Ep. 176: What Wealthtech Firms Can Learn From Global Markets, with Jonathan Georges, Equisoft

Come on in and sit back relax, you’re listening to Episode 176 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group Consulting and this podcast features interviews, news and analysis on the trends and best practices all around Wealth Management Technology.

Before we get into the interview, if you are listening now you’re an executive at a broker dealer, an asset manager or an enterprise RIA you should run not walk to a website, EzraGroupllc.com and fill out the Contact Us form on the homepage to meet with us about your technology platform issues. Our experienced team can assist with software vendor evaluations systems integrations, improving operational efficiency, software implementations and a whole lot more. You can take advantage of our free initial consultation offer by going to EzraGroupllc.com. Now, let’s kick this thing off.

Topics Mentioned

  • The Benefits of International Exposure
  • The Equisoft Product Suite
  • Equisoft /connect CRM
  • Mobile Support
  • Trends in Wealth Management Technology 

Episode Transcript

Craig: Allow me to introduce our next guest on the program. It’s Jonathan Georges, VP of Wealth Management for Equisoft. Hey Jonathan!

Jonathan: Great. Thanks for having me.

Craig: I’m so glad you could be here. Where are you calling from?

Jonathan: I’m calling in from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s national capital. But I should mention that Equisoft global headquarters are located in the beautiful city of Montreal.

Craig: I love Montreal. I love going there to see clients and even go a little vacation. The old city is beautiful.

Jonathan: Absolutely. Especially in the summertime.

Craig: Especially in summertime. Winter is a little rough. I do go up for skiing up north, which is great. So can you please give us the 30-second elevator pitch for Equisoft?

Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. So Equisoft is a firm that specializes in the design and development of digital solutions for the financial industry. Since the company was founded back in 1994, we’ve been focused on the insurance and investment sectors. And about 18 months ago, we expanded into the pension space through an acquisition of a UK based firm called all this. However, since the company’s inception, we’ve really had a particular focus on developing tools to help financial advisors grow and manage their practices. And in fact, Equisoft first product v1 of Equisoft Analyzers was was coded by the company’s founder and our current CEO. We have a continuously growing team of over 800 team members now spread across six different countries and in my opinion, this team is a real ideal mix of real good balance between the technical expertise and the financial industry knowledge and experience. And we can really, we honestly say that we can understand our client’s needs because a lot of us have already been in their shoes.

The Benefits of International Exposure

Craig: We’re seeing more companies, more innovative product ideas coming from outside the US into the US market. And Equisoft is just one of those firms. What do you see the benefits of having this international exposure with multiple countries in the wealth management space?

Jonathan: Certainly gives us the opportunity to to expand beyond our borders. I can tell you, for example, being a Canadian based company, we have, obviously very many Canadian wealth management firms as amongst our clients, and as being Canadian based organizations. They’re required by law in a lot of cases to official offer services in both both English and French. Now this further use these wealth management firms that it certainly adds a certain level of overhead costs.

Jonathan: But what we found is that once they’ve got that infrastructure in place with that, for that multilingual infrastructure in place, the addition of incremental or additional languages is much easier. So in other words, supporting three or four languages doesn’t cost that much more than supporting two languages. So being able to support these different languages helps these wealth management firms and financial advisors that work for these firms to better serve the specific markets. So one example one specific example is in Western Canada. We have some clients where the firms are able to offer services in some Chinese dialects like Mandarin and Cantonese. And they’ve started they’ve seen some success compared to the competitors that aren’t able to offer those services in those languages.

Jonathan: Now, all that being said, I don’t know if the economics are in place for firms in the US to wildly support you know, other languages like Spanish or Mandarin. But I can certainly say that from our perspective, we definitely see the benefits of a multilingual approach as a technology vendor. So we build our systems from the bottom up to accommodate the multiple languages given where we’re located, and that certainly gives us a leg up in our geographic expansion.

The Equisoft Product Suite

Craig: That does make a lot of sense I think US firms are sorely lacking when it comes to multi lingual support. And they’re gonna find that as a benefit when they when they expand but also with different communities in the US. I think if they had those other languages available, they could do better at supporting those different communities within the US who feel more comfortable in a different language. Absolutely. Looking at your overall suite. So you guys have been around for a while you have a suite of products. Can you talk about what they are and what the the main benefits of each one are?

Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. So we’ve got well, our Equisoft Wealth Management Suite provides financial advisors with a comprehensive integrated suite of tools. And each of these components of the suite can be leveraged as a as a standalone solution as well. But to give you a sense of what’s included in this overall suite, we’ve got our advisor of CRM called Equisoft /connect. Equisoft /plan, our financial planning tool, Equisoft /analyze, as I previously mentioned, the V one of which was what founded Equisoft back in 1994. That’s our investment proposal solution. That offers portfolio design and analytics capabilities.

Jonathan: And I should also add to it just a couple of days ago, we acquired a Canadian company called Copy Office Software, whose flagship product called Lifeguide provides advisors with multi-quoting comparison tool for insurance products. And our intention is to tightly integrate that product within our CRM suite to make the life of the Canadian financial advisor even easier. I should also mention that outside our advisors suite of products, we also offer products for asset managers, where we have a digital sales enablement platform for investment product wholesalers, as well as a managed service for the production of Fun Fact Sheets.

Craig: That’s excellent. I think it’s helpful to have these products in the in these parallel categories with being asset management and wealth management. Because it gives you a lot of insights into how each one works. And you can share that data across between different firms in those spaces, would you agree?

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely. We’ve certainly seen that in terms of our product development efforts where we see feedback that we receive in one category of product reflected in our other products for a different audience.

Equisoft /connect CRM

Craig: From your three products, /analyze, /plan, and /connect, let’s just talk about /connect a bit. This is a CRM and we very much liked what we saw of the product, especially some of the integrations and some of the workflows. Can you talk about how your CRM is different, how it compares to CRMs that are already available in the US?

Jonathan: Absolutely. So I’d say some of the features that help our CRM standout are features like our deep integration email integration with Microsoft365 and Google. We also offer a very unique time tracking feature within within the application. And last but not least, I would say our dashboard that allows users to customize the selection and the placement of different widgets really helped the the the ARV CRM solution standout. I should also mention in the particular to the Canadian market. One of our key value added features in addition to the ones I already spoke about, are what we call our gateways or data integration points. We are clearly a market leader in the Canadian space when it comes to client data feeds for insurance products and investment products.

Craig: And this is not a new product. We’ve got very good traction with this product over 15,000 national advisors over 20,000 insurance agents are using the Connect product, is that correct?

Jonathan: That is correct. Yes.

Craig: And I think that’s interesting is we’re seeing more advisors adding insurance products to their mix and more insurance agents moving into wealth. So I think a CRM that can support both I think would have a bit of an advantage.

Jonathan: We believe so. Absolutely. And that’s been our experience to date in the Canadian market.

Craig: Especially access to insurance forms and different carriers.

Jonathan: Yes, exactly. And with as I was mentioning before, the with the addition of this life guide product, it even it takes it to the next next level. So within our CRM, the intention is to be able to get multiple quotes, for example from from different carriers all all within our CRM experience.

Craig: That’s unique. I don’t know anyone who does that. I know there’s firms working on building those types of quotes into the financial planning tool. But it seems like there’d be an advantage for some advisors who are more sales focused to have that inside the CRM he talked about how that works.

Jonathan: Absolutely, I should mention as well that the our financial planning tool has a deep integration with our CRM as well. So the the advisor can go back and forth between the two. So if there is a need, for example, within the financial planning tool to establish a need, for example, for a life insurance policy, there is the ability to go and and determine the exact need in terms of face value and then obtain various quotes from different from different different carriers.

Craig: That seems super valuable. Especially being able to compare different policies because one of the things we know is that some of these policies are so complicated, even the illustrations that the insurance companies provide, don’t help advisors or agents understand the difference. So having a tool that can show them side by side provides more of a benefit and understanding of which product is best for your client.

Jonathan: Absolutely, and today we’ve been discussing the insurance side, but we’ve had a long standing history of also providing a ton of information on the investment side as well. So pulling in client investment data, as I mentioned before in our analyzed product, we run a number of different analytics. So every every security every holding within the client’s portfolio, whether it be a mutual fund, in ETF or individual security. We have third party data feeds coming in to our application that allows us to run a number of different analytics on that investment portfolio as well. So historical performance, risk metrics, drawdown numbers, you name it, it’s included in our analyzed solution, which is part of that, that holistic package that we offer.

Craig: It’s definitely unique that you have those capabilities all under one roof. There aren’t many firms that have investment data and CRM, and financial planning all together. So that seems like a huge benefit for advisors that want to have all those and be able to move seamlessly between them.

Jonathan: There’s definitely a benefit of the integrated solution. But also, as I mentioned, these are also available as standalone, the solutions for those that want to kind of mix and match from different vendors.

Craig: And that’s always good to have the benefit. So they can they can try one application. And then they can also see you’ve got other things and maybe bring that in at some point down the road.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

Mobile Support

Craig: What about mobile we’re seeing a lot more demand for mobile functionality. Is your CRM available on mobile?

Jonathan: Yes, it is. Ours our CRM is available and nav native mobile app suffer are other pieces of the suite. We don’t see as much need for mobile solutions. Obviously if like financial planning solution or portfolio design analytics, you’re not necessarily going to do on a on a phone, but there is certainly a need for CRM functionality through a mobile device.

Craig: Well, indeed, more advisors are now they’re traveling again, or they’re even, may only have their phone available and being able to have that information is important to fingertips. And you support both Apple and Android?

Jonathan: Correct, yes.

Craig: That’s important. And how how fast is the synchronizing? Is it real time synchronizing? So if I’m editing something in the field, people back in the office will see it right away?

Jonathan: Real time synchronization. Yes.

Trends in Wealth Management Technology 

Craig: That’s awesome. We definitely need that. It’s definitely something important. Let’s switch to more general trends. What are some of the the trends you’re seeing with with your experience with your wide variety of products? And with having different categories of products across different industry industry sectors? What are some of the trends you’re seeing around wealth management technology?

Jonathan: So I see kind of three main themes I guess. In the wealthtech space, and I don’t think any of this is going to be a big surprise to you, but they are I can I can see from real life experience that the these are in fact trends that are quickly evolving. So the first one is all around the omni channel client experience. So you know the the the seamless and effortless high quality client experience between the different contact channels that an advisor client may have with their advisor, whether it be an in person interaction over the phone or digital digital interactions. And these, from what I’ve seen is really driven by the experience that they’re having in other sectors right do they the consumer is used to having everything on demand, what when they want it how they want it and that is their expectation for for the either realistically or unrealistically for the financial services industry. So I see a lot of financial institutions that are looking to integrate and combine different technology solutions either from one vendor or multiple vendors to create that I what they view as that ideal client experience.

Jonathan: The second theme, I would say is all around AI based technologies. So I saw a couple of stats recently that came out from from Gartner for example, that that say that over 60% of financial institutions have deployed or intend to deploy AI and analytics technology over the over the next 12 months and over 80% of the financial institutions and then do increase their AI spending over the next two years. So I that’s definitely an area where we see a big potential big potential for growth. And the question a lot that often comes up with AI based technologies is well, how is this going to be used and where is it going to be used and we really feel that especially within our suite of products that the best use case for AI based technologies is inevitably going to be in the the determination of the next next next, next best action in terms of from the financial advisors perspective. So that’s whether that’s like a sales rank oriented opportunity in terms of positioning a product based on the analysis of the the clients history, or is it next best action in terms of their financial planning needs? So there’s a number of different number of different use cases we see there. And then the third kind of general theme that that I’m seeing quite frequently is all around digital process automation. So you know what I’m talking about. There are all the areas around Client Onboarding account onboarding, document management, digital signatures, and client bill pace solutions. So I think a recent stat that I saw is like more than three quarters of financial institutions intend to increase their client lifecycle spend over the next over the next two years, so that’s definitely another area of growth that we’re seeing.

Craig: Those are great areas. I’m gonna go back and roll back to the first area, talking about an omni channel client experience. That’s something we are seeing a lot of firms doing and building out. But what are some of the pitfalls? Like if you’re a vendor and you’re trying to build out this omni channel experience, or better yet, you’re a wealth management firm, and looking for a vendor and they how do you how do you ensure that they’ve got what you’re looking for and got what you need and not just saying they’ve got on the channel, but it really is what what should they be looking for?

Jonathan: Well, one thing for sure, that I’ve noticed is a lot of wealth management firms are focused on the on the design or the client, the client experience from a design perspective, and when that is the primary driver. I’ve seen some wealth management firms opt for design firms instead of technology first firms when, when engaging third party vendors to help them with with this omni channel experience and, and the benefit there is obviously they’re getting a slick, slick interface, a slick user experience, but where it all falls apart is in the connection to the back end, right. So these a lot of these design firms have a lot of experience with the design but don’t understand the complexities of all the integrations that have to happen in the background that the the plumbing if you will. So I we’ve seen you know, in all transparency, we we’ve we’ve lost a few RFPs to design firms when it comes to building that omni channel experience. And in the vast majority of cases they come back later and say, well, we dropped the ball we picked the wrong supplier because they didn’t understand our business. So that’s that’s one pitfall I would certainly suggest the wealth management firms try to avoid, because it can it can end up being very time consuming and costly mistake.

Craig: That is costly. Many firms don’t see the full value of the full cost of building software. They think oh, we can build this in X number of months and we’ll have it, not realizing that there’s a lot more to it. And you’re basically supporting itself for forever yourself and you’re not getting all the insights you’d get from buying from a third party vendor that’s bringing in consolidating ideas, bug fixes features from hundreds of other clients.

Jonathan: And continually enhancing that platform as well. They a lot of wealth management or financial institutions think it’s kind of like a one and done type of investment. One off investment but that that means that that platform is not evolving over time. Whereas licensing or subscribing to a solution from a vendor that’s dedicated to doing that, obviously has that benefit of continual enhancement.

Craig: Jumping to your second point, artificial intelligence what are what is Equisoft’s plans for building in AI into different tools?

Jonathan: A number of different plans. So I’ll give you an example on our for our CRM solution. We’ve already got a concept in production with one of our clients that is optimizing campaign management for for advisors. So what happens is the in this the in this case, it’s on for a particular carrier insurance carrier, where they’ve got a campaign that’s that they want to where they want to promote a specific new product. And through our CRM, it will scour through the the database and find the optimal target audience for that. For that campaign, automate the the release of that campaign, the emails that go with it, and the follow ups, etc. So that’s just one example.

Jonathan: I’ll give you another example of AI based technology that we’ve recently implemented through a product we call my financial benchmark, which is a tool that allows in investors or the consumer to benchmark their financial health against their peer group. So they can go visit the website, enter a few pieces of information about themselves in terms of their, you know, their age, their region, the region that they live in, and a little bit more information about the the amount of savings that they have. They’re insured current insurance coverage, etc. And the the tool will find a common peer group, assign them to a specific peer group and then benchmark them against that peer group on a number of different data points like this, their savings rate, like their insurance coverage, like their, their spending, their spending habits, etc. And that’s all all that is driven through the collection of data into a data lake and then the processing of that data through AI based technologies.

Craig: Sounds like a valuable tool that can help you lead gen as well for advisors. Absolutely. And moving on to digital process automation. Those are some very important areas new account opening document management, digital signature, and with 75% of financial institutions, increasing their their lifecycle spend the tremendous opportunities in all those areas. How many of these digital process automation areas does echo soft support? And which ones don’t you support and are you gonna be building out those additional ones?

Jonathan: So the ones that we’ve we’ve listed previously, so Client Onboarding, account onboarding, document management, digital signatures, we already cover in in our products the one area where we have not the door we have we were not tackled is the client Bill Pay solutions area. And that’s just the result of there not being a big demand amongst our client base, but it’s certainly something we’re keeping our eyes on going forward.

Craig: We’ve seen a fair amount of bill pay, but it’s usually in the higher end.

Jonathan: High net worth clients. Absolutely.

Craig: They tend to have a lot more bills to pay and can benefit from the automation whereas the rest of us don’t seem to have that that problem. So I think we’ve we’ve covered everything. Is there anything I didn’t ask you?

Jonathan: Not that I can think of.

Craig: Craig Iskowitz Good, covered all. Fantastic, Jonathan, where can people find more information about Equisoft?

Jonathan: A lot of all the information can be found at Equisoft.com.

Craig: Fantastic, Jonathan, thanks for your time we really appreciate it was my pleasure.

Jonathan: It was my pleasure, 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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