Emerging Tech Week on the Framework podcast was an eye-opening tour through the world of fintech. We learned what has disrupted the system and what will keep on changing it in the future. Each of the five guests told us about their early misadventures and their usually rapid success when the technology finally catches on. The world of fintech moves very quickly.

In a world that’s busier than ever, streamlining is the operative word of the future. Fintech innovators often start with a dream in this direction. Sure, a competent advisor can process and analyze a tax return in an hour or so, but what about 30 seconds? What if you could put a retirement plan together with an app on your phone while you’re on your commute?

“We don’t want to be here with Elon Musk sending rockets to Mars and people living there, and then send them a paper copy of their contract to open an account,” said Oleg Tischevich of Invent.us.

The world of emerging technology for financial advisors continues to evolve around us, and we want to be leading, not catching up.

We asked each of our presenters a question to get them talking about the future of our profession: What do you think is the biggest threat facing fintech companies in the future? 

Here’s what each of them had to say.

Invent.us

Oleg Tishkevich, CEO

Oleg founded his company, Invent.us, to help advisory firms integrate technology software and become completely cloud-native. He started as an immigrant factory worker learning English and is now a restless technology entrepreneur, a fintech executive and legend in the field.

What do you think is the biggest threat facing fintech companies in the future? 

I believe the risks fintech companies are facing vary, depending on the companies’ target customer base and distribution model. For example, fintech firms that are trying to break into the banking space targeting direct consumers are much more dependent on the regulations affecting all financial institutions. They also have a significant business risk when it comes to the reliability of their technology when put under pressure and huge scale, as seen in the recent events with Robinhood.

As for the wealth tech segment of fintech, where firms’ target market is distribution to RIAs, broker-dealers, banks and trusts etc., they are certainly affected by those same risks. However, those risks can be reduced if the wealth tech firm’s solution addresses a niche part of the day-to-day operations of financial professionals, making them more unique and specialized.

Risk is further reduced by the fact that their customers (large financial services firms) bear the primary burden of ensuring that all their systems are 100% compliant with regulations, function reliably and measure up to cybersecurity concerns, etc.

At the same time, wealth tech firms are still facing a larger risk: consolidation. When larger financial services firms acquire other wealth tech firms and capabilities, what once was your customer is now your competitor.

Further, this consolidation brings in a big-time scale (e.g. “Schwabitrade”), enabling them to offer better service/pricing models, making it more difficult for smaller wealth tech firms to compete. Much like the race to 0 started by Schwab, the rapid consolidation in the space is not only threatening the very existence of wealth tech firms but also their customers, such as smaller RIAs.

Which brings up the biggest risk to the industry itself: How do we keep the innovation of independent RIAs and wealth tech startups to continue fueling the future of our industry? We know that innovation always comes from the fringes, not from the big lumbering consolidated core.

ATA RiskStation

Aladin Abughazaleh, CEO

Aladin draws on 40 years in the profession, working with individual retirement plans to large corporate accounts. He’s seen the industry evolve and knows where emerging technology for financial advisors can help the process.

His firm, ATA RiskStation, uses fintech for risk modeling and projection, better integrating the discussion of risk with the client’s comprehensive plan.

What do you think is the biggest threat facing fintech companies in the future? 

First, I think the “go at it alone” mentality is very risky.

No vendor is likely to provide everything needed by a client firm. Even if you try to deliver a complete end-to-end solution, client firms might not be interested in writing off significant training investments they have already made in existing solutions that they are happy with. This “not built here” management mindset is also likely to drive less interest and investment in easing integration with third parties, which isolates the firm even more.

The second risk is indirect but still very real. There is nothing preventing behemoths like Google and Amazon from deciding that they can vastly improve the whole wealth management experience for clients.

Most RIAs and broker-dealers understand that technology is important to their operations, but most have not fully embraced that their future totally depends on leveraging technology to deliver a vastly better experience for clients.

To get an idea of how disruptive the entry of the FAANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) into wealth management would be, we need to look no further than how much market share Quicken has already won by delivering a much better mortgage process.

The risk to fintech firms is that the FAANGs are not likely to need many of the separate solutions that the existing wealth management industry currently uses.

Altruist

Jason Wenk, Founder and CEO

Jason founded his fintech firm, Altruist, to make investing available to everyone. This fully-integrated digital brokerage platform allows RIAs to streamline by automating research, identifying problem areas and drastically dropping the price.

During his time on Framework, Jason talked about the unhelpful myth that financial planning is only for the wealthy. His vision is to bridge the gap between the ultra-wealthy and middle income in financial planning by utilizing technology. This cuts down on overhead and staffing costs and puts excellent advice in reach of the general public, as well as allowing advisors to serve a wider audience.

FP Alpha

Andrew Altfest, Founder and CEO

Both of Andrew’s parents are advisors well-known in the profession, so he grew up around it and knows the work very well. He envisions integrating financial planning with AI, giving analysis and advice for clients in a fraction of the time.

His software, FP Alpha, can read through a client’s financial plan in a matter of minutes and find gaps and insights for improvement, as well as recommend courses of action that have worked in similar portfolios.

Andrew put his own spin on the question:

What are your thoughts on the biggest opportunities for advisors to leverage tech to grow their practices? 

Tech has long since burst out of the back office and today drives firm growth, whether it’s scaling a client experience or reaching new audiences.

For example, how do we efficiently pinpoint the needs of the people we are advising? Just this year, the SECURE Act and CARES Act reshaped tax planning; low mortgage rates made refinancing attractive; and speculation about Biden administration changes gave estate planning momentum.

How do we customize our advice at scale and still deliver impeccable service? The answer is technology. Embracing it allows firms to provide bespoke advice to more clients — or to offer more services to the same number of clients, who are happy to pay for additional guidance.

When adding new clients, the truth is that a lot of our industry today is still marketing like it’s 1999. The real opportunity lies in digital marketing – particularly in a COVID world, which has accelerated digital adoption and obliterated face-to-face meetings.

Sales 2.0 combines a digital experience, human advice, content and partnerships with centers of influence. At Altfest, this year we have generated the most leads we’ve ever had, and our two largest new clients are many miles away, even though we have had virtually no in-person meetings since March, and a recession historically freezes client prospecting.

Adopting technology has been the key factor in our firm’s success. We use email marketing and marketing automation programs to nurture and score leads, personalize communications and manage social media and advertising campaigns. (At Altfest, we use HubSpot.) We leverage tools that focus on enhancing the user experience, like online meeting scheduling for prospects, interactive webinar platforms and a CRM that alerts us when a client needs attention.

In addition, innovative technology like FP Alpha, an AI-driven comprehensive wealth management platform, enables us to close prospects and excel at advising new clients. This software allows individualized financial planning at scale, propelling engagement, revenue and a higher prospect closing rate.

Holistiplan

Kevin Lozer, Co-founder

Kevin says making the leap from financial planning to fintech is a mix of trusting your gut and then committing for the long haul. His tech solution, Holistiplan, helps advisors process and analyze a tax return in a matter of minutes. This makes the process of tax planning more seamless and cuts down considerably on the data entry that eats up advisors’ time.

What do you think is the biggest threat facing fintech companies in the future? 

Similar to the wealth management industry overall, the biggest threat is the likes of Amazon or Google – or a very well-capitalized player already in the financial services industry – figuring out a way to scale financial planning before we do. To date, financial planning has primarily been marketed and delivered to the already-wealthy or ultra high-earners. That profile is a very small minority of world citizens.

If a large, disruptor company is able to provide quality financial planning at scale, it would open up a “blue ocean” market of people that can benefit from financial planning that is not in the market today.

Opening up financial planning to more people is a great outcome, but the disruptor could provide that scalable service at a far lower cost, just like Amazon has done in the retail sector. I do not feel this would put today’s advisors out of business, but it would limit growth substantially.

If advisory firms are limited in growth potential, because they didn’t scale their services to reach more people, our growth potential is limited as well.

Our growth potential could be further limited by advisory firm consolidation in an effort to find scale to limit the disruptors’ impact on future growth and profitability. It is incumbent upon us fintech companies to help advisors scale their business to reach more people and to do it profitably.

Where Do We Go From Here?

There was a time when it looked like robo-advisors could replace us all. That soon enough someone could sit down at a computer and do the work that took us weeks in a matter of minutes, leaving human financial planners an antique.

But experience is proving this wrong. Despite the efficiency and reach of some of the tech available, there is still a gap between investing and planning. We still need advisors to orchestrate, intuit and deliver planning in a way that machines will never be able to.

Fintech, then, powerfully enhances the way we deliver financial care to our clients. Minimizing menial tasks and sharpening our accuracy frees us up to develop and deepen our relationships with those we serve, which helps us to develop plans that are fitting and lasting.

As we’ve seen, emerging technology for financial advisors like any other industry has its share of threats and opportunities for growth. Consolidation is an abiding concern in any part of the financial planning space. As larger firms are able to “buy up” more tech, it naturally becomes harder for smaller startups to compete.

In that vein, there’s the possibility that Amazon, Google or another FAANG-type disruptor will crash into the fintech space. This could mean the end of financial advice as the exclusive territory of the wealthy, and make it readily available to the world at large. The democratization of financial advice is, by and large, a good thing, but it will change the way we do business dramatically.

Heraclitus said it best, “Change is the only constant” – and financial planning and technology are no exception. The strategy is to be cognizant of that change and get out ahead of it as much as possible, rather than deny or resist it.

Tomorrow’s advisors will use fintech more than ever, and today’s advisors need to be ready for that.

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