Ep. 155: Understanding Advisor Personas Makes Better Software with Sean Brown, YCharts

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Come on in and sit back and relax, listen to episode 155 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group consulting. This podcast features interviews, news, and analysis on the trends and best practices around wealth management technology.

Our topic for this month is advisor experience and we chose this because we feel advisor experience is one of the most important criteria for a successful software product. We work with a lot of fintech firms, a lot of software providers in the wealth management industry and advisor experience is very important to them, as it is to their clients. A large portion of our clients are wealth management firms who advise wealth managers who also see advisor experience as critical to their success. If you are running a fintech or an enterprise wealth management firm, custodian, asset manager, or TAMP and need some advice or guidance on technology strategy, advisor experience, or operational improvements, check out our website, EzraGroupllc.com and fill out the Contact Us form on the homepage. Our experienced team can help with RFPs, software implementations, evaluations of your current platform, and more. You can take advantage of our free consultations by going to EzraGroupllc.com.

Today’s guest is Sean Brown, CEO of YCharts. He’s been CEO since 2016 and has overseen some rapid growth at the firm as well as their acquisition in October 2020 by PE firm LLR Partners. LLR has a broad fintech portfolio that also includes Archer, which provides millions of back office solutions to the asset management industry. I can see some synergies there between the two companies.

Before YCharts, Sean was president of a company called 7Ticks which provided outsourced managed trading infrastructure for buy side and sell side banks, hedge funds, and prop trading desks. Sean was. a guest on our podcast way back on episode 74 in October 2020.

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Episode Transcript

Craig: All right, I’m happy to introduce our next guest on the program. It is Sean Brown, CEO of YCharts. Hey, welcome,

Sean: Craig. Thanks for having me. Good to be on the show.

Craig: Always happy when I can get some time on your busy calendar to get to talk to you a bit about the market, the industry, YCharts, what’s going on trends and just general happenings. How are things in Chicago?

Sean: Great, this is the three or four month period of time where Chicago is the best city in the world. So I’m really really enjoying it. It’s the other seven, eight months that aren’t quite so great. So glad to be on in the happy times.

Craig: Isn’t it more like three or four weeks of nice whether it’s winter until like June and then we’ve got a couple of summer

Sean: It’s longer than that, but it’s far short of six months.

Craig: I love going to Chicago I can’t wait to go back. So let’s jump right in? Can you give us the 30-second elevator pitch for YCharts?

Sean: Sure we’re 12 years old and we are almost exclusively focused on enabling wealth advisors and also asset managers and the value prop that we tried to support them on are two things. Number one is we help them develop insights on markets, securities, portfolios, etc. In addition to that, we help them communicate. So we think it’s really really important. Not only that you have an insight, but that you can effectively communicate that to your investment committee, to your social media following to your prospective customers or to your current customers. So two things, insights and communications.

Craig: So why did you add the communications because you’re really heavy on the insights when you first started out, what made you add the permutations part?

Sean: One is that we we think the job is only partially complete. If you can help people with robots to analytics on what’s going on in the markets or characteristics of a security or portfolio. Ultimately, we have almost 10,000 customers, the vast majority are Wealth Advisors. And as we talk to them, we realized a bigger challenge than knowing the markets and knowing the characteristics of portfolios was effectively communicating that.

Sean: And we came to that realization just by talking to him now every day but we also did a study a couple of years back of advised individuals, not advisors, but the advisors customers and those customers said, My wealth advisor is awful at communications. I don’t hear from them enough. When I do hear from them. It’s with generic and not specific and timely content. And the most powerful thing we heard from them is I forgive my advisor of the sins while we’re in the midst of an 11 and a half year bull market. But I have a suspicion bad times may be somewhere around the corner in the markets. And if my advisors not communicating better, they’re gonna lose my business. And so it was at that point in time, Craig and guess what the markets did turn. They interned early this year, late last year. That’s how we came upon it and we just said we’re going to be doubling and tripling down on helping them communicate better.

Craig: That’s awesome. You’re talking about content being too generic. We hear that a lot as well, that they really want personalization, everything’s coming down to personalization, hyper personalization is the buzzword. So getting more specific and actionable, and also related to what that particular client needs at that particular time in their life.

Sean: Yep, absolutely. You need to know not only what is the prospective customer or current client interested in, you need to know how they want to be communicated with, what the cadence is and what channels they want to be communicated with. So we think we are able to help advisors, because honestly, some customers who are well into their retirement period and are in fixed income securities they don’t want to hear from their wealth advisor. And if they do hear from their wealth advisor, they want to see them in person and they want to sit down once or twice a year. Some of the newer generation they want the weekly market updates delivered by email, they want to see the Twitter posts, they’re gonna follow the podcasts and they’d like to do a Zoom call once a quarter. And so knowing who you’re trying to talk to, how they want to be communicated, with how often and what channels, that’s the stuff we enjoy helping advisors with.

Craig: So this month, we are interviewing industry leaders, FinTech companies, all around client experience. That’s very important to you guys, as well with your with your software. Can you talk a bit about some of the ways that YCharts help advisors to be more efficient and more effective in their job?

Sean: Yeah. A couple of things. I’d say first of all, you gotta make your user interface super simple. For us the average age of Wealth Advisors is Craig, right in your strike zone and my strike zone age wise, it’s 51 to 55 years old. I don’t want to indict you and I as a demographic but we may not be the most tech savvy and easy to use experience. So one of the big areas of our focus is to make an easy to use interface.

Sean: So if you can use a Google search bar, you can use our application, forward back, predictive search kind of stuff. So thing number one is making easy user interface. Big thing to do, once you’ve got that figured out is if you really really know your target user persona, you should know what they’re trying to do with your application. And you should predict that and you should make it super easy.

Sean: We have a mantra inside YCharts that we try to make the complex easy, and we try to make the easy quick, and we make the easy quick. We have some features called Quick Flows, where we think based on a couple of things we saw you do with some keystrokes or mouse movement what you really want to do right now let’s compare two mutual funds and some key characteristics. We’re not going to make you go through finding the right tab. We think we know what you’re doing. We’ve got a Quick Flow menu. That’s up on the right hand side of your screen and it says are you looking to compare two securities click here, and then just enter the name of the securities and we do it for you.

Sean: Another thing just a quick example and and slightly less of a SaaS experience, we know advisors hate creating quarterly economic analyses. They tell us you know what, we’re not macro economists and they labor at the dining room table or in their home office on a Sunday with a glass of bourbon to write up all the all the astounding things they know about the macro economy. We’ve said we talk to you every day. How about if we create a template for you? Every quarter, we create a quarterly economic analysis. It’s got your logo on it. It’s got a write up you can edit it as you see fit. Instead of putting six to eight hours into it, you can put 20 minutes into it and send it to your customers. So I’ll stop there by saying we just think if you know your customer well enough, you’re going to create features and functions that will exactly do what they are hoping to achieve.

Craig: That’s a big “if”. “If” you know your customers well enough. A lot of firms don’t they don’t spend the time to understand what they need, what they’re doing, how they’re using the software, how they’re interacting with the software. We’ll talk about target user personas as we help firms figure out what those are. And sometimes they’re not what they expect them to be when users are interacting with their software in very different ways. So with the client experience really wrapped around that, how did you design your UI/UX to be easier to do besides the product, the making the complex easy, make it easy, quick? Are there any other ways you analyzed your UI/UX to be easier?

Sean: We make it a regular practice to have focus groups and to sit down with our customers a lot of times on their premises not as often on their premises since COVID, but we’re sitting down with them and understanding what they did 20 minutes before they got to YCharts and what they did 20 minutes after what YCharts and we have found in sitting down with enough advisors that within the advisor community there are various different user personas, when you break up that group of individuals.

Sean: You’ve got the pure marketers, who are all about like the Josh Browns and then Michael Badniks and the RITHOLTZ team who are about branding, the goal of good branding will bring customers. You have the client facing advisors who actually sitting down and doing new business development efforts who are part marketer but part let me analyze your portfolio. You have very analytically minded sales executives who are kind of going out and saying, Hey, I’m taking a more of a quantitative approach with my clients. You have people who sit in back offices and come up with portfolios and are very research and quant heavy. They may be in the home office. They may be saying, Hey, here’s the approved portfolios.

Sean: What we’ve tried to do is define those personas, and then make sure we have a flow in our application that supports how they work. And it 100% of the cases it starts with a dashboard, which helps them understand what’s going on in the market today and configure it to what they think is important. And then from there the journey proceeds in different directions depending on if you’re the sales minded or marketing minded, in which case you may be going to a chart or a comparable table. Or if you’re more quantitative deep dive researcher, you may be going to build a portfolio in YCharts, or you may be doing deep dive research kind of security and going to one of our deep dive tools. So we’ve just tried to understand the personas and paint a logical path and easy path to get to the flow that they’re working on today.

Craig: That’s what it all is about is really getting into their flow and making their flow quicker, less clicks, less process so they can focus on other stuff like generating revenue, bring new clients. So we talked about integration, that’s a big issue, at Ezra Group, we spent a lot of time working with fintechs and working with our wealth management clients on integrating the different solutions. We’re coming up with an Integration Score, or it actually should be out by the time this podcast airs that rates every application on the Kitces AdvisorTech Map now for how well they integrate. So how your applications are integrated with YCharts and what have you done to make it more seamless?

Sean: That’s such an important point because each and every one of the vendors in that complex Kitces map viewed themselves as an island, you’ve got a bunch of swivel chairing to do as a user to get your work done, and that’s inefficient in and of itself. So I’ll tell you what we do. First of all, the biggest point of integration we have is data. We believe that the only way you can develop insights and do effective communication is if you underlying this is some really robust data. We’ve got 500,000 economic indicators which we source from government sites, etc, everything from COVID statistics to retail gas prices to housing starts to GDPs of Sweden. Almost 30,000 equities, almost 80,000, mutual funds and ETFs. So we invest a lot of really great data. That’s a big integration.

Sean: Once the data is in, now you’re saying, the advisor is saying I want to analyze my client’s portfolio today, you don’t need five systems, a portfolio accounting system and a CRM and in your research and analysis tool to independently have a view of Mr. And Mrs. Jones’s portfolio. So the big point of integration we spend a lot of time on Craig is how can we make sure whatever your single source of truth is for your clients portfolio, whether that’s an Orion or, or or Tamarac or an Envestnet or whatever your platform is. Or maybe you’ve got all your client portfolio things in your CRM, or another tool. We make it easy to ingest that portfolio, do the work to analyze that portfolio, potentially making some tweaks and then push it back. So, big thing number two after data is integrating around portfolios.

Sean: And then item number three is with regards to communications, we make it super easy if you want to get a tweet out today, or you want to post something on LinkedIn. Or you just want to put something into a PowerPoint presentation that you’re giving. We try to make it very easy for you to push visually appealing content created in our application off to whatever channel you’re trying to push into. So those are the big ones for us.

Craig: Like the ability to push the content out there because that’s really what it’s all about, you can create the content but it’s not easy to get out in social media, into a statement, into a packet into an email into whatever way you’re communicating with the client, it’s practically worthless. So with all that data coming into your system, and all in 10,000 customers interacting all the different ways they can through your application, what type of trends are you seeing in advisor activity and how are they using the product and what’s been changing over time?

Sean: Yeah, great, great question. We used to see a lot of set it and forget it type of behavior. With advisors towards their clients portfolio. There was heavy use of research on an episodic basis. And then periodically, you’d come revisit a client portfolio or make some tweaks within our application. We have seen an absolute explosion in the use of our software on a daily basis. And we’ve seen that it really started in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit, we saw our average site visits in a month explode beyond a million visits per month.

Sean: We saw one of the SaaS ratios that is often used as daily average use to monthly average use, we saw our statistics rise from you know, 30% which is very respectable, to north of 50%, which means people are using it daily to support their businesses. We see every day multiple times a day use of our dashboard, which means people want to know what’s going on in the market. We’ve seen over the past six months, we’ve seen probably even our customer base has grown probably by 25% in the last six months, but the use of charting has more than doubled. We believe in discussions we’ve had with advisors, that is because they’re getting being more proactive and saying hey, Mr. Mrs. Jones, here’s some tweaks I want to make and here’s a picture to support that or reactive because Mr. Mrs. Jones are saying is now time to buy the Ark innovation fund or Tesla or the fang stocks. So we have seen way more than a doubling in the use of our application during turbulent market downturns and kind of recessionary times.

Craig: Especially the daily active use versus exposure is people just heads down using software.

Sean: And thank God for a truly kick butt CTO and engineering team and also the wonderful services of platforms like Amazon Web Services. You really see some spikes happen when you are beholden to and serving capital markets. And it’s been wonderful that these times have helped us understand truly our scalability as both a platform as and as individual applications and has been great.

Craig: Any other stats you can share? Average site visits over a million user base grew 25%,nything else you can share the sticks or advisor behavior?

Sean: We’re seeing well over 100% growth in the volume of of portfolios that are being entered and tweaked in our platform, which says which is about, normally we would see over a six month period of time we’d probably see the proportionate to the user growth. So we’d normally see a 25% growth, we’ve seen 100% growth there. Well, what does that tell you?

Sean: People are spending a whole lot more time trying to make sure their clients are paired up with the right portfolio. They’re ingesting a whole lot more portfolios from the systems I mentioned the Redtails or the Orions, or the other places that were the Schwab’s and other places were integrated and saying I can’t be in set it and forget it mode. That’s not the right thing for my customer and I’m proactive about that or my customer is not going to let me be that passive. I need to be demonstrating my value to them. So those have been the major ones.

Sean: Another one is we do custom email alerts and reports, which says, Hey, Craig’s wealth advisor knows Craig’s interested in staying abreast of 5-10 statistics every day or every week or every month and to receive an email. We have seen the growth in the use of that tool. Again, more than quadruple, what we would otherwise see and what that saying to us is, advisors know they must communicate more frequently, and they’re doing more work to automate the communication that they can have with their markets and using our application for that. And so we’re spending more and more time helping them more precisely deliver the type of email to the specific customers that they want. Those are the big tools we’re seeing the most on.

Sean: We’re also seeing a whole lot more interest in some of our macroeconomic statistics. If on a normal monthly basis, we’d see 200,000 hits of unemployment rates or the CPI, Consumer Price Index, we’re seeing quintuple or more volume there so everybody’s kind of interested in what’s going on at the macro level now.

Craig: Well, things are getting complicated. All of a sudden, people are realizing it’s not so easy to figure out what’s going to happen. All these different events going on in the world at the same time.

Sean: Yeah, and it’s interesting discussions we have with advisors. I think there’s two ways an advisor can look at this, wow, I’m having to do a whole lot of work now that I didn’t have to do before, which is Oh, shucks, I don’t get to play quite as much golf. We’re actually seeing advisors saying this is awesome. This is where I’m able to clearly every day demonstrate my value to my clients. And they’re saying, I’m loving the engagement. Yeah, maybe I’m working a few more hours a week and in my vacation this summer was postponed because it’s a tough time but they’re saying now my clients understand why I charge them three quarters of a percent or 1% of AUM per year, they’re saying they’re clear. I’m earning my fees big time now, and they know I was there during the quiet times they especially know I’m there during the noisy times.

Craig: You’re earning your keep it’s important but not just earning it, letting them know what you’re doing to earn it as you’re working with the clients who may not know or may not appreciate all the work you’re doing.

Sean: Oh, I don’t I you know, in my marriage, Craig,I get no credit for cleaning the garage if my wife doesn’t know anything about it. I get a lot of credit when when my wife’s away and I cleaned the garage, I fixed a few shingles and I washed the car. I get a whole lot more credit for being a terrific husband than which I’m probably not, but I get a whole lot more credit than than I do when I just leave my good work quiet.

Craig: Indeed. So, thanks for the stats. It’s super helpful. Nice to see some insights into a successful business product has been used by so many advisory firms out there. Can you share a bit about your upcoming product roadmap? What can existing clients and prospective clients expect to see from YCharts in next 6-12 months?

Sean: Well, we’ve got charting in our name and so we believe it’s incumbent on us to be the best at visualization so, we’re rolling out some really, really great features around things like scatter plots, and around canned and customized reports. We’re gonna see a lot of that and those are reports that you don’t have to start from scratch on these reports, quick configured reports. Another big thing is we are rolling out ESG data, environmental social governance, so that you can look at your portfolio’s not just on fundamental or other characteristics you can look at on ESG and say, I’d like my portfolio to contain no companies that have exposure to China or to tobacco or that have board configurations that meet my desired needs. So ESG is another big one.

Sean: Another real big one is sharing of dashboards. We know that sometimes you’ve got a power user in your office that really has it right on what they’re paying attention to on a daily basis. And we wanted to make it real easy for Craig to share with Sean, the dashboard and what I’m monitoring and to be able to not only have my own dashboard, but to quickly tab over and see what Craig’s dashboard is saying because that was a really well structured dashboard. And then beyond that, integrations, integrations, integrations. We think, until our customers tell us you are integrated in all the key areas I need you to be, we’ve got work to do. And so we’ll get some things on the horizon with the Envestnets of the world, continued integrations with the Orion, the Redtails that had a part of the world to just make a very seamless workflow.

Craig: You’re speaking our language, we love integrations here. And then you guys got a really good score in our integration survey. So it’s gonna get better as your add more integrations. And when you’re talking about the dashboard. Is there any thoughts of being able to share sample like best practices from among your clients across the base without giving any names. Would you say that a 55% of advisors are using the dashboard in this configuration or using these widgets, maybe you should look at them?

Sean: That’s a really great point you’re bringing up Craig and it supports a broader theme which is with almost 10,000 customers, we’re able to share with advisers in an anonymous way now, what might you be missing out on or what are others doing with our tool? We publish monthly what are the top funds that were screened for? What are the top equities? What are the top economic indicators people are looking at? So we tell them that. The exact point you’re hitting on which is what are others dashboarding we not only are working on providing that at the just kind of a macro level, we’re looking to say, Craig you may have a devoted group of followers that you want to share your dashboard with or they want to subscribe to your dashboard. We’re looking to make that capability possible sometime in 2023. That’s the nice thing about having enough of a presence in the space though, that being a wealth advisor, it’s not a zero sum game. There’s plenty of unadvised people so you’re not really competing with that next advisor. So there is room for more collaboration and we want to help them we want to help them do that.

Craig: That’s excellent. Yeah, I love the peer comparisons, the peer sharing, show me that what other advisors are looking at top screen securities top indicators, all that super helpful and that makes your system more sticky, because they can’t get that elsewhere and save some time. They don’t have to go searching through all the indicators searching for reports, and I’m sure you have many, to find out which ones are like well, here’s what everyone else likes, let me just try those first. Now I save a lot of time.

Sean: Yeah, I go to Amazon. Amazon makes it really easy for me. Netflix makes it really easy for me to see what people like me are doing. We want to do that for advisors. They’re all smart. They’re coming from different direction, but sometimes it’s nice to get recommendations. The great thing about being a software company is we know who’s using our software when they’re using it, how they’re using it. And sometimes you can find a clone type of person who’s doing things very, very similarly or a cloned cohort. And you can quickly say, Hey, if you if you don’t mind, we’ve noticed some of your patterns look like this. Would you be interested in some recommendations for all privacy concerns? And maybe we can help you understand how you could be doing things a little bit better differently.

Craig: Excellent. That’s analytics real time providing feedback to the clients in real time and how you build loyal customers.

Sean: Yep. That’s what we think. Our average customer stays with us over seven years now, which means we’re doing some things right by them and we continue to challenge ourselves to say, how can we continue to do right by them? Well, we need to continue every day to re-earn their business. And let’s do that through more and more innovation. Craig, we did a survey, and it told us that we’re saving our clients almost half of a day per week of time. And that thrilled us because we didn’t even bother to ask them too much about how much better investment returns. They told us you’re saving us a half a day at a time. And I’ve kind of challenged my team to say how can we get that to three quarters of a day of time? The ROI on our software is just crazy good. And a lot of times my team says that means you should raise the price. No, no, we’re appropriately priced. Let’s just let financial experts in ROI see what a great ROI YCharts is.

Craig: Half a day per week. 52 weeks of the year based on my calculations, that’s 26 days they’re saying 26 man person days they’re saving in a year.

Sean: Yes. And it you know it ends up correlating if you look at the price, our software ends up correlating to the fact that if you’re on a monthly subscription, it pays for itself. In the first four days of the month. Well over a 600% ROI. So that’s not real hard to explain to people who know ROIs and I love when I overhear our team given that discussion saying hey, come back to me when you’re a customer if you didn’t prove that out. Happy to give you a refund and we haven’t seen any.

Craig: Yes, everyonewho’s listening, if you’re thinking about getting YCharts, I think a better client experience and the fundamental investment research and client communication. Get it now before they raise the price before they realize how crazy things are. Pays for itself over the first four days can’t last very long. So for prospective clients, where can they go to find out more information about YCharts?

Sean: Just come to YCharts.com, sign up for a free trial, no pressure, come try our software if you want to engage with a human who can walk you through it, great, and see if it works for you.

Craig: Awesome. Sean, thanks so much for being here, man. Really appreciate it.

Sean: I appreciate you having me. Craig. Thank you.

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The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at craig@ezragroupllc.com

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