Come on in and sit back and relax. You’re listening to Episode 207 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, all about wealth management technology.
My guest for this episode I’m excited to announce is Michael Lecours, co founder of fpPathfinder. Michael is also a financial advisor and a planner at wealth strategies team. He began his career in advertising to develop marketing strategies for insurance companies, banks and credit unions. Now he leverages his background to distill complex financial planning concepts into straightforward strategies, applying behavioral finance concepts to the planning process and injecting a disciplined approach to all facets of the client experience. You’re going to love this interview with Michael, I had a good time talking to him.
But before we get started, if you are an executive at a broker-dealer, enterprise RIA, family office or a TAMPs, your tech debt is holding you back. Your old software platforms are rusty and falling apart and they need either a complete overhaul or to be replaced entirely. Your disparate systems don’t communicate with each other and it’s driving your operations staff and advisors crazy with manual processes and other errors. If this describes your company, you should run, not walk to our website, EzraGroup.com and fill out the Contact Us form on the home page. Our experienced team can evaluate your technology ecosystem, deliver targeted recommendations, optimize your existing systems and operations, or run an RFP or RFI to help you implement new software to help take your firm to the next level.
- Pain Points in Advisor Workflows
- Consistency in Advice
- Scaling Financial Advice
Michael: Hi Craig. Thanks for having me on. Doing great.
Craig: I’m so happy to have you here. I’ve been a follower of your company for many years. We never really had a chance to speak, so, I’m glad you’re here. Where are you calling in from?
Michael: I’m from the Hartford, Connecticut area up in New England.
Craig: Beautiful Hartford. I just was on the train right through your state over the weekend. I was coming back from Boston. I waved, but you didn’t see me. No, did not. I missed that.
Craig: That’s alright. Michael, give us a 30 second elevator pitch for fpPathfinder.
Michael: What we do here at fpPathfinder is help advisors have more diligent conversations with their clients about financial planning topics. Essentially, we’re helping them look and be smarter in front of their clients. We do that by creating two different kinds of tools: checklists and flowcharts. The checklists help advisors uncover planning opportunities for their clients, and the flowcharts help tease out the aspects and the decision points that have to happen with some of our big choices that we’re making or helping our clients make.
Pain Points in Advisor Workflows
Craig: One of the reasons why I was interested in this is that as a consultant, we work with a lot of RIAs and broker dealers and other wealth management firms, and they don’t have these workflows and flowcharts, but they’re still doing these processes. They just don’t write down how they do it. So it over time. It’s in people’s heads and firms that have been in business for 10 or 20 years or more have these very complicated processes that usually layered with multiple different parallel tracks. There’s always spreadsheets involved, even though there’s different software that they’re talking to. Lots of manual processes. I love anything that can help streamline the workflows of our wealth management firm.
Michael: You’re right, and the pain point that I saw being an advisor was that, I struggled to keep certain rules straight. Every couple of weeks or months questions would come in and I couldn’t answer them, or if I did answer them, I might get them wrong, or I just didn’t have the confidence. To your point, I was just sketching something out to help myself, and it was a flowchart. Just can an advisor or can a client make a contribution to their IRA deductible, IRA contribution. And I thought it was just me because I was new, but I was working closely with my father who’s also a financial advisor and he was running into the same kind of issue as well and he’s been a financial advisor for like 20, 30 years.
Michael: There is this aspect, you’re right, of just trying to provide advice for yourself, but we were also seeing that it was a consistency act aspect. We wanted clients when they called up, whether they’re talking to my father who was the senior planner or me being a junior advisor at the time to receive consistent guidance on the planning issues. These flow charts and eventually checklists help to create that framework for us.
Craig: I can see how that would do that, and your consistency is important. Even a firm, as you’ve mentioned with just two advisors, you should be giving the same advice to people who have the same problems.
Craig: Or the same question. How do I do a 529 or how to do a rollover, or I’ve got a small business, what do I do? You should be giving consistent advice, especially with firms that have hundreds of advisors. If they’re all giving a wide variety of advice, that’s not a good look.
Michael: Exactly. That plays into a part where some firms try to develop some of those workflows on their own. What we’ve seen so far is that a lot of those workflows are operations based. A client calls up and says, my spouse passed away. We’ve gotten as an industry pretty good in saying, okay, well what do we do with those accounts? We’ve got to open up new accounts, we have to get the death certificate in here, and with the ultimate goal of just getting the accounts retitled. But you move over to what the financial planner has to do in that stage, and that’s where it goes to your points all up in the advisor’s head. Are we covering all these conversations about cashflow changes? What’s happening with different types of life insurance? What kinds of options are we taking with annuities?
Michael: That’s the opportunity because it’s always changing and we can’t keep it all straight. Because once we do the rules change, you go back five years ago and the conversations about what to do with an inherited IRA are a million times different than what they are now. Because the Secure Act has come along and then Secure Act 2.0 and we’ve got more changes coming. It was so complicated that even for the small subset of advisors that we talked to where they had their own planning workflows for the advisor, it takes too much time to maintain this, let alone create new ones. That’s where we started to supplement or augment a lot of the work that those folks were doing. Then it opened up a whole new opportunity for folks that didn’t have the time or inclination to be process driven and create processes. There’s a turnkey option now for them.
Craig: Just like every advisor doesn’t have the same personality. Some advisors are introverts, some are extroverts, some are great at building, some aren’t so great. There are some advisors who are great at building processes and others who aren’t. I think that your product seems to level the playing field in that respect.
Michael: Yes. Thank you.
Craig: But now who are your users? Is it brand new advisors who don’t know what they’re doing and need the checklist to figure things out?
Michael: That was our original hypothesis was that new advisor comes on, they don’t have all the rules figured out, and so these guides could help them. Turns out we were completely wrong on that assumption. When we started to actually pull our advisors and survey them, we found out that the average advisor tenure was like five to 10 years. What we found when talking with them was that they’d been around the block, they knew the rules, they knew them so well that they were actually having trouble keeping them all straight because now there’s just so much out there.
Michael: Then Secure Act comes along and now it changes the thinking, and they go, those rules change for the deductible IRA contributions. I think so, or is that going into effect? I can’t remember. That becomes the pain point. It’s that there’s just so much out there that we as advisors are tasked with understanding that we just can’t possibly keep it all straight. That only comes with time.
Consistency in Advice
Craig: You’d say the majority of the benefit of your workflows, flowcharts and checklists is not necessarily saving time, but giving advisors a consistent process, be able to follow these workflows. They may not know all the details behind the underlying regulations?
Michael: Right. That was the other thing that we thought about. We thought, early on we’re going, you know, this saves time. Client calls up, they’re going through a life event, they just lost their job. Well, instead of the advisor having to frantically search on Google to try to find guidance and then having to do all this extra research, it’s going to save a lot of time if they just have a one page or a two-page document that has all of these great planning questions and some nuggets of information to help the advisor guide the client. In reality, it doesn’t do that. They’re finding more planning issues by having a systematized checklist to go through. There’s no time savings. It’s a productivity tool. You’re doing a lot more in the same amount of time for the clients.
Craig: It is saving time, but they’re not using it to do other things. They’re using it to be more productive with that particular client.
Michael: I guess, yes. They’re more productive. They spend the same amount of time, but they’re doing a lot more. Is it an efficiency thing? But it’s like the interesting point is that we don’t try to sell this as a time saver. This is about helping the advisor have a better conversation, uncover more things to help their client.
Craig: Sounds a lot like advice engagement.
Michael: Yeah, it is. Talk about the Kitces actually, you have a big hand in this as well, the Advisortech Map.
Craig: That’s right. Michael and I do that. That’s why you guys were in the advice engagement category.
Michael: Yes. It’s like we showed up one day and I still remember when that article came out and all of a sudden we got moved over and one actually makes a lot of sense. We never knew where we fit.
Craig: We do not do this randomly! We’re not flipping a coin to see where the vendors go. We have some thought behind it.
Michael: But I think that I thought was such an important decision on your part to take that time to think about this growing suite of tools out there and what is that need and where does that fit within the overall planning process. There’s several other folks in that space, and we’ve been trying to define who are we as a space, and it’s a great group with FP Alpha and Bento Engine and Asset-Map. Because there’s so much around this advice engagement aspect and what this means, because 5, 6, 10 years ago, it was not the same thing it is now. In terms of what the needs are among advisors. We’re solving this thing.
Michael: I mean, for fpPathfinder, we were seeing this need for this desire for advisors to provide more value to their clients. What does that actually look like? The financial plan is developed, everything is fine, the investments are fine. How do we justify our fee? I’ve got my client coming in, in one week and I want to talk with them about something other than the account performance. And I can’t talk about the financial plan because it’s all on track. They’re retired. What do I do? How do I justify my fee? That’s advice engagement.
Craig: Which is valuable. It was more and more clients are looking back at their fees and saying, what am I doing here? Why don’t I just move to a Robo?
Michael: Yes. I mean that theme is growing more and more now. It’s like five years ago it’s like you could talk about it and hear folks talking about other advisors on Twitter, but now it’s like, there are lots of clients getting very focused about what am I getting for this? How does this make sense for me? How often are you looking at the investments? What’s going on in my financial plan? How are you helping me here?
Craig: What work are you actually doing?
Michael: Right. That gets to this whole other aspect about shadow work that we as advisors do. There’s all this stuff that we do as advisors that we don’t get credit for. One thing that we, like a pilot project that we launched last year was around RMDs. All advisors we’re all checking that. Did you satisfy your RMD? Yes? We’re moving on. No. We’re calling you up. We got a fire drill to go through. But what if you built upon that and you made that part of the process of working with your clients. We’ve got something we’ve got a checklist of 15 planning issues to consider all around RMDs. Then we’ve got a deliverable report where the advisor can type in all the key elements of what goes into the RMD, how much have you taken out, where does it go? What’s your tax withholding?
Michael: Now the advisor can do this in bulk and send it off to their client saying, let’s review your RMD. Here’s where you stand, and here are 12 different planning questions because maybe you don’t need the money to go into your bank account. Maybe you’re charitably uninclined and we it’s never come up in the same way, and we actually should be doing qualified charitable distributions. Or maybe the markets are up or down right now and we want to take the RMD in the middle of the year as opposed to waiting to the end of the year, or vice versa. It’s actually trying to pull some of that shadow work out that we do behind the scenes and make it more public facing.
Scaling Financial Advice
Craig: I have a quick question for you. Talking about checklists and workflows and all the work that you’re doing and how your advisors are using them, it’s productivity tool, it builds better conversations. I’ve just a question, a rhetorical question, but I’m sure there’s an answer to it. But does this help scale advice and can you scale advice? Is that something that can be done, and how does your product help do that?
Michael: If you had asked me that question eight years ago, I would say no. That was the consensus that I was hearing as I was at conferences and I was talking or following folks on Twitter. Then the pandemic happens and everything gets turned upside down. Now we’re exiting the pandemic, and I think that there’s a different world. Now I’m more of a believer that you can scale advice. And I think that you can scale advice because, first of all, clients are more open to technology than they were pre-pandemic, and they’re more open to doing things in a different way.
Michael: Then on top of that, during the pandemic, a bunch of Fintech companies just created a software tool set that could allow for some elements of scalability. Even for ones that didn’t create a dedicated product, there were other firms that were creating aspects to it. Like Nitrogen has something about, I think it’s called the client beating aspect, where they’re sending out on behalf of the advisor an email to prompt them to answer a couple of questions. Depending on the answers to those questions, the advisor can then go follow up with the client and say, Hey, you’re nervous about the markets, but you’re okay about your long-term financial plan. Let’s talk.
Craig: It’s called check-ins.
Michael: Check-ins. All right. That’s one. You also have Elements that is also sitting in the same quadrant on the tech map where it’s called sales and enablement. Where they’ve got software and parameters out there that can help to look at where folks stand in the financial plan process and maybe raise the flags, and asset map has another tool like that. We’ve approached it like the mission. If that’s the top of the mountain, we’re on the other side of the mountain coming up a different route, and we’re looking at how do you scale those conversations.
Michael: As our own product has evolved over time, where we’re at right now is that advisors are saying, we don’t want to just sit down with our client and go through a checklist together during the meeting, and we don’t want to be thinking through what should we talk about in a client meeting. We want to send this checklist to the client before we meet. They answer the buttons, they check the boxes, they answer the questions, and when they’re done, we want this information to go into the CRM. We can go in there very quickly and see what the planning issues are. We don’t walk into a meeting completely blindsided, and then we can actually be prepared for this meeting, uncover the planning issues. So the meeting is spent not trying to figure out what the issues actually are, but solving them. And so you’re making that meeting productive and then you minimize all of the follow-up that has to happen afterwards. That’s creating a scalable meeting aspect.
Craig: I’m glad you brought that up. Your product is more than just checklists. These are not paper checklists, it’s not a PDF file. This is an interactive software product, as you mentioned, can be sent out to the clients before a meeting. They can fill it out. That data then goes into the CRM automatically when they put submit that the advisor can then review and use to then build the agenda for their client meeting.
Michael: That’s exactly right. Now, we didn’t get started that way. We got started of thinking we were a due diligence company, and so all of our checklists and flowcharts were just PDFs. Then advisors said, no, we want to send this to our clients, get rid of the RFP Pathfinder logo. We want our logo there and we want our color palette. And so that was the first big iteration that we made. Then folks said, get into the 21st century, stop with the PDF stuff. We want an interactive checklist. We want to either complete this on our own, or we want the client to complete this, and we want documentation in this CRM so six months from now, we know what we have to be working on still.
Craig: Exactly. That’s the name of the game is keep everything on track and track everything. If you’re not tracking everything, you don’t know where you are, where you stand.
Michael: Yes. That’s exactly it.
Craig: There’s also a number of the different tools. You’ve got of course workflows and checklists, but you also have service guides, email templates, and other tools. What’s the most popular ones that you’d see advisors using the most?
Michael: Interesting, when we talk about technology, there’s a certain aspect, or advisors or any user or person. There’s a subset where they intuitively get it. They see checklist, flowchart, they’re like, got it, I know exactly how to plug this into my business. We’re getting to the point now where those folks already are working with us. It’s now people that say, I like the idea of checklists and flowcharts, but I don’t know what I do with this after I sign up. And so when you look at those email templates or the service guides, those are more educational tools that we offer, and we offer all of that as just a freebie so that advisors can look at this and say, okay, now I get it. Here’s how I can introduce this checklist to my clients.
Michael: We have guides up there where you can use it to kick off planning conversations for the start of the year, or let’s say we want to have conversations with clients about how to save more and what buckets should we be looking at for that. Advisors were coming back saying, okay, I want to use this. I just don’t know; how do I talk about it. We wrote up letters and just said, here, Mr. Client, it’s important that we keep focusing on saving more or these are the issues to look at the start of the year. It’s important, here’s a checklist to get you started. Please go through it and after you’ve gone through it, schedule a time to talk with us so we can go through this in more detail.
Michael: All right. There’s this awesome case study where there was an advisor that used some of our guides in conjunction with Holistiplan. The advisor sent out an email that said, right now we are going to be focusing in on doing Roth conversions. Here are the benefits of Roth conversions, but you might not totally qualify. Please check out this flow chart to see if you do. And so they can pull up our flow chart and you can go through the rules, and then the letter ends by saying, “If you get to the green box, please schedule a time for us to talk.” And he sends it out to all of his clients. Client schedules it, they upload their tax return. What he actually gets on the call, he’s already uploaded the tax return into Holistiplan. He knows what the conversion, what the Roth conversion amounts could be, so he can have that conversation with the client right then and there.
Michael: He’s able to do this for all of his clients in a one-month period of time. Now, we took that with Holistiplan because that was such a great case study, and we’ve actually built a big partnership together. Within Holistiplan, when you upload a tax return, it generates all of these planning observations within Holistiplan. Based on those planning observations, it will also then link to the fpPathfinder guides for additional information.
Craig: How does it know which guides to link to?
Michael: That’s where we come in. It’s nothing technical. We’re like, we just are looking at those planning observations, and they were saying, Hey, these three guides make a lot of sense for a Roth conversion. We got something to deal with, surcharges. That’s getting flagged as an issue or as an observation. Let’s link a couple of guides there. It’s us putting on financial planning hats and just looking at the two tools about how they can overlap and then work together.
Craig: We love integrations, Michael. Anything that’s connecting different applications together and making things easier for advisors, we’re all for. Are there other integrations you want to highlight?
Michael: The integrations with CRMs, it’s Redtail and Wealthbox and Salesforce are the big ones. We also have a couple of the Salesforce like add-ons. With Redtail and Wealthbox, there’s something else where with those you can be in the CRM and from the CRM specifically the contact record, you can launch the checklists directly there. You go back to my other example earlier, client calls up, spouse passed away, what do I do? The general rule of thumb is that the advisor should be in the CRM first. That’s the first screen they should be pulling up because it’s got the notes, the contact information, you have all everything right there at your fingertips. How cool would it be where all of a sudden you’re learning more about what’s going on and within two or three clicks, you’re able to launch the right checklist to help that client.
Michael: Then when you’re done answering the questions, you hit one button and all of that information flows back into the CRM. That’s unlike the pure integration side, what I talked about with Holistiplan. It’s not technically an integration, it’s just a deep partnership. There’s no single sign on. There’s actually like no real coding that happens to connect the tools together. But there’s Holistiplan and then we have Asset Map as well where as you fill out the investment instruments or the financial instruments, if you’re entering in values and it’s getting picked up as a true investment tool, it’s a block. It just shows up on their map. It’s also teeing up appropriate guides relevant to whatever that financial instrument is.
Michael: If your client says, oh, I’ve got Social Security, let’s add that as a box to the map, they can type that in, and then it will also say, now go take a look at the social security checklist. Or if it’s a dormant 401K. We’ll look at this dormant 401K flowchart. Then we’re doing a little bit more with Snappy Kraken along those lines where it’s a marketing company, they’ve got some cool content. But once you get that lead in, how do you turn around and then have the deep planning conversations to fulfill the value that you are putting yourself out there for. We’re building more and more of those together as well.
Craig: We love it. More is better, more integrations, more connectivity, more seamless workflows and flowcharts and processes for advisors is always a good thing. Michael, we’ve run out of time. Can you give everyone at home listening, information as to where they can find out more information?
Michael: Yes. They can go to fpPathfinder.com, and we’ve got a lot of samples up there. A lot of the guys that I was just talking about, folks can just go on there and take a look at them, browse around and see what we have.
Craig: We like free trials and free samples. Those are great. Michael, thanks much for being here.
Michael: Great. Thank you so much, Craig.