundational layer, which has all the ‘cleaned’ data that meets the clients’ framework and industry standards. This data is then fed through the platform’s ready out-of-the-box BI applications, including a practice transition and management and the ‘next best action’ module.
All of this comes together in API-enabled experiences for advisors, investors/clients, small businesses, and enterprises, which Envestnet customers can use to incorporate BI into their firm’s day-to-day operations.
We recently spoke to Envestnet CEO Bill Crager on the WealthTech Today podcast, who explained what Envestnet’s ultimate goals with the platform are. He explained that the company wanted a simple way to connect advisors to the hidden value of their data, and organize and clean it to enable better analytics, and in turn better results.
The partnership is beneficial to both sides. “Data gets a little smarter. We get to know the advisors business better and working in their ecosystem with their solutions, and their advisors motivations to understand what their priorities are, whether valuation or revenue,” Crager said. “We can help you do that and drive that through data.”
The Data is the Base, and Organization the Middle Layers
The foundation of the cake is the data. Ferchichi notes that however firms are ingesting the data, they will have to do so at scale – not only in terms of the data but the number of data sources. With the sheer amount of data generated, this is by far the largest layer.
This could come from your CRM, custodial financial transaction data, and so on. Firms will also need the capability to pull new data in on a regular basis, Ferchichi said. This requires both space to store the data (in most cases, the cloud is the cheapest option), and the bandwidth necessary to pull the data reliably and quickly.
The Yodlee acquisition was especially important here, Crager previously told us. The AI behind the Wealth Data Platform came from Yodlee and has filtered out into all aspects of the platform beyond what it was originally used for at Yodlee.
AI has the potential to unlock significant additional value for the banking industry: a 2021 McKinsey report estimated that AI could generate up to $1 trillion annually if firms develop an ‘AI-first’ mentality. But just adopting AI or any analytics platform regardless of the analytical methods used isn’t enough. User interface and user experience are as important in a wealth management platform as it is with any other app.
“We make 11 million insights a day that are helping advisors identify opportunities, understand and forecast risks,” he said. “How are we doing that? It’s happening through our intelligence in our data.”
Data Organization is the Icing
Data organization is the top layer, or to keep the cake analogy going, the icing on the cake. Despite firms’ best efforts to feed into their analyses the best data possible, analytics software requires that firms make sure that the data uses a similar structure, what’s referred to as data normalization. Once that’s complete, advanced analysis can begin.
Lack of data standards is one of the many challenges confronted by wealthtech firms, according to FIDx CEO Rich Romano who was a panelist on an earlier webinar called, “The Tower of Babel: Tips on Consolidating Wealth Management Data From Multiple Sources”.
When trying to combine data received from multiple sources, there’s often no consistency in format or naming conventions and this results in a lot of extra work to normalize data elements, Romano said.
Big industry players need to step up to agree on standards for things account numbers and account values, which unlike securities that have tickers and CUSIPs, every vendor can go their own way, Romano said. This makes platform conversions unnecessarily complex requiring significant efforts from vendors and client firms alike as well as consultants like Ezra Group.
There must be valuable and intuitive ways for the end-user to access, interpret, and work with the data, Ferchichi argued. “In our experience, platforms can’t do data organization without a user-friendly interface where the BI is just one or two clicks away,” he said.
A One-Size-Fits-All Approach to BI Doesn’t Work
Panelists discussed how best to get data in front of advisors and agreed that flexibility is key. Advisors offer personalized services, and attempting to serve all these different methods isn’t possible through a one-size-fits-all approach of sharing BI through their dashboards.
“I’m not advocating full customization,” Xtiva’s Chief Product and Strategy Officer Jeff Mardsen said. “But we need to respect the ‘magic’ of why they’re successful, and acknowledging and building on that is super important in driving engagement.”
Ferchichi agreed, saying Envestnet embeds what he calls “nuggets” of BI into the advisor’s desktop relevant to the task at hand without disrupting the workflow to find it. His company’s platform also focuses on connecting advisors with solutions where the entire process from recommendation to proposal and execution is seamless, freeing up more time for advisors to connect with clients.
“We believe that the advisor should spend as much time doing what they do best, which is relationship management,” he stated. “Anything we can do to leverage the platform to become the advisor’s virtual assistant, by bringing the data together and organizing it, that’s what we want.”
For more information on Envestnet’s wealth management data platform, visit their website.