4 Valuable Insights: Holistic Advice, Personalization, Technology Adoption & The Great Wealth Transfer  

Advisors have more tools for servicing and acquiring clients than ever before, but growing and flourishing as an advisory firm remains a challenge. The discussion at the Industry Insights Panel at the Envestnet Conference shed light on how finance professionals can best approach their strategy for long-term results in the current landscape. The panel was hosted by Richard Anesar, Chief Strategy Officer of Envestnet and featured: 

The conversation revolved around scaling, personalization, integrated technology, and the power of independent fee-based advice. 

1. Scaling with Personalization: A Winning Formula

For enterprise wealth management firms, scaling is critical but comes with its own considerations. The panelists agreed that scale provides significant advantages to financial institutions. It enables platform consolidation, improves contract negotiations, and enhances operational efficiency. Larger firms can offer comprehensive back-office technologies and business solutions to increase advisor productivity and attract a diverse range of advisors. 

Shutler emphasized that enterprise RIAs and broker-dealers are expanding both horizontally and vertically to cater to different advisor models and provide outsourced services. Firms chasing horizontal growth look to attract a wider array of advisors, while other firms pursue outsourced solutions to improve efficiency and drive vertical expansion. With 13,000 advisors changing firms in 2022, according to Tiburon, the ability to retain and attract top talent is crucial to horizontal expansion, and largely dependent on a firm’s tech stack. Sometimes, firms launching RIA platforms will use a different vendor from their core offering simply to create more opportunities to appeal to a wider range of advisors.

However, bigger isn’t always better according to Iskowitz. In the advisory world having a niche is important and there are also many investors who prefer working with a smaller firm, so there’s no one-size-fits-all. Firms that can service the most client needs will be the ones who win in the end, no matter their size. 

Stathis argued that the single best way to increase profitability is to become the client’s trusted advisor who they come to with all their concerns, and then to charge based on service rather than AUM. The advisor’s objective should be majority wallet share, and they should be measuring that closely.  (See How Predictive Health Data Drives Personalization in Financial Planning)

2. Holistic Advice: Beyond Just AUM

The conversation shifted to serving client needs, the importance of holistic advice, and the challenges of offering expertise across an ever-growing expanse of services. 

“You have to believe that you are in business to do two primary things: manage your clients’ assets and protect your clients’ assets,” Stathis explained. The only real product you have as an advisor is your process, starting with discovery. Advisors should be obsessing over every part of their process to ensure their discovery tells them everything they need to know about their client. 

At the enterprise level, advisors aren’t expected to be subject matter experts, Besheer pointed out. While there’s scale in numbers, there’s also scale in the number of solutions offered which is wider for large firms who usually have better support teams for different solutions. 

Stathis cited the success of integrated banking and wealth management ecosystems at wirehouses, such as UBS, as a prime example of holistic client service. At LPL Financial, additional team members are brought in to support varied client needs, rather than referring them to external services. 

Offering a range of services, including investment banking, lending, and protection, has become a key differentiator for nationwide firms. Technology is a vital tool in providing holistic advice, with automated tax management applications like Holistiplan empowering advisors to expand their offerings without hiring additional staff. 

Ezra Group partners with Kitces.com on the Advisortech Map which has seen exponential growth since it was launched in 2017. There are now over 530 applications across 49 categories. Despite this seeming abundance, the quality and profitability of the mostly small companies behind these applications vary. Most struggle to survive or even achieve profitability over the long run and can scrape by for years with just a few dozen clients. We advise our clients that choosing software from a small provider could result in being left high and dry if they close up shop or are acquired by a larger competitor. (See Ep. 205: Data Aggregation as a Service: The Future of Holistic Advice with John Prendergast, Blueleaf)

Kitces-Ezra Group Advisortech Map – Number of Products per Category

Integrated end-to-end solutions, which usually contain a mix of CRM, financial planning, trading, rebalancing, performance reporting, and billing functionality, command the majority of market share across all client segments. We used to refer to this category as “All-in-One Solutions” on the map but recently got rid of it since it is difficult to standardize the feature set across vendors. Instead we moved everything in Portfolio Management since that is at the core of these platforms.   

In the independent RIA space, the top five end-to-end platforms are Envestnet Tamarac, Orion, SS&C Black Diamond, Advyzon and Morningstar Office. In the broker-dealer space, the top five are Envestnet Wealth Platform, Investcloud APL, Vestmark, Orion and Charles River.  

Whether or not their core platform includes CRM or if they use a standalone application, many wealth management firms greatly underutilize their CRM’s capabilities, which reduces operational efficiency, increases the chances of manual errors and impacts profitability. Features such as workflows, opportunity pipeline, service monitor and integrations are the ones we most often recommend to our clients and help them to deploy and train. 

Your CRM is only as good as the amount of effort you put in to make it work.

Since CRM is most often the central hub for an advisory firm, it has attracted the most integrations from other applications. According to Iskowitz, there are a number of programs that have built tight connections to the top CRMs that greatly improve operational processes for advisors.

One of these applications, is a meeting automation tool called Pulse360, which enables advisors to prep, manage and follow-up on client meetings.  The application is capable of generating meeting agendas, walking the advisor through the meeting with the client, generate a summary email and automatically updating tasks in the CRM and kicking off workflows.

Tightly integrated tools, like Pulse360, provide benefits such as significant time savings per week from automation that average around 10 hours per week. (See Ep. 239: The Breakaway Blueprint with Anand Sheth, Pulse360)

3. Technology Adoption: A Long-Term Commitment

We have seen many RIAs and broker-dealers underestimate the effort required for successful software implementation, by assuming it’s a “fire and forget” process. The reality is that the drive for adoption and utilization is a continuous endeavor of education and internal communications. Adoption metrics should be tracked through dashboards, driving the rollout from the top-down.

For Besheer, leveraging early adopters is the critical factor in driving broader usage. Identifying successful advisor teams and encouraging them to become internal evangelists for the product. Stathis recommended identifying the most important 20% of the functionality and focusing on that for training, and then letting advisors figure the rest out on their own. “It’s important to always tie it to the bottom line,” Shutler insisted. “At the end of the day, you have to prove how adoption is going to actually improve their business and their financial profile.”

Data quality and data management are essential aspects of technology adoption and utilization, but are often overlooked. Ezra Group has implemented many data warehouses and one simple warning we give to every client is “garbage in / garbage out”. Do not neglect the cleaning required for all incoming data feeds and internal data sources. Many of these might have been in use for years without anyone checking that they are accurate. 

Artificial intelligence is a hot topic in all industries, and fintech is no different. The most successful applications in wealth management aren’t customer-facing, Besheer highlighted, but are AI-driven virtual assistants such as Bland.ai, which can be a game-changer for advisor support, providing efficient and personalized interactions, and saving time searching through files to locate relevant information. 

AI also can enhance data mining, marketing, and content generation, with successful use cases in alternative investment research and client service. AI-powered virtual advisors, like JP Morgan’s WealthPlan, are attracting the generation after baby boomers with their digital and high-touch approach.

Unfortunately, some software vendors and TAMPs have been known to occasionally “oversell” their capabilities. This results in unexpected issues during implementation including custom software development costs (to build out missing features), the addition of third-party applications (same reason), manual workflows and an overall loss of trust in the vendor. Ezra Group can quickly identify these sales-driven claims using our deep knowledge of each vendor’s actual product capabilities. This saves our clients millions of dollars, reduces implementation time and builds stronger vendor partnerships. (See Ep. 191: A $1 Billion RIA Tech Stack – Hollow Brook Wealth Management)

4. We’ve Heard Enough About the “Great Wealth Transfer”

From a recent article in Forbes, The Great Wealth Transfer: How The $90 Trillion Windfall For Millennials Could Change The Job Market And Economy (March 2024):wealth transfer

According to a report by global real estate consultancy Knight Frank, $90 trillion in assets will be transferred between generations in the United States over the next 20 years. This shift will make Millennials—and to a lesser extent, Generation-Z —the wealthiest generation in American history.

The transfer of wealth is expected to make Millennials five times richer by 2030 than they were in 2019. They will also have the option of choosing an early retirement. However, their inheritance may not have as much longevity, when you factor in inflation and the high costs of living, compared to their parents’ generation.

Attracting and retaining the next generation of clients, who could be sitting on a prospective windfall, was another topic of discussion by this panel. Besheer suggested shifting the focus from targeting the next generation to building sustainable, multi-generational models that serve families across life stages. “The ‘Great Wealth Transfer’ has been going on for twenty years, it’s going to go on for another twenty, and then we’ll be hit with an even bigger one,” he warned. 

Digital solutions like M1 Finance and MoneyLion are examples of applications designed to engage high-earning, not-rich-yet (HENRY) individuals. National broker-dealers like Wells Fargo (LifeSync) and JP Morgan (Wealth Plan) have launched robust digital planning tools aimed at younger generations. Stathis added that within a year of Wealth Plan’s launch, over 10 million customers had tried it and created over one million financial plans

Client segmentation used to be horizontal, Stathis explained, with high net worth on one end and low mass affluent on the other. Nowadays, client segmentation is managed vertically, with digital self-service at the bottom and high touch white glove service at the top, with a lot of overlap between the two. He also underlined the need for family meetings with wealth managers, and providing good education for the next generation who are reading questionable financial sources on the internet. 

Most advisors have between a 90%-95% retention rate, so the best way to acquire new clients isn’t by trying to tempt them away from other advisors but by becoming a trusted family expert for the young rich, taking advantage of workplace and employer-sponsored plans, or building a strong online presence. (See Ep. 197: Unleashing Potential: A Next-Gen Advisor Platform with Shannon Spotswood, RFG Advisory)

Conclusion

The financial advisory industry is undergoing significant evolution, driven by the pursuit of scale, the desire to provide holistic advice, and the need to adapt to changing client demographics. Technology plays a pivotal role in enabling firms to achieve these goals, but successful adoption requires a well-thought-out long-term strategy. Additionally, attracting and retaining the next generation of clients demands a shift in focus towards self-service digital solutions and financial wellness education.

 

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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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