Ep. 178: Lessons Learned from Integrating Multiple Software Companies with Nick Eatock, intelliflo

Come on in and sit back relax, you’re listening to Episode 178 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

  • Changing Business Strategy
  • Merging Different Products
  • Lessons Learned from Business Integrations
  • Working With Competitors
  • Product Roadmap

Episode Transcript

Craig: All right, I’m excited to introduce my next guest on the program. It’s Nick Eatock, CEO of IntelliFlo. Nick, welcome to the program.

Nick: Hi, Craig. Thanks for having me on.

Craig: Thank you for being here. And where are you calling in from?

Nick: I’m calling from sunny but cold place called the Walton on Thames in England just southwest of London.

Craig: Brilliant. That is fantastic. We’re happy to have you here. We’re gonna just start right off and jump into this. Can you please give everyone a 30-second elevator pitch for IntelliFlo?

Nick: Sure, no problem. Great. I’m not sure if it’ll be 30 seconds but I’ll give it a go. We provide a suite of software that operates across the entire financial advisory and client lifecycle. We’re actually formed from the bringing together over five separate digital advice software businesses that Invesco bought over the last five years or so. And one of those companies was the original IntelliFlo that I founded along with a colleague in the UK, and and now collectively together when it was so much more than the sum of the parts were in a global business operating from a single set of operational processes and technology and so on.

Nick: We’re super excited. We’re also I think, what’s important will be important to you to your listeners today. It is our attitude to open architecture. We’ve been an open architecture believer right since the get go back in 2004, and have hundreds of third parties integrated into our ecosystem as well. It allows customers of our technology to either use the bits that we provide or the bits that we provide, plus other bits all into one one cohesive ecosystem. We support over 30,000 financial advisors worldwide, representing over 3 million end investors and about a trillion dollars service across the platform. It’s a pretty big business and growing quickly.

Changing Business Strategy

Craig: That’s one of the reasons why I wanted you on the program. We think a lot of people well of course, US based firms are very US centric, but there’s way more wealth technology around than just us based. And now you’re one of the one of the new hybrid. I call the hybrid firms where you’ve got you’ve got to fit in both on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. And there’s there’s more companies in the US that are doing that. And providing great technology and new ideas in our space and they’re buying up companies like Invesco bought your firm and then bought another ones and putting them together or are launching moving bring their products and modifying them to support the US market. There’s a lot of interesting things going on, which again, is why I wanted to bring you on the program. I’m going to go back to a couple of things. You said I have a couple more questions. How is the acquisition by Invesco.  You’re one of the most popular applications in the UK for financial advisors. How did that change your strategy in what you think about the company?

financial advisor technology solutions and platforms

Nick: Well, I think as you said, we were pretty successful business in the UK with some just under 50% of the UK advisor base uses our technology now across CRM practice management, portfolio, valuations and so on. That was pretty good. We were doing it and continued to innovate in that market across a multi-tenant SaaS. But what we wanted to do was break out into other markets as well. Take that same property proper multi tenant SaaS approach to other geographies and the acquisition by Invesco has allowed us to do that. And also allowed us to bring the the the other bits of the technology chain if you like. Some of those other acquisitions that Invesco has made over the over the years together to try and cover any gaps within within that financial advisory lifecycle. This has enabled us to to move forward. The global piece is not for the faint hearted, that’s for sure. It’s not that easy. We spent a good couple of years re-architecting because of the solution to get there. But now we’re live with customers in all three territories across a single single technology suite.

Craig: It seemed like a great idea. I mean, we weren’t we’ve consulted with a lot of asset management firms about technology. And we have just come full disclosure, we did some consulting work for Invesco when they first had acquired Jemstep. We know that platform well and so I was happy to see them acquire you guys and a couple other pieces to bring this all together. Because that’s a lot of that’s one of the issues I have with our market. There isn’t enough of this consolidation. We have too many standalone applications, and they’re not integrated well, and it’s very difficult for small firms, even midsize firms and larger firms don’t do a good job integrating. That’s one of the reasons why we launched our Ezra Group WealthTech Integration Score. It’s good to see that you did that.

Craig: I’m sure a lot of people listening don’t realize your dominance in the UK market. And there’s no companies in our space that 50% market share in anything I think CRM might be the highest market share where money that brought you money, or that started with Redtail with 35% and in financial planning, eMoney, MoneyGuidePro, and 30% each so a 50% market share is dominant.

Nick: Yeah, sometimes we get their credit, I think we’re about 46% interest, so just shy of 50%. But it’s, I think some of this is because we’ve been going for 18 years, so it’s a reasonable length of time. But also our technology covers so many different bits of that advisory lifecycle. It means it becomes easy to get what you need. And we have a rich API framework and developer’s hub, which allows third parties to integrate with other tech and that allows the adviser business to work out what bits they want in their in their lifecycle knowing that they’re not going to have to rekey data or anything like that.

Merging Different Products

Craig: Speaking of the API, storing data, that’s one of the reasons why your firm got such a high rating on our integration score because you have solid support for your APIs and if anybody can build API’s, we want to validate them. Do you have a developer sandbox, do you have APIs documented with sample code, so all that stuff is an important part of our scoring and you guys handle that. Invesco acquired both Jemstep and PortfolioPathway, which was an RIA technology platform as well as Redblack, which was a portfolio rebalancing engine. How what have you done with those?

Nick: Craig, you started there mentioning Jemstep, which has a great set of people with great technology and the bit that I think has benefited us most in terms of the core platform is the relentless focus on user journeys, whether they are journeys, encompassed or delivered by the end clients or for the advisor themselves, or someone working within the advisor business, trying to make those user journeys as simplistic and easy to follow as possible, that true digitization of the experience. We’ve taken a lot of that capability and thinking and brought it into that that single platform the IntelliFlo Office solution, which is essentially the bits from the UK plus the general perception now PortfolioPathway capability coming into their full portfolio management. 

Nick: Redblack is a very sophisticated rebalancing tool and that continues to operate effectively as a standalone solution in the marketplace. If people just pull it from a standalone perspective, they absolutely can. But it has also got a rebalancing strategy for them all combined, are all in one capability. And it’s, as I said earlier, and it’s not easy, though, and I’m running to a single SaaS architecture but we do believe that single SaaS architectures is important because it’s the bit that enables me to innovate quickly and evolve the software as the markets asks, but also to innovate across different areas at a speed that I don’t think is typically seen in the marketplace. We’ve got the benefit now, I think of having customers in, in three geographical regions around around the world, many of whom have very much the same problems. There are nuances and idiosyncrasies to the different geographies, but there are more things that are the same, and there are things that are different. And so we’re able to take all of those things, bring them into that single single roadmap strategy.

Craig: It is true that a lot of firms struggle with this and that leads me into my next question is how is the integration going between these applications? I’m sure you want to tell me how great it’s going. But besides how great, can you tell me some of the challenges, share some lessons learned with other if you were sitting in a roundtable with CTOs, CEOs of other firms and here’s the things that worked well, but here’s the some of the challenges we had to go through I wish I’d done something better?

Nick: I suppose it depends about how you start on that journey. I think the first thing for me and this is true as we look at the market even today, when you’re looking at acquiring businesses, understand how the technology works is key to how easy or difficult is going to be to migrate data into a single platform. Well documented multi-tenant SaaS architecture into another well documented multi-tenant SaaS architecture is possible. It’s not easy, but it’s at least possible if you’re taking other types of software building that becomes difficult. Fortunately, in either case, all of the all of the businesses tend to have the same philosophy and structure to them. That makes it easy, or easier, I should say.

Nick: The interesting bit though, is the bet that you don’t see on a due diligence document or a technical analysis. Which is the culture, which is the thing that I think is probably the most important thing for us in terms of bringing the businesses together. Getting everyone to understand that strategy, to buy into that strategy and to start working together and particularly in our case, working together over many different time zones. We covered a lot of time zones across the world that gives you great benefit when you can get there but in the short term, it’s difficult, because you’re communicating at different times of the day and the windows where you overlap are relatively short, so you have to use technology itself. To help make that work better. That’s a lot of communication technology, like we’re doing today, we’re on a Zoom call today. Before things like Zoom that just wouldn’t have been so interesting.

Craig: You mentioned a couple things here that I don’t hear many people talk about everyone. does talk about culture, that’s a very common one. Of course, SaaS architecture is not cloud based. It’s going to be difficult to integrate. But you mentioned multi tenant, and we don’t hear a lot of firms talking about that, even though it’s important to know before you buy some technology. Try to roll it out and realize it’s not multi-tenant, or the core is not set up that way. It’s meant to be installed individually for each firm is not designed to be supported at one level with all these different tenants inside so you can talk a little bit more about how you go about doing that and what would they be the issues around not having a multi-tenant application?

Nick: It’s pretty much as you’ve outlined there, Craig, in terms of the where the non-multi-tenant businesses that come from, these are more historic software businesses who are used to a desktop install. And the challenge with that is you’ve got lots of different customers but all potentially on completely different versions, difficult to maintain, difficult to support and difficult to enhance as well because people operating in many different ways using the technology.

Nick: What a multi-tenant solution says is that everyone gets the same code base. We host that code base, we do it in AWS, but we host it we make the changes to that. And it requires much more discipline in your software build to ensure that as you release new capability, a it can be feature flags out so not everyone sees it but be and probably more importantly, it can be made in a configurable way in which every firm who uses your tech and say, Well, I’d like to work use that same tech but working in this way versus versus the phone down the road. It requires much more discipline in the product stage and much more discipline in the engineering stage. But the benefits of that are huge. Customer support, customer service, maintenance evolution, moving forward become important. And we do that and we think we’re unique in that space across doing that in a global way in this space in the financial advisory space. Clearly there are lots of generic players out there people like Salesforce who do do the same thing in a generic world. We do it purely and focused on the financial advisor as well.

Craig: Has this integration been going on for 18 months?

Nick: Yeah, a little bit longer, two years, three years.

Lessons Learned from Business Integrations

Craig: You’re two years into the integration. One of the questions I’d like to ask is everyone wants to talk about successes, but I find I learned the most from mistakes. What mistake did you make in this two year process that you learned the most from?

Nick: A few there Craig, good question. I think one of the initial challenges we made was just trying to understand how best to piece things together. And that is a combination around capability and capability is quite easy to assess what the different capabilities of different stacks are. The harder bit is understanding what’s the best way to fit them together from a technical point of view. We made a couple of took a couple of wrong turns there you can go down a few culs de sac it became difficult to progress from that point. We step back and we say okay, let’s think about this in a different way. Involve your technologist heavily in this space. We did, but we still could have done more work in terms of in terms of in terms of that preparation. I think that was probably the biggest thing. I think that’s involved. A turn around.

Nick: The other one, though, is again, back to that cultural piece. And in this context, what I’m talking about culturally, is understanding when two businesses go together, you’ve got your stars in each of those businesses separately. How are those stars going to pull perform together and how are they going to understand what are the best thing is for them to be focusing on now you because you don’t want to match everyone across across each other. You want to get the best from each person and understand how you can evolve. Working that piece out is important.

Craig: One thing I find with acquisitions is the acquiring firm always wins. Whatever you have you win, right, whether whether it’s culture, whether it’s tech, whether it’s processes, you just impose your will on the companies you acquire because that’s just the way it goes. And a lot of people in the acquiring firm have a vested interest in those things, whether it’s a piece of software that they run and if that gets replaced, they have no point in life. Were there any things you brought in from the acquiring firms that took over something in the IntelliFlo framework, whether it’s a process or procedure or software that was replaced by something that came in?

Nick: Yeah, there are definitely things and I think again, it comes down to that at the point of acquisition, I think everyone needs to be very clear on what the what the direction is and what their strategy is. Because as I speak, speak from my own perspective, and that I knew when we originally back in 2018, sold to Invesco, we knew that there was a strategy we bought into that strategy. Then the evolution of technology across the financial advice space was was was pretty key to what we wanted to do anyway, but we were looking for a partner and an owner that bought into that message. I think when we look probably the biggest changes in the areas of overlap, there are about where you’ve got engineering teams, for example. It’s not just engineers, but they’re a great example. We’ve got engineering teams in different different areas, different companies, different parts of the globe, who have to work effectively together. And that means some change on all but all hubs because no one’s got it fully right. Just as no one’s got it fully wrong. There’s there’s elements of greatness about what everyone does. You want to take the best of those bits and bring them together. And that takes time.

Craig: It certainly does. You definitely, definitely want the best of the best. Why why acquire these firms if you’re not going to take the best pieces from it. Let’s talk about the bringing together of these different applications. What are the these are the advantages and clay you didn’t have some of these capabilities before you didn’t have US presence before. Those are obvious advantages. But what are some of the other advantages people may not see on the surface in this new consolidated offering that wasn’t available as these applications were running separately?

Nick: I suppose that there are advantages to our users and then there are advantages internally to us and then there’s sometimes the same but often different. If you look at advantages to our users, what we’re able to do by bringing the applications together into a more cohesive experience is make sure that those user journeys operators effectively as you possibly can. And when you look at the user workflow, whether this is an advisor or power planner, or someone else in the business using the technology, very often what they’re using is a whole range of functionality in a in a often a pretty ad hoc way, but sometimes joined up but they will jump between the different states and different systems many, many times to get to the point to which they want to operate.

Nick: By bringing these together, we can take pieces of each journey and play them at the right point in time, not just think about them as separate applications that integrate together but a journeys that are cohesive grabbing bits from essentially from platform a right for this screen and from B for the next one back to a onto C and so on so it can create a much better, better user journey and when you think of the scope with which our our software covers so that CRM, practice management, financial planning, portfolio management, rebalancing, digital account, opening workflow, dot man, all of those areas. It’s pretty it’s a pretty wide stretch. You want to make sure that they operate effectively as effectively together as they can. Internally we’ve had lots of success through that because there are a number of areas of overlap, which means we don’t have to double down on duplicate code, duplicate support processes, duplicate customer success, and we think about servicing our customers. We can bring that together in a much more realistic way.

Craig: And therein lies the rub. How do you do all that in a scene make it to make it appear seamless to make it appear as though it’s one application when you’ve got all these separate applications? Were there any issues with the underlying code where it’s just so different? The application I mean, I know you’re not the technology guy, but were there any big technologies that came up this code base is just so different? We’re going to have to XYZ put a wrapper around it to some interfaces to get this integrated?

Nick: In the main, no, because of the choices right at the beginning about making sure that the types of visitors that were bought would be sympathetic, in terms of how they’ve been architected to to the end state solution, if you like. But there are always small areas where where you say, Okay, right, that’s going to work in a slightly different way from how we how we anticipated and I think I mean, the reality is that that’s true of all software businesses around the world. You can just make it easier or harder depending on your initial initial choices.

Craig: One application I forgot to mention was i4C, which is your financial planning, cash flow modeling solution. And that was originally a UK based application, was it not?

Nick: It was Yeah, so we we acquired i4C back in 2019, very strong financial planning, cash flow modeling piece of capability, but entirely focused on the UK at that point in time. What we did was we did, we did summary architecture of their solution but very much kept the user journeys, the same built on the great stuff that have been built by the by the the owners and founders of that business, maybe leave a better globalizer that at the same time. It’s live in Australia now as well with some with some customers and we’ll be bringing that into the US and hopefully towards the end of this year.

Craig: Fantastic. We are always looking for more financial planning tools. You can never have enough because there’s always people that wants to be a little bit different. Want to be unique, see the way they conducted business differently than other advisors. And that’s there’s more and more financial planning led practices now. There’s always room for a new solution.

Nick: Absolutely crazy. We see a similar paradigm in the UK we’re integrated with about seven or eight compared competitive third party financial planning solutions, because as you say, advisors want to choose the way they want to work and there can be different different ways on that working so long as you’re making it as easy as possible for them to operate with those tools. Then we see that as our as part of our role.

Craig: We encourage everyone to integrate with everyone, whether you’re even if your direct competitors, although on our integration score, just to go a little behind the scenes, we don’t penalize vendors who don’t integrate with other vendors in their category. But if you do get extra points for that because I think it’s helpful if you might think, Well, why would we but because of what you said is first they want to make some unique combination. Well, then they already have something they don’t want to get rid of it. It’s not unusual to have vendors interacting with each other, even if they’re direct competitors.

Nick: Exactly. Most businesses I think talk about how they’re very customer focused and a customer first mentality. And we’d like to think that’s true of us as well. But I don’t think it can be true though, if you don’t integrate with competitors, because as you you then say it’s not customer first. It’s us first, customer second.

Craig: The term I’ve used for over 20 years is coopetition. And everyone is a competitor, but everyone’s also a partner in a long time ago, I worked for a company called ADP Automated Data Processing, which is a big payroll provider in the US but when I worked there it was so long ago they had a market data business, and they’re one of the largest providers of real time market data to broker dealers in the country. Merrill Lynch and Shearson Lehman and other large firms at the time. And one of our biggest competitors on the market data side was Reuters, where they had their own market data platform, which is now called ThomsonOne. Not even known by Reuters anymore, but they were our biggest competitor, but on the back office side because we also have a back office business of clearing custody, they are our biggest client.

Working With Competitors

Craig: And we see the same thing now with different firms having the same issues and so you just you have to deal with it with firms we have for our clients are software firms, and they’re always trying as well while we want to work those guys that are competitor, you’re going to have to because you’re going to want one of the same clients. You might as well figure it out now and get used to it.

Nick: We also think Craig, on that that is important to work with small competitors. You might not even regard us competitors yet because there’s so nascent, but if we believe in the evolution of advice, and we absolutely do and fundamental our mission statement is widely access to advice. We want to do that. And we do that in conjunction with other technology players, sometimes sometimes by ourselves, but sometimes with other technology players along and the only way to achieve that is if you embrace innovation across all sectors, that doesn’t mean that one company does all the innovation. It means you harness everyone within that space.

Craig: Innovation is an easy word to say but difficult to execute on. You mentioned you’re going to be finalizing a US version of the I foresee your financial planning tool for the US by the end of the year. Can you talk about any other features on your product roadmap the next 6-12 months?

Nick: Certainly in the US over the next 6-12 months we’re going to be launching what we determine our next generation platform based solution, just as I’ve been talking about earlier, still open and integrated, but this will be a comprehensive offering in the marketplace. Which advisors will be able to use or use us alongside others in an integrated fashion. And essentially enabling them to choose the best of breed is bits that they want for both advisory and brokerage business if they’re if they’re in that space.

Nick: What we want to end that is that swivel chair experience where people use solution A for the first benefit and turn their chair and rekey stuff and that’s just that just doesn’t make sense in the modern age. And our open architecture solves that by solving the data end of the solution and our single platform solution approach solves that by solving the user experiences too. We’re very excited about that. It’d be a interesting year. We got customers live on with us product already. And then the one we take to the marketplace, which is the next evolution of that towards the end of this year, we think is going to be pretty game changing.

Product Roadmap

Craig: That is fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing that can we get a demo? I want to see that. Fantastic so you’ve had all these acquisitions, you had two years to digest them. Any more acquisitions on the horizon. If you can talk about or any particular areas you’re looking at?

Nick: We’re always looking at the marketplace as a whole evaluating the businesses that are out there, both small and large. And we see this enormously in the UK. And you talked earlier, Craig asked me about the i4C business that we acquired in the UK in 2019. They’re a great example of a relatively small business, who linked in with us via the API, were on our store, we saw people starting to use them. We saw it gaining traction. We liked the interactions that we had with the business itself. It gave us a real insight into the business itself and therefore was was was a good a good one for us to acquire we want to continue with that process, not just looking at businesses were integrated with but that’s a easy place for us to get an understanding firsthand what that business and the software they run is so we’re still open and flexible. Always looking at businesses. We can we can acquire so long as it fulfills the mission which is helping that financial advisory lifecycle helping advisors become more effective and more efficient at work that they’re doing, make it open and transparent to them but also to their end client.

Craig: That is fantastic. And you have said it all and we’ve run out of time, time flies, man, where can our listeners find out more information about IntelliFlo?

Nick: The best place is probably our website. But the website itself is going to evolve as well over time as we start releasing more capability into the into the US marketplace, you will see that website evolve and the information we publish on there. We’re also attending a few conferences over the course of this year. Watch this space.

Craig: And the website is IntelliFlo.com. I think it just popped up for me that way. Everyone will see that as well. Intelliflo.com That’s where you want to go. Nick, thank you so much for being on the program. Appreciate it.

Nick: Thank you Craig, enjoyed it.

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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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