Ep. 208: Elevating Client Engagement with Richard Thoeny, PreciseFP

Come on in and sit back and relax. You’re listening to Episode 208 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 is Richard Thoeny, Head of Product Strategy for PreciseFP. Quick bio on Richard, he has over 30 years of experience in the wealth management space with lots of operational roles including Head of Operations for a national online brokerage firm, Senior VP of Operations for a corresponding clearing firm. Then he moved to software product management and has been at Docupace for the last 9 years. 

This was a great conversation, you’re going to get a lot out of it, including how acquisition is going since Docupace acquired PreciseFP, details on their recently announced partnership with LPL Financial, and trends in digital transformation and the ongoing crisis in enterprise data architecture. 

But before we get started, if you are an executive at a broker-dealer, enterprise RIA, family office or a TAMP, 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.

Topics Mentioned

  • The Impact of the Docupace Acquisition
  • Trends Shaping the Financial Industry
  • The Role of Data Normalization and Integration
  • The Future of PreciseFP: AI, Machine Learning, and UX

Episode Transcript

Craig: Here we go with our next guest on the program is Richard Thoeny, Executive VP Product Strategy for PreciseFP and Docupace. Richard, great to talk to you.

Richard: Yeah, good to talk. To you, Craig.

Craig: It’s been difficult to get this coordinated, surprisingly.

Richard: It has, yes, crazy schedules and things come up. But we’re here now.

Craig: Fourth quarter it’s getting towards the end of the year things are getting busier. I understand. Where are you calling in from?

Richard: Denver, Colorado.

Craig: Love it there. I can’t wait. Oh, although I only go there in the winter. I don’t know what it’s like in the summer. Summer must be beautiful but I’m a winter Denver person.

Richard: I am a winter Denver person as well but it is a 72 and not cloudy skies. It’s not bad. It’s a beautiful beautiful time in the summer here as well. But I prefer ski season for sure.

Craig: Oh, yeah. You gotta love when Denver’s warmer than New Jersey, it’s in the 60s here. Alright, so, I’m sure everyone knows of PreciseFP but for those few people living under a rock, please give us a 30-second elevator pitch for PreciseFP.

Richard: Sure, I can do probably less than that. It is a client engagement data gathering platform that allows you to collect data just once it eliminates manual data entry, saves of hours and hours of time for the advisor and it provides a very, very elegant CyberSecure platform to collaborate with your clients. The short and sweet version.

Craig: It’s been one of the most popular applications that alarm or a client’s use. Everyone seems to love it. It’s one of those applications where you hit yourself and go, why doesn’t everyone have this right? So it seems logical now that it’s been available for so long and it’s such a benefit to advisors. How have things been since the acquisition by Docupace in 2021. What what are the biggest changes you see?

The Impact of the Docupace Acquisition

Richard: Oh, it’s been great. I come from the database side of the equation. I’ve been a total of 10 years with Docupace the parent company now moved over to the EVP in strategy and product for PreciseFP. It’s been an infusion of talent, I would say has probably been the biggest impact, leveraging Docupace, just the the extent of the talent, the extent of the people, leveraging some of the other parts of the organization to scale up.

Richard: That’s been a big significant part of it, got us a foot in the door, even with an LPL for example. So we’ve been talking on the PreciseFP side with LPL they love it, talking to him for a long time. I think the relationship with Docupace, the capital and the owner structure and everything helped tip that to move that needle with LPL. So it’s been great, at least the talent, the scalability, and the capital have had a good impact on precisely the growth.

Craig: So you’re saying that the Docupace acquisition with a better funding, better finances helped you get the deal at LPL?

Richard: I don’t know that they will say it that way. That’s my interpretation of the way things went down. But like I said, we’ve been talking about for a long time. They love the technology. It got us just a more secure foot in the door with them and tipped it over the edge for sure.

Craig: Can you elaborate on that deal with LPL you are you in the the vendor affinity program? What the details behind that?

Richard: We’re in the vendor affinity program exactly that we attended our first conference earlier this year. We did quite a bit of advanced development to support what they need from the LPL side around compliance and disclosures and being able to supervise and surveil some of the work so we actually had to do a decent amount of development to finalize everything that had to be in place to meet the LPL requirements. So we did that earlier in the year. And then now we’re part of that affinity program. So it’s been a fabulous shot in the arm and shooting out of a cannon for us been great.

Craig: Are there any specific features functionality you built for LPL that are now available to other recipe clients?

Richard: Yeah, absolutely. I’d say the biggest ones are helping the enterprise side of the equation. So historically PreciseFP has been a retail platform and we’ve moved into the enterprise platform. So into that that market. The surveillance piece that we built out for them is pretty interesting where they have to be able to surveil, not only emails but also documents and things that are moving around between the advisor and the client. So you got some functionality around that we build some functionality to help individual users of the platform be able to post their own disclosures and do all kinds of disclaimers and disclosures that can apply to certain engagements in the way that they need to do it to meet the compliance requirements a lot. Most of its complex, quite frankly. But there’s some huge upticks that mostly other enterprise clients will take advantage of retail as well. The the disclosure, customer disclosure, and disclaimers that you can post is a nice feature that everyone take venture

Craig: So for all PreciseFP customers, thank you LPL, now we’ve got new features.

Richard: That’s right. That’s exactly right. They are the benefactors of that work for sure.

Craig: That’s something we talked to a lot of firms about that want to build their own technology. We do a lot of build versus buy evaluations for wealth management firms here at Ezra Group. And one of the things we warn them on, you may be you may have the capability and the resources and the cash to build whatever tools you are going to build, but you’re going to lose the benefit of dozens or hundreds of other firms feeding into a vendor application such as PreciseFP so I could build my own data gathering, but I wouldn’t be getting all these additional features from some of the smartest firms in the industry.

Richard: Yeah, absolutely. It’s actually that’s interesting. We have that conversation all the time. And we get that, oh, we should just build it. Quite a few firms have tried to build something comparable. And yeah, we’re just 16 years ahead for one and the development of the platform maturity etc. And all those ideas and all the roadmap work that’s been done. So you’re right. But it’s interesting that no one’s been able to build it in such a way except custom solutions. I haven’t seen anything that’s even custom built, and I’ve seen quite a few of them, that compares to the functionality and the depth of our platform. 

Craig: A standard is that with third party applications no custom build is going to be as robust. Well, number one it doesn’t have to be right from building just for my company. I know what you need. What I need, but then I’ve got to build every single piece of that. Whereas I could buy PreciseFP or Docupace’s other suite, or tools or one of your competitors tools, and just use the parts that I want to use, which is often times what most people do anyway. So it’s it’s definitely a discussion we hear quite a bit. Let’s move on. Let’s shift onto industry trends. Can we talk about some trends you’re seeing and how they’re impacting advisors or changing the way that PreciseFP is used?

Trends Shaping the Financial Industry

Richard: The industry change, the hot topics right now are AI, blockchain, and open banking. They’re very significant and have a significant impact. And we we look at those, but I think it’s the digital transformation that we’ve had the most impact from, but the way I put it or think about it is, clients want to interact with their financial services software, the same way people do with their phones. They want a simple, elegant solution. They didn’t want it. They want to make it as quick and easy as possible. And they want to be able to submit that data and just have a quick interaction and then move on be on to the next thing.

Richard: So that digital transformation is, I think the key from a trend standpoint and kind of surprisingly, it’s taken longer than I would have expected for people to move in. There’s a lot of barriers to that, the data normalization is one thing to be able to move data, but the data structures between different systems, one system might have accounts as the lowest common denominator, another one has clients, another one has household. So the data structure is kind of a barrier to entry to moving some of those things forward.

Richard: But PreciseFP is on the front end of that, capturing that data once having that data available, not having to manually enter anything and then being able to share that up and downstream. So I think that’s, that’s probably one of the most impactful to PreciseFP. There’s other things that are happening, regulatory changes, RegBI, recommendations, all those kinds of things put pressure on advisors and firms to be aware of what’s going on and to also make sure that their systems are compliant.

Richard: I’m actually working on a recommendation template right now. So we can help support some of that stuff. Cybersecurity is another big one. We hear more and more about that every day. Different ways of cybersecurity threats coming in. That’s, again, PreciseFP helps by providing a platform where it’s also secure, but then they come in all the data all the documents you upload is a cyber secure environment. But I think the cyber secure if you think about the AI application in cybersecurity, AI can consume and know about every manipulative practice in the history of mankind and then use those against us. There’s some negative sort of AI applications there and I think will continue to put pressure on the cybersecurity side of the equation. So it’s that much more important that firms have a secure environment to control their data and manage their data.

Richard: I could go on and on about that one, but I think that the data is well put it this way. I was at the LPL conference, we did a breakout session. And part of that breakout session the question came up, what is your most valuable asset? Hands down and basic clients that was number one but tied for second was data and trust, which I thought was interesting. So I think at the enterprise level, he who owns the data owns the client, right? It’s an incredible valuable asset. There’s no question. I think that’s becoming more and more and more important, the lower you get, so not even just the data and how important that is to have good quality data that you can move around. But then the security of that data is it’s just, it’s absolutely paramount, but you control that data and managing for your clients.

Craig: You mentioned the term data normalization. Can you explain what that is to anyone who maybe isn’t familiar with it and how why is it important?

Richard: So did normalization is having a common? Having a common data element, I’ll call it that you can share you can send back and forth. So a simple example one firm might have in their called product master, security master, they might have something called Intel Corp, and the Intel Corp, and other firm has it stored as Intel Corporation. So if you tried to say, match these things that they wouldn’t match, so you have to normalize that data, you have to have a common structure to that data. That’s the first step. That’s what data warehouses do data lakes, they they take in all these files, and then they normalize all that data so then other system can read it so they take all that data, normalize Intel Corp and Intel Corporation to Intel port for whatever they decide. That’s the normalization process.

Richard: Then that data is usable by other systems. But the data structure side of it is the other part of the equation. I think it’s a bit of a challenge in the industry. Actually, I think that’s more of a challenge. Honestly, we’ve got the data normalization and data warehouse kind of started the equation, understood the data structure at call it which is, like I said, everybody has kind of the lowest common denominator in their system, about the way they store and house data particularly around clients and and accounts and households. It’s that lowest common denominator. How do you how do you hold that data? What’s the structure of that data, and then trying to align that to another third party system? That’s where a lot of the challenges come in our system. We think about the lowest common denominator is clients and other one has those accounts. Well, now you have to reconcile those two so there’s kind of two parts to that equation to get the systems to talk together well.

Craig: Thank you for sharing that as we too. We have a lot of data projects that we’ve worked on for RIAs and broker dealers, building data lakes, building data warehouses, so did normalization is very common term that we use internally. But sometimes people don’t understand what that means the term gets thrown around a lot. So thank you for explaining that. You mentioned data structures are a barrier to entry and he owns a data owns the client. That’s the great phrase, I’m going to steal that we took we talked to our RIA, broker dealer clients a lot about owning their own data. How other other ways that PreciseFP has changed the way you operate or change the way advisors work in order to help them own their own data or to get around from each data structure barriers?

Richard: We do a lot of that for the user. So on behalf of the user, so we built these integrations. Most of the integrations that we support are bi directional, meaning that we can send data we can pull data back. That’s important that that honestly is is very close to or a very close second to our primary objective and primary use, use primary use cases, client engagement data gathering, go get information, write, send something out, get some information, share that information, bring it back in between the advisor and the client. That’s the primary use case. For precise and the second very close use case is now I have that data. What do I want to do with that data? Oh, I want to send it off to my financial planning tool, to my CRM? Okay, great. Now, later in the year, I want to run a annual review or something like that. Great. Well, instead of starting from scratch and sending the client out a blank sheet or starting with even the data that have within PreciseFP, I can go to my system of record that I normally keep my most current data in my CRM, probably, I can bring that data into PreciseFP that I can use that data now the clients just validating the information they already have, if they’re making any updates boom. We track those that comes back into PreciseFP you can push those up into those third party systems. So we do that work for for advisors for clients, which is that normalization process and then being able to move that data bi directionally. Between systems. 

Craig: We have heard from your clients and your clients as well. Speaking of data, can we talk about statistics that you can share? About your platform, number of clients and advisors using it daily moving through what can you what can you talk to the audience about?

Richard: I can share a little bit of data. We hold some of that kind of close to being privately held company but so we’re well north of 6000 users on platform now. And so we’re growing like crazy. The LPL relationship helped launch the next sort of hockey stick growth for us. I don’t know all the details to share on that. But I can say that since launching with LPL and the affinity program we’ve had the last three months has been our highest new client acquisition months. We’ve blown through our numbers. So our growth rates has been pretty spectacular in the last three, four months. We’re seeing a real like I said, moving into that enterprise side of the equation opens up a whole new world for us. So we see that those volumes just continue to increase but we wouldn’t beat out even our has a lot of firms did that helped support COVID kind of relationship management and COVID interactions between advisors and clients were the benefit factor of that. So we have some spikes around COVID we’ve blown through those. We’re actually doing great as far as the market and the numbers are concerned.

The Role of Data Normalization and Integration

Craig: That’s terrific. Well, always good to hear. We like to hear when the visor tech applications are doing well. It’s good for everyone. Speaking of you mentioned earlier about your integrations. So can we talk some more about that PreciseFP currently according to our Ezra Group Wealthtech Integration Score, which anyone can check out at EzraGroup.com. PreciseFP is currently classified as Excellent when it comes to integrations with other applications. can you discuss what you’re doing to expand the breadth and depth of integrations as well as your API’s?

Richard: So yeah, for sure the the the users have been factors. A lot of the work we’ve done on the enterprise side, a lot of work we do with LPL. I think you’re going to see some things that will help us even move up that scale further. But lots of integration work on the horizon, with new partners extending different integrations. A lot of it honestly, is the limitation of the third party that we integrate with today. It depends, but if we can send the data we pretty much will send the data if we can pull the data we will pull the data. So if there’s some limitation, we’ve got lots of conversations going on with different financial planning tools that you will all know and love lots of CRM systems you know and love and what they offer in their API’s.

Richard: On our side we have a full set of available API’s anybody can write to So third parties can write into and pull and move data around using PreciseFP. So that all exists today. Then on the roadmap standpoint, like I said, lots of integration partners that we’re working with, that we’re going to add next year. So we’ll just continue to build up that integration that data hub strategy, as PreciseFP keeping a Data Hub, I think is probably the biggest, from an impact standpoint, from an integration, we get a lot on the horizon for next year.

Craig: Do you describe PreciseFP as a data hub because when you invent when you were talking about you’re talking about a data gathering tool.

Richard: Yeah, that’s the way I describe it. It’s kind of my term in the way I describe it as a data hub and what I mean is it just facilitates moving data around. It facilitates taking data out of one system, and then moving into another system or sending to the client getting it updated and moving it back. So when I say a Data Hub, that’s I just mean we sit in the middle and we are the processors and movers of data in bidirectional between us and our integration partners.

Craig: Oh, I know what a data hub is, and I’m happy you describe yourself as such. I don’t think of that as a negative at all.

Richard: Okay, some people should data hub and they have some bad connotation, I just mean that we we facilitate the movement of data between the different systems.

Craig: I see that as a positive. Many applications want to be the data hub. I wrote an article probably six or seven years ago about how everyone wants to be the data hub, because if you are the hub, it’s harder to disengage you, it’s harder to unplug you and plug someone else in if you’re the hub.

Richard: Yeah, absolutely. And certainly, they’re hard to get into honestly. We’ve been doing this for 16 years, we’ve developed these integrations, we made updates. And some of these systems are not as willing as they used to be. And we’ve got first mover position on some of that. So we just have a lot of integrations that we can interact with scrape.

Craig: It is and at Ezra Group we are we’ve got our own research on integrations, and we do a lot of work in integration. So we always want to give props to those vendors that are doing well in the integration category and kudos. Alright, let’s talk about down the road. Some things that are coming for PreciseFP clients, are you working on any AI powered features?

Richard: We actually tested some already. We tested some AI client chatbot functionality. We were not happy with it. So we actually ended up pulling it. But that’s more of a function of the platform that we were using, the technology by any means. It just needs to be trained differently, and we’re still working with that platform to use it. So it’s on a roadmap for sure. There’s some interesting things happening there. Of course, there’s always new things coming out but even even looking at from a support standpoint, AI driven video that can interact, using your face and language. There’s some interesting things out there.

Richard: The way I look at it is I think people use AI and they they maybe don’t know exactly what, they’re not what they’re talking about, but how they’re applying it. I think we when I think about AI kind of lump it all together with machine learning robotic process automation, plus AI. So to me, that’s the combination of those three is in our world where we’re about data, right? We’re about moving data and interacting and doing some cool things. So there’s some interesting things for AI definitely on the roadmap. We got some R&D time blocked out, but I think the machine learning robotic process automation side of that equation, will probably have a more significant impact sooner for us. So, data, right, if you had a form pull the data off the form, and then apply machine learning to understand how to move that data around logically and what home find the right home for that. So to me, that’s more of a robotic process automation and machine learning function that necessarily directly AI but, but we’ll see. It’s definitely something that’s on the radar. So we’ll be talking a lot about some interesting applications coming out with it. But at this point, I’m focused more on the machine learning robotic process, and natural language processing as well. Being able to speak into something, have that convert and then have that data go into the right place in the application. That’s probably more of where we’ll focus on.

Craig: That’s great. We’re looking forward to seeing that. Speaking of things to look forward to can you share some of the new features or functionality that might be coming for PreciseFP clients to the next 6 to 12 months?

The Future of PreciseFP: AI, Machine Learning, and UX

Richard: Sure, lots of cool stuff. Deeper integrations, more integrations, more partners, I think that will have a pretty significant impact on our user base in the market. We’re doing some interesting things. So we’re we’ve put a lot of time and energy and effort into the assimilation of the platform with Docupace. There’s some interesting things coming out of that. So one is we’re going to be able to take the data collected in an engagement and then be able to send that entire payload off to a third party system. What that means the way it works today is when you send an engagement and then they fill the information out and then we sync that back to a client profile. So you’ve got all the client data all updated from that engagement. There can be it’s a very robust dataset, very robust. But what we’ve done and we’re working on rollout before year end, actually, is the ability to take all the data collected in an engagement and then be able to send that entire payload. So whatever data is collected, engagement, whatever you want to create, capture all that data, and then and then be able to send that payload into another system. So the application of it where we started with advisor transitions, so Docupace has a big advisor transitions, probably the largest one in the market that helps with advisor transitions and moving books of business around.

Richard: If you think about being able to collect any information on the front end of that, about that you need to move that book of business over so I can create an engagement take that entire payload from that engagement. So you can ask any kind of question you want doesn’t matter, and then being able to take that payload and then drop it into in this case Docupace and then system in Docupace being able to consume that data and then map all that data into individual forms. So front end I can say I want open these five accounts. I have all this information about the client here’s the registration types, account types, etc. And then being able to send that payload to Docupace, use that payload to then create all the forms, all the bundles, everything that has to help with that advisor transition. So that’s where that originated.

Richard: But the interesting thing about that is lots of conversation with other third party systems where they would love to be able to say, Hey, I’m whatever X third party system, here’s an engagement with all the information that I need for my system, and then be able to send that entire payload over to their system so they can consume it in a format that they can consume. So it opens up this whole new world for us, I think around much, much deeper ability to collect any data and then send that data as a payload as an entire payload over to whatever third party system we want.

Richard: We started with Docupace for obvious reasons, I think, and an advisor transition solution, but it opens up that door for collecting any data not having to sync it back specifically to be client related. It can be anything and then being able to share that data with others. It’s that’s pretty I think that was cool. I think that’s interesting. A lot of use cases for that.

Richard: Integrations. UI/UX, is another thing that there’s going to be some big benefactors out of so Docupace is invested pretty significantly. In a UX/UX project. We hired a third party to come in and help put a strategy together and then put an execution plan together of developing the next gen UI/UX focused initially on Docupace’s side of the equation in our native account opening platform and processes, but also that will fold into precise a piece so as we assimilate these platforms together, it’s going to be much more seamless experience to go from PreciseFP or use Docupace. You won’t even know necessarily that using different systems, being able to pull those together. I think that that will be that seamless experience common kind of ecosystem. There’ll be a lot that will come out of that. White labeling, we are developing the ability to do white labeling. This one is a little more enterprise specific. We get a lot of enterprises to come in and say I’d love to host a version of PreciseFP in our in our portal, our advisor portal or our brokerage workstation whatever that is inhabit branded and skinned and be able to be managed under their corporate style guide and some of the so we’re doing some development around that. I think those are the kind of some of the big ones coming out the gate.

Craig: That was more than I expect you to share. Docupace integration, advisor transitions UI/UX, I heard a lot about that. The company guys hired I can’t wait to see the I think I got a demo scheduled a couple of weeks to see the UX. I’m very excited about that. And white labeling all great stuff for current advisor current clients and prospective precise of the client. So for those of us listening who want more information about PreciseFP where can they go?

Richard: Just reach out through PreciseFP.com. We’ve got to sign up seven day free trial. Just go check it out. I have been in this industry for my entire career, 30 plus some odd years I hate to say and I’ve been primarily ingesting technology into financial services everywhere I’ve gone, everything I’ve done, that’s what I’ve been about, developing creating technology for financial services for many, many, many years, product management, product development. And this is some of the coolest technology I’ve ever seen. I wish I could say I created it, I’m the benefactor in inheriting a lot of hard work over many, many years. But it is some of the coolest when it comes to developing technology when it comes to having a elegant solution when it comes to having something that’s so intuitive to use. That is hard to do. So simple as hard and I encourage everybody to go check it out. It’s a cool piece of technology.

Craig: Richard, thanks so much for being on program.

Richard: You bet. Absolutely, anytime.

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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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