Richard Napolitano – Phew, what a year.
There’s nothing like a time of adversity to forge a new company. Many thanks to our clients, investors, and especially our employees for their commitment to our mission of building a great WealthTech company that does well as a business and does good in the world.
One year into my tenure here, there were lots of learnings, building and growing in a pandemic. We made it through, and we are positioned well for the future, helping clients achieve Digital Transformation.
Digital Transformation of wealth management—what does that mean?
Digital Transformation WealthTech means leveraging technology to:
In my discussions with broker-dealers, these benefits have emerged. But what does Advisor360° bring to the table?
Today, many wealth management companies have been using homebrewed systems or manual processes to operate their businesses. While these systems and processes have brought companies to this point, what about the future?
The paradox of choice
Some companies have chosen to assemble their own solution stacks from the parts bin that is the WealthTech industry. There are so many parts to choose from.
Choice is good, until it is not.
The implication of too much choice is that an advisor’s/user’s experience is more complex than it needs to be. Each choice of a technology component is often narrowly optimized, without consideration for overall user experience.
Lastly, companies are often required to do their own integration work between and among dozens of software components and data sources.
The productivity dilemma
Even if the front-end interface is done well, the user experience is complicated because the challenge is that there is no common underlying data set (no architectural plans) for the workflows from trading, reporting, portfolio rebalancing, customer household information, document management, planning, proposal generation, etc. As the “arms race” in technology continues to accelerate, the investment to be a competitive broker-dealer with amazing advisor and client portals becomes a major expense.
However, it’s not just about cost, it’s about the user (home office employee, advisor, client) experience. Our focus at Advisor360° is all about producing productivity for the advisor and the win-win of advisors and broker-dealers growing their sales and assets under management (AUM).
At Advisor360°, our development team has a dual skill set: deep enterprise software experience and financial services backgrounds inside a broker-dealer. Our Advisor360° team is tuned to the mission of being a premier WealthTech software company. Our advisor users are some of the most productive advisors in the world. Our platform is proven at scale and services thousands of advisors each day, and soon millions of households.
Dealing with data
With integrated technology, advisors, IBDs, and RIAs experience:
So, how do we produce this value?
It’s all about the data. It’s all about how we gather, collect, cleanse, and present the data. We have over 400 direct data feeds that we ingest daily; this data is reconciled, scrubbed, and enriched using automation, AI, and in some cases human intervention. Further, this cleansed data set is stored in what we call our Unified Data Fabric™ (UDF). The UDF includes all customer information, such as trades, books and records, products (aggregation), documents, compliance information, goals and objectives, workflow, etc.
This data is not organized by account, rather it is organized by household.
This allows for a holistic view of the client between and among all the software components of the Advisor360° platform, beyond what other WealthTechs describe as a “unified experience.”
Advisor360° is not just a common UI with single sign-on. We offer a seamless experience because the UDF presents a common household data view from the home office, through the advisor portal to the client portal. And you cannot buy your way into this experience or UDF, it must be built.
Further, this experience is delivered as an enterprise-class SaaS offering to broker-dealers and their advisors and advisors’ clients. “Enterprise-class” means hardened, secure, and highly available. The Advisor360° system is a hardened enterprise-class solution that has been delivered at scale for years and meets various SOC, FINRA, and SEC regulations.
What have I learned?
The wealth management business is ripe for modernization through technology (a.k.a. digital transformation). Wealth managers (broker-dealers and advisors) are under pressure from:
The market needs a full-featured AND easy-to-use deeply integrated platform for broker-dealers, their advisors, and clients. This software must be delivered as a service (SaaS). This WealthTech (Advisor360°) must be delivered as an enterprise-class solution at scale to be the trusted platform for broker-dealers to: 1) grow their business; 2) reduce their costs; and 3) reduce their risks.
The benefits to broker-dealers and their advisors and clients are significant—unlocked with the Advisor360° suite of software that can be taken in their entirety or as bundled components. Born inside of a broker-dealer, we have now evolved into an enterprise software company that is delivering our software as a service to other broker-dealers.
That’s our digital transformation.
Richard Napolitano is Advisor360°’s Chief Executive Officer, ensuring every team in the company is focused on a simple strategic vision: creating outstanding WealthTech products for our clients’ success.
Choosing a Vendor, a Supplier, or a True Partner to Digitally Transform Your Wealth Management Workflow.
Doug Wood – When a wealth management company makes a decision to “bank” on core, supplier-provided, business critical software or services that plug in to the heart of the company’s day-to-day workflow, they aren’t looking for a vendor/customer relationship.
Wealth management companies are looking for more: a true, deep, and total partnership they can rely on over the long term.
For a supplier in this kind of partnership, this calls for a shared understanding of every aspect of the client’s relevant business and ongoing requirements. This calls for responding to and anticipating a client’s needs with consistent, predictable execution and market-leading capabilities that equal or surpass the competition.
In addition to all of that, a true partnership calls for unwavering, quantifiable, excellent service and support. At Advisor360°, we refer to this level of support as Extraordinary Systematic Care.
“Extraordinary” in the way we respond to and exceed the needs of our clients. “Systematic” in the way we proactively leverage state-of-the-art tools and practices while measuring everything we do. “Care” in the way our people deeply commit to serving our clients, ensuring they succeed.
Our clients are at the top of their games. Earning the initial right to partner with them at that level, and then re-earning that right every day, is our primary focus.
Are your vendors true, deep partners? Are your vendors up to the challenge your mission-critical business represents to them?
Last month, Rich Hart asked if your wealth management platform was up to this kind of challenge—and then showed that Advisor360°’s platform is uniquely constructed for this role in your business. Jenn Sawan followed up by emphasizing the service component of an adaptive and responsive SaaS offering, and referenced real-world examples that show how we’ve responded and why that is so critical.
My role at Advisor360° targets Customer Success & Operations. My team’s responsibilities include supplying a trustworthy, enterprise-class infrastructure for our SaaS platform. Also, as that platform is delivered and improved, my team ensures that our customers are immensely successful as they come online and use our offerings effectively. In those roles, we can never be satisfied, and instead must show clients we are constantly improving.
What’s the difference between a “Supplier/Client” and a “Partner/Partner” relationship?
Client expectations of a partner related to service and support go very deep. Partners align and collaborate at every stage of the product lifecycle. That alignment is necessary during the sales, customization, onboarding, go-live, and road mapping phases. It is also central to every aspect of ongoing use, as well as service and support.
If you’re my partner, and you care about my business, then you understand that I don’t want to need your service or support.
Partnered clients expect that you have taken every opportunity to deliver on a platform and its surrounding infrastructure with an eye toward avoiding the need to resolve issues and to ensure continuous operation indefinitely.
To meet these client expectations, the supplier must:
Even with all of these, problems may be encountered. At these times, the strength of a partnership will be most thoroughly tested.
Clients demand a partner that:
No supplier meets all of these objectives all the time. But a supplier partner needs to achieve at a very high level and continuously improve.
At Advisor360°, our partners are our business. Their success is our mission.
Douglas A. Wood is Senior Vice President for Customer Success & Operations at Advisor360°, ensuring clients have a true partner, and the service and support they need to achieve anything.
Darren Tedesco – 2020 was a year like no other. And many of us are looking forward to turning the calendar page to 1/1/2021 and to a fresh start of a new year…one with vaccines on the way! In year-ends of past, I’ve often written reflections of the previous 12 months. This year, I’ve decided to take a different approach and let petabytes of data that we store at Advisor360° on our clients’ behalf tell the story from a different lens.
With more than 400 direct data feeds being scrubbed daily by us spanning investments, insurance, banking, security masters, and more, Advisor360°’s Unified Data Fabric™ (UDF) and comprehensive software platform allows us (and our clients) to look at data patterns (buzzword: analytics) and software usage across home office users, advisors, and clients in multiple software sleeves. We looked at the data 9 months prior to the major COVID outbreak (pre-March 2020) and the 9 months since. Here are the data trends we saw:
These were the most popular reports run in the Advisor360° platform over the last year:
What enables our understanding of these data insights and software sleeves usage across 3 personas is our UDF. And the combination of that UDF, the seamless user experience, and enterprise-class technology is what allows advisors—and broker-dealers—on our platform to be some of the most productive advisors in the industry.
On behalf of all of us at Advisor360°, I wish you—and your data—a prosperous and safe journey in 2021!
Darren Tedesco is President of Advisor360°, and has been part of our software development since its inception, bringing together the thinkers, the creators, and the visionaries that help power our clients’ productivity, profitability, and growth.
Jennifer Sawan – Our ability to adapt. It’s critical, especially in times like these when we’re faced with a pandemic, political instability, and social challenges. Our lives have been turned upside down, and individuals, families—and companies—are faced with a whole new set of challenges and problems to tackle.
Through all this uncertainty, how is your business adapting to make things work?
To answer that question, we must look around us at our enterprise support systems and assess whether these systems (platforms) can deliver the level of support your company requires (this has never been more vital than for the advisor-client relationship). If you have the right support systems in place, you can quickly rally for your clients’ urgent needs.
Never forgetting the 2nd “s” in SaaS
The key to support during uncertainty is communication. Here at Advisor360°, we want to be the partner you can always count on and trust, especially now. To get there, our foundation is built upon an obsession with service. This flows through our entire organization, and we continue to refine our methods of providing high-value extraordinary systematic care to clients and employees alike.
We have worked hard to cultivate true partnerships with our clients so that we can understand their paths—their needs—and adapt right along with them. The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on this mission.
Urgency gets it done
Behind the scenes, we made sure a strong foundation of communication and delivery was in place for our clients. Work from home (WFH) protocols—which were already deeply tested prior to COVID times—efficiently set our employees up for success so they could be of the highest value to clients; most of our staff already worked from home either occasionally or weekly, and therefore our support was more about making refinements. Plans were implemented to provide all employees with the necessary equipment to ensure longer-term WFH productivity.
We adapted immediately—because our clients’ businesses depend on our technology.
Our networking team instantly jumped into action, partnering with our clients’ engineering teams to make sure they were prepared for high volumes of VPN use. We adjusted our processes to ensure that our operations continued to progress with zero impact.
Innovation: adapting and evolving
The configurability of the Advisor360° wealth management platform is most important when it comes to supporting our clients’ businesses. We must be able to respond when our clients have a need that impacts any part of our platform. Not only is the technology itself constantly improving to support our clients’ evolving needs, but our team and processes behind the platform are as well.
We were able to see this value earlier this month, when Commonwealth Financial Network (CFN) approached us regarding their rebranding effort which recently went live. Having built our platform with the flexibility to adjust to client-specific configurations, we were ready to update the platform to reflect CFN’s new brand in the advisor and client experience. Recognizing the importance of key configurations, we were easily able to swap out logos, mobile apps, brand names, disclosures, and DBAs.
This “bespoke” approach to our software is what our clients require, so we keep tailoring to the enterprise’s needs.
Our responsiveness helps clients succeed, and I’m grateful the efforts of the team were recognized by our partners at Commonwealth. Hilary Soltz Short, VP of Brand Development and Experience at Commonwealth, talked about our partnership:
“Orchestrating this launch was no small feat, and the effort everyone (at Advisor360°) put in to create this successful launch is seen, appreciated, and applauded. Thanks also for the Saturday effort and the amazing communication. This team rocks.”
Compliance (Reg BI) support
Another component of the ongoing advisor and broker-dealer support is the regulatory environment, a constantly changing behemoth. When the DOL fiduciary rule and ultimately Regulation Best Interest (Reg BI) were first introduced, Advisor360° was ready to help keep clients compliant. Teams were quickly spun up, both internally and engaged with existing and prospective clients, to ensure that our platform could help broker-dealers be compliant with the new regulations. We adapted our platform for compliance adherence by:
All these features were built flexibly—so they can adapt to your firm’s own business model and rule interpretation.
Feedback: our DNA
What hasn’t changed through these challenging times is our focus on the needs of our business partners. To best understand advisors and home office staff, we have always kept a close eye and ear to feedback. While many companies say they listen to customers, we put our listening where our technology is: with our Feedback tool for advisors.
In July, we announced the availability of our newest version of the Advisor360° Feedback tool, which is an enhanced platform that allows us to hear directly from end users of each broker-dealer/RIA leveraging our software. Our Feedback tool slices and dices that feedback so that we can keep aware of what new pains advisors are facing, and find opportunities to help relieve some of those pressures. Advisors can also vote on peer suggestions, and broker-dealers can now more efficiently respond to advisor feedback.
Feedback is how you make the product better. At the end of the day, it’s all about the product and making sure it works for the users and not against them.
The bottom line for Advisor360° is helping broker-dealers and advisors run efficient businesses and have outstanding client relationships. Not only do we support you with the power of our platform, but it’s the power of our people that make it all work.
Jennifer Sawan is Director of Product Strategy at Advisor360°, helping our product teams define a client’s vision—and then build great products.
Richard N. Hart III – This technology project is going to change everything! Through deep integration we can create an amazing client experience, increase our Net Promoter Score (NPS), gain new revenue, and cut costs. The project has a positive rate of return—it’s really a no-brainer!
As a technology decision-maker of a wealth management firm, how many times have you heard someone say this?
Who in the financial or insurance industries (or any industry for that matter) presenting to stakeholders or in a sales meeting to a prospect talking about “integration” has heard this?
Has this technology vision ever really been achieved?
Systems integration: easier said than done
For a long time, wealth management firms have struggled with taking their core transactional platform (such as the clearing firm’s processing system, their own self-clearing platform, or a portfolio accounting engine) and integrating that “core” system with ALL the other systems required to run a wealth management enterprise. This includes books and records, compliance, commission management, advisor desktop, SMA/UMA model marketplace, enterprise workflow, document imaging, and the list seems to get bigger every year.
This technology struggle was and still is: how do you make all the systems work together?
Over the course of my career, I have been both a user and a provider of wealth management technology. I used to think the ability to “single sign-on” (SSO) from the core system onto another system was “integration.” Integration was supposed to be the Holy Grail.
But I soon learned that to achieve true integration there needed to be contextual passing of data from one system to another through a single sign-on connection. This created efficiencies in the workflow, reduced errors, and generally made the most sense.
Why integration isn’t always integrated
Over time, as I continue to see more wealth management technology projects fail to reach their full potential, I keep coming back to the integration and how it never seems good enough.
We would spend a lot of time and money developing the ability to pass a few data elements over from one system to another, feeling proud of our ourselves, and then inevitably the client would ask, “Why can’t you pass everything? This still does not really do much for me, I want it all!” The engineers would laugh and tell me, “Rich, we can do anything: how much time and money do you have? But you must first prioritize what data elements you want. We can’t just send them everything.” We would then prioritize the data elements to pass over, gain buy-in from the client, and continue the journey.
Then something would be changed.
An integration partner would change a screen or a data field, or even worse, entirely alter the user interface without us knowing, causing nothing to work as it was meant to—and certainly not the definition of true integration. I would bang my head against the wall and say: there must be a better way.
Come to find out there is a better way…and it’s pretty simple in hindsight!...
Building a better wealth management platform
For a WealthTech/FinTech firm to do software right, first start with the data and build a household client-centric data model. Next, build the core systems that a wealth management firm needs to run the day-to-day business. And then integrate with the best third-party partners that complement your core. You’ll see the productivity magic that occurs.
Here at Advisor360°®, we believe we have solved the integration and single sign-on challenges that have plagued wealth management firms. We have built portfolio accounting, compliance tools, an advisor desktop, account opening/maintenance/operational processing tools, performance reporting, trading/models, an investor portal, CRM, enterprise workflow, document storage, and mobile—to all sit within your client-centric household data model.
Vendors changing data elements or the user interfaces leads to business disruption. These can be efficiency-blockers of your past. We help enterprises make all those integration problems go away because all the product components and associated workflows required to be efficient and productive are now all under one “roof” (a.k.a. the all-in-one platform).
The one thing they’re missing
I have been in the financial services business for over 30 years, and I think that with the benefit of hindsight, everyone would have started like Advisor360° did. Yet, the financial services industry is saddled with legacy account-centric platforms that are too cumbersome to replace and too hard to contemplate ever leaving, as there really was no good alternative in the marketplace.
Everyone has tried (the custodians, the clearing firms, other SaaS technology providers), and they all lack one thing: the Unified Data Fabric™ that weaves together everything. (They did not start with the end in mind; they built over time).
5 benefits of an integrated wealth management platform
If you are a Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and/or the Head of Advisor recruiting, the benefits of the all-in-one platform are enormous:
1.Supervision. By aggregating all the assets and all the relevant systems that leverage the same data under one roof, there is only one place you need to go to supervise. Further, branch audits in post-COVID times are streamlined, since much of the audit can happen via that centralized system of record.
2.Operational Processing. Having dashboards at your fingertips lets you see how your staff is doing and where the bottlenecks are. Operational metrics can show where you have high rates of straight-through processing (STP) and where additional opportunities are for greater efficiency. NIGO rates are easily tracked, showing training and performance opportunities.
3.Recruiting. Showing an advisor how easy it is to run their practice with everything in one unified system generally makes a recruiter’s life easier, enabling the firm to grow—and retain—top advisors.
4.Cost and Scale Efficiencies. Creating scale is the lifeblood of any wealth management firm, and by reducing the number of vendor partners you are using, it gets easier to manage and results in cost synergies.
5.Productivity. We are all asked to do more with less, and the “all-in-one system” creates significant productivity for your field force, so that they can either sell more or better service clients.
The benefits and payback of the “all-in-one” platform are real. It is never easy changing enterprise systems, but once you have made the switch, the payoff is more than worth it. I used to have a boss who would say, “Rich, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!” He was so right, because what we have done has not been easy. In fact, Advisor360°’s platform has been 20 years in the making.
Digital transformation: it’s all about productivity
Never in my career has it been so clear to me that the “all-in-one” wealth management platform is the only way to get to digital transformation. If you are in the wealth management business, we can help you: (1) deliver significant productivity benefits to your advisors and (2) achieve true efficiency gains for your back office. If this resonates with you, feel free to reach out to us.
Change is not easy. But we believe the benefits of the “all-in-one platform” will enable enterprise firms to achieve their digital transformation goals.
Richard N. Hart III is Head of Product Client Experience at Advisor360°, responsible for product development of the Advisor360° platform and ensuring our clients have a great experience using our technology.
Alex Cunningham – Advisor360° is a product company, but as Jed Maczuba, Chief Technology Officer, highlighted in his recent blog, “Data is the lifeblood of the wealth management business.”
But data is only valuable if it can be trusted.
If you don’t trust the data presented, then you’re not likely to make critical decisions based on it. So, in this regard, Advisor360° is also a data company.
Confidentiality. Integrity. Availability.
From an information security perspective, we ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data entrusted to us, so that broker-dealers and advisors using our platform know this: that the decisions they make for their clients are based on reliable, accurate information and that remains:
These 3 pillars are the foundation to our Information Security program. Protecting data, specifically that of our clients, is a champion-level team sport where everyone at Advisor360° has a role to play. We need everyone to be on the same page to execute the game plan. At Advisor360°, we believe that building a risk-aware culture from the ground up is critical in our ability to protect the data under our custodianship.
It’s hard to not be aware of cybercrime risks these days; there’s hardly a week that goes by without a front-page headline of a significant cybersecurity attack or data breach. That’s why it’s critical to ensure that, as part of our risk-aware culture, everyone takes a proactive approach to data protection awareness.
It’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month
Raising awareness is important not just for the wealth management industry, but for everyone. It’s critical that an awareness program focuses not just on how cybersecurity impacts people, but also how to protect our organizations from these threats. From a national perspective, October marks the 17th anniversary of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) campaign. This year’s theme is “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart” and aims to raise awareness and the importance of cybersecurity education through a variety of events and resources (free and available on their website).
Data security from day one
From the first day an employee or contractor joins Advisor360°, a key component of their onboarding process isn’t just the free T-shirt, bagel, or towel—it’s education and awareness on the employee’s role in our data protection strategy. Ensuring everyone is fully aware of what’s expected of them, the types of threats we face, and the protections we have in place helps strengthen our overall data protection capabilities.
This employee security education must be ongoing throughout the year, a combination of instruction and testing. Even if an employee successfully identifies and passes one phishing email test, we can guarantee more are on the way! They’re critical to our security vigilance.
The reason we send regular phishing tests is not to trick or embarrass our staff (they are our greatest asset after all). Rather, we recognize the risk this threat vector possesses--94% of malware is delivered via email—and the importance that our staff play in recognizing a real phishing attempt (if it’s able to evade our systems). We also recognize it’s not the only threat, so our program is designed to educate our staff on a wide range of security-related threats and industry best practices on how to avoid cyberattacks, all through a positive reinforcement lens.
Make it compelling for staff
At Advisor360°, the Information Security team has several activities planned throughout October, whether it’s providing online quizzes, video presentations, best practices on browser settings and mobile devices, or practical tips that our own Information Security team members use to protect themselves. The last one in particular helps the InfoSec team demonstrate that they not only follow the same safeguarding rules as everyone else, but how strong security can have a positive impact without compromising productivity.
While most information security teams take the opportunity to raise awareness through National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s important that it’s not taken as a one-time or annual event, but rather part of continual effort throughout the year. This continuity helps your staff fully understand cybersecurity risks and their role in minimizing the effect on your organization. I’ve found that adding an element of fun is key to helping gain more supporters and buy-in, and really helps strengthen our philosophy: that we’re doing this not just because we should, but because we know it’s the essential thing we must do.
This year has been a challenge to say the least! And as organizations continue to work out what the best working practices are for them, working from home is at the heart of it, and that includes school children too. Indeed, as I write this blog, I’m being entertained by my son’s trumpet practice as part of his now online music class.
So, using the opportunity to take what you learn at work and applying it to your home life is a great way of educating everyone, and maybe help grow the next generation of information security professionals!
Safeguards built in
While critical to our decision making, not all data is made equally. But by identifying our most valuable assets and ensuring we have the right balance of a well-educated staff, the right data protection-focused processes, and security technology in place to safeguard it, Advisor360°’s clients can place trust in the security of our platform’s unique technology: Unified Data Fabric™. That regardless of the data’s origin, the data is only available to authorized users; its integrity is sound; and it’s available when users need it.
With those safeguards, advisors can make the right financial decisions for their clients.
Remember, when it comes to cybersecurity: Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.
Alex Cunningham is SVP, Chief Information Security Officer at Advisor360°, where he leads the Information Security team to protect the Advisor360° house, keeping all company and client data safe and secure.
Mike Marini – To say this pandemic hasn’t been easy on businesses could be the understatement of the year.
While our software company has been much less impacted than other businesses that need in-person, on-site staff, the show must go on. We must fortify, adapt, and enforce our business continuity plan to fit the new “normal” way of working for our staff and our customers.
Our company response has been guided by a comprehensive business continuity plan which contains a Pandemic Annex that anticipates multiple potentially disruptive scenarios during a pandemic.
In consultation with Massachusetts health providers, local town officials, and the Commonwealth’s mandates, we’ve adapted our business continuity plan for this current health crisis. And while it wasn’t easy, the Advisor360° business continuity plan lets people and our clients know: our #1 priority is to reduce the health and safety risks to everyone, while at the same time continuing the day-to-day operations of our business.
If you have a plan in place that could be improved, or your company’s looking for the essential focus areas to address, here’s how we’ve faced head-on this unprecedented business upheaval:
1) To build a comprehensive business continuity plan, it starts with the right team.
That’s never been more vital. Prior to this pandemic, Advisor360° had already established a Crisis Management team. This team works with a cross-functional task force of senior executives and subject matter experts to lead the official company response to the pandemic every step of the way—and pivot when necessary.
2) While this couldn’t be predicted, your company must always be in forward-thinking, “what if” mode.
We were one of the first companies in our area to transform to a 100% all-remote workforce (not an easy task for a 450+ people organization). Advisor360° has heavily invested in technology that supports an extended work from home scenario.
3) Weathering the storm is easier when you’ve got infrastructure already in place.
While it wasn’t always smooth sailing, going 100% remote at the early days of the pandemic was easier because of the industry we’re in, our technology, and our allocated resources. Thankfully, as a technology company that builds productivity tools within a SaaS platform, going remote wasn’t a giant overhaul for us. But if you’re not a technology company—you can think like a technology company.
4) Health, safety, and updates.
The safety and health of our entire staff is paramount. Abiding by the state’s health and safety requirements, we transitioned from our corporate office to a working from home scenario that seems so far to be working for most staffers. How?
Throughout this pandemic, we have maintained consistent lines of communication through intranet updates and All Hands videoconferencing. We also take the pulse of working from home, with regular employee surveys to hear what’s working, what’s not, and gauge sentiment. These lines of communication are critical to ease employees’ concerns and peace of mind.
We have created official policies and procedures for anyone who wishes to return. For those staffers who do come into our office, the little things are the big things: individual creamers, one-way signs, conference room limits, and healthy protocol posters indispensably enforce our business continuity stance. (We also notify partners and customers, through our traditional means of communication, should any new developments affect them).
5) Implement strategies to set your company up for success.
The strategies Advisor360° has implemented include (but are not limited to):
Thanks to this business continuity plan, Advisor360°’s operations have not been negatively affected by COVID-19.
Mike Marini is Manager of Business Continuity, Enterprise Services and Support at Advisor360°, where he ensures that critical and day-to-day business operations at Advisor360° continue safely and uninterrupted.
Jed Maczuba – Data is the lifeblood of the wealth management business.
It guides decision making at all levels of the financial advisory process: from prospecting, to planning and research, to trade modeling and execution, to servicing and support. Yet despite the importance of data, many financial advisors struggle with integrating data-based decision making into their advisory practice.
As Rich Napolitano, CEO, and Darren Tedesco, President, discussed in previous blogs, Advisor360° provides a truly holistic platform—from the user experience to the underlying data and processes that support it. But how does this really work?
Rather than solving the problem through an overlay technological solution that connects an amalgamation of separate and unique platforms “after the fact,” our platform is constructed using a unified data platform at its foundation. Advisors, broker-dealers/roll-up RIAs, and investors all share a common and connected view of the entire book of business.
This is what most software companies strive for, but rarely achieve.
Advisor360°: Wrangling data
Mastering data is tough.
McKinsey & Company conducted a survey of thousands of executives about how their companies use and organize data for artificial intelligence and advanced analytics. The result? Only 8% of firms engage in core practices that support widespread adoption.
The implications are significant. Organizations are falling short of capturing the full value of data. If organizations can’t get this right, it’s not difficult to see who suffers: the advisors and the investors they serve.
Prior to my current role as CTO of Advisor360°, I spent over 20 years consulting for financial services clients. Different technologies, disparate databases, data quality issues, vast data volumes, organizational silos, and competing priorities all pose significant challenges to progress.
Challenges with data is the norm for most companies—and there isn’t an easy solution. From my own experience, it’s hardly a stretch to see that while firms have a positive feeling about data, the reality paints a very different picture.
Vast opportunities are being missed.
Advisor360°: Data as a strategic asset
Why do firms continue to try to solve this enigma? Done right, data provides advisors tremendous value in creating customized, individual experiences for their clients.
We see data as a tremendous value-creation tool for Advisor360° users, including:
Advisor360°’s Unified Data Fabric™: Householding
The heart of the solution is seamless aggregation of data across all types of data, across all sleeves of functionality. This approach ensures data is easily consumable so advisors can provide deep meaningful insight to their clients when it matters most. Advisor360° provides this.
The Advisor360° approach to this data synchronization is our Unified Data Fabric™.
As its name implies, it is the base data foundation upon which our platform is built. Regardless of how the data originates (from the hundreds of external data feeds that we ingest daily, to real-time integrations with third-party partners, or to the data generated by the platform itself), all data in the Advisor360° platform is unified, cleansed, and structured for how our clients need it. Our dedicated group of data operations professionals ensure only the highest quality data makes it into our platform.
This is what most software companies strive for, but rarely achieve.
Householding as a central construct. Fundamentally, Advisor360° and the Unified Data Fabric™ are built around the concept of a household: a “household-centric platform.” Householding refers to a group of accounts connected through a family relationship. It could be a single generation or multi-generational. The investor, his/her spouse, and their kids could be one household. If it’s multi-generational, parents’ accounts could also be included.
The point of householding is to bring a broader perspective into wealth management by looking at this larger entity a more holistic way and from every possible angle, so that goals are achieved, and decisions are made more accurately.
The advantage of our solution is that householding is native within the Advisor360° platform. We don’t treat individual investors separately within the platform and then connect them through a thin veneer. Even in 2020, many firms struggle with this disjointedness. We solved this a long time ago.
Householding supports the natural work behavior of advisors and broker-dealers. Across the industry, most advisor technology is fragmented across the advisory process and involves discrete activities. For example, an advisor may use one system for goal planning, then print out a report or export the data into their asset management system to perform trades, and then another for generating consolidated client statements.
A fragmented model becomes more complicated when dealing with clients as they experience life events, clients that have diverse types of accounts, or with complicated tax situations.
Since most technologies don’t provide a unified solution available that can cleanly aggregate data, advisors spend more time on the technology than with their clients. This isn’t the case with Advisor360°.
Householding in Advisor360° is not built on top of disconnected solutions. It does not attempt to solve the problem by linking together accounts after the fact.
Householding technology as an enabler is ready for scale. It’s not a pipe dream.
The End Game: Deeper Client Relationships
Advisors are responsible for more than just executing trades on behalf of their clients. They help them navigate the complex and complicated world of financial products. They use their knowledge and expertise to construct personalized financial plans that aim to offer customized, goal-based, and holistic advice to drive precise outcomes.
Advisor360°’s platform and the data fabric upon which it is built was first envisioned 20 years ago as a household-centric platform which permeates and crosses all software sleeves. While many firms tout their investments in data, in reality, their efforts are not returning the promise.
Now is the opportunity to spend less time stitching together disparate systems and processes and more time bringing value to the table.
In today’s turbulent time, there is no better way to build long-lasting and meaningful relationships.
Jed Maczuba is Chief Technology Officer at Advisor360°, overseeing global technology to ensure our long-term mission, vision, and objectives align with the technologies of our business partners and clients.
Darren Tedesco – To understand how something got to where it is, you have to start by going back to its origins—and the journey from then to now.
I started in the financial services business in 1994. I spent 6 years in finance, culminating with Y2K, when I helped build a new compensation system for Commonwealth Financial Network to ensure that we could pay advisors after the turn of the millennium.
Of course, Y2K was a complete non-event, but it was a major event for me.
It was then that I realized that the world around me lacked a translator, someone who could merge business needs with “tech geek speak.” So I spent the next few years learning the ropes in technology.
My curiosity always kept me asking questions. And those questions often led to our software users telling me “you know what would really be awesome…?” or “you know how much easier my life would be if…?”
With the tech team at Commonwealth, I was able to translate the daily pain that advisors, their staff, and our home office staff felt into a technological cure.
Advisor360°’s Unified Data Fabric™: Householding
One of the biggest pain points we heard 20 years ago was that the software people were using was siloed by account, person, or function—and that wasn’t how people wanted to work.
I was naive at the time in terms of what the future held, but in 2002 I began a long series of conversations with a colleague of mine(@KolChuBirke) at Commonwealth. We discussed the concept of a “household-based platform” that could do all the functions an advisor needed to run their business from one location.
This was long ahead of the time when most companies were talking about platforms and ecosystems.
We began coding in 2003 on a household-model database that would eventually scale across functions and time. It was essentially a financial advisor and broker-dealer data warehouse, with households as the foundation. We rolled that system out to advisors later that year, and in 2004, Client360°® was born.
How to Eat an Elephant
I’ve never eaten an elephant (thankfully). As the quasi-sadistic saying goes, you can’t eat an elephant all at once; you must slowly chip away at it one bite at a time.
And that was our platform model. Start with the vision of a platform and chip away at the most critical items needed in the appropriate order:
The first system rolled out in 2004 for portfolio management/reporting. It aggregated brokerage, fee-based accounts, and direct business held outside of a clearing firm for a consolidated statement of the client’s entire portfolio. We then added proposal generation and EasyFill™ form-filling technology later that year. Then a document management function and client portal in 2005. In 2006, we added CRM function and compensation analytics. Then our first mobile app in late 2006 (5 months before the iPhone even existed!). Next up was digital account opening in 2007, planning tools in 2008, fee-billing and tax integration (TurboTax, Quicken, etc.) in 2009, trading/modeling and outside account aggregation functionality in 2010, customizable dashboards and WealthGuide® in 2011, a completely new CRM system in 2013, insurance in 2015, more advanced analytics in 2016, and compliant SMS/texting in 2018.
ALL this while iterating each function in an agile method along the way, based on user feedback.
The Infinite Feedback Loop
One of the ongoing superpowers of my prior company is its tight-knit, incredibly connected community, and that enabled what I’ve often referred to as the “infinite feedback loop.”
We would hear ideas and implement the ones that were most popular. On the technology front, once people started using the new software, they would provide feedback on how to make it better, and we would listen to—and implement—those ideas. And that cycle continues in perpetuity.
This is the nature of great software development, as there is no such thing as “completed” software. It can always be made better.
In 2006, to enable and encourage more feedback, we added links to every page of our platform to make it easier for users to give feedback. By 2019, we were receiving 5,000+ feedback submissions per year!
The most important part of the steadily increasing quantity of feedback was the trend itself. Human nature is such that if you give feedback to either a person or organization and they act upon that feedback, it encourages more feedback. Users know that they were heard.
The contrary is also true, that if people don’t feel they are being listened to, they will simply stop sharing ideas.
The infinite feedback loop works only when you listen, think, act, and repeat. The trend quantifies and validates that we were both listening and acting on user feedback.
We recently announced that we overhauled our feedback system. We want to make it even easier for enterprises that license Advisor360° software to streamline feedback across the organization, to show users what has been released, what’s in development, what’s on the roadmap, and other ideas being considered.
Users can submit ideas like before, but now they can also vote on colleagues’ ideas, and add different tags/categories for smart grouping, intelligently routing the feedback to the appropriate contacts in the home office to respond.
This newly designed system will allow Advisor360° to get aggregated feedback across enterprises, helping to shape our product roadmap from an even greater sample set of users.
The End Game: Productivity
Advisor360° is the productivity platform that enables digital transformation for financial services firms.
Commonwealth Financial Network has realized the benefits of this platform for two decades. It has outpaced peers at growing advisor productivity and now has some of the most productive advisors in the industry. There are two core elements that help achieve this productivity.
The first is a foundational unified data fabric (mentioned above). It was first envisioned 20 years ago as a household data model, which permeates and crosses all software sleeves of the platform that our users leverage.
The second is a maniacal focus on the user experience (UX). Teams of people who are certified usability experts or who have degrees in human factors work at Advisor360°. Having a fundamental understanding how people use software and knowing how to create a unified (and beautiful) interface across all elements of the platform helps users spend less time learning and using the technology—which drives satisfaction and adaption.
Driving adaption is critical, because even if you have the best technology in the world, if someone doesn’t use it, it’s worthless.
Customization of our application is also an important element of usability. There is one thing that you learn quickly when working at an independent broker-dealer: people don’t join an independent broker-dealer to be told what to do. And since our software was born inside an independent broker-dealer, the software design reflects that philosophy.
We built our software to easily work “out of the box,” with persona-based templates/setup, but with almost an infinite number of tweaks and settings available to end users who like to customize their software (e.g., our most popular portfolio report presently has over 100 million combinations).
WealthTech that Enables Digital Transformation™
In the end, technology is simply a means to an end. That end is to create efficiencies, save money, and spend more time on higher-value activities. That same technology also allows organizations to be more effective, including creating new ways of working through valuable business insights and analytics.
Our unified data fabric combined with a deeply integrated, scalable, and seamless user experience enables that transformation, which ultimately benefits the bottom line.
Darren Tedesco is President of Advisor360°, and has been part of our software development since its inception, bringing together the thinkers, the creators, and the visionaries that help power our clients’ productivity, profitability, and growth.
Jennifer Sawan – Most of us never saw it coming.
I know I never expected to experience something like this COVID-19 pandemic in my lifetime. But if there is an upside to all this, it’s this: the pandemic has forced us to lean on each other from afar, and technology has enabled us to do that in new and creative ways.
This pandemic has led clients to reassess their financial security: reevaluate their financial plans; ensure their estates are in order; and see that their families are protected.
The paradox to all this is that at a time when we’ve never been more physically distant, technology has enabled us to feel closer than ever.
And collaborate even better.
How to leverage technology through the pandemic.
Companies in all industries are benefitting from innovative ways to harness technology to continue day- to-day operations and strengthen collaboration with our clients.
Financial advisors are in a unique position to offer a range of services and support to their clients during this sometimes stressful time.
These 5 best practices can help bridge the physical gap and strengthen your client relationships during these trying times:
1) Drop a line to let clients know you’re here.
While families are hunkered down at home, take the time to reach out to them to see how they’re doing. Some clients are living alone and looking for ways to stay connected. Other clients are busy at home balancing the clash between home and work life. As basic as this sounds, a quick note can go a long way to let clients know that you’re thinking of them and you’re present to offer support. Let them know you’re here and you can ease any financial fears.
Clients may not proactively reach out to you asking for help, however, they may need someone to vent to. Offer advice on the topics that are weighing heavily on them. This type of proactive communication will stand out as a differentiator in the services you offer. Advisor360°’s compliance-approved texting solution allows advisors to drop a quick text to let clients know that you’re thinking about them.
2) Zoom into face-to-face meetings.
Videoconferencing has become one of the most valuable tools in bridging the physical gap between us and our clients. Zoom or Microsoft Teams are essential collaboration tools that keep those previous face-to-face collaborations still face-to-face collaborations.
While most business can be conducted over phone calls, there is enormous value in seeing the unspoken words during these conversations—to read your client’s body language and to show empathy through your own. For small fees, you can customize your videoconferencing plan to meet your company needs, with options for enhanced security, recordings, and branding.
3) Leverage social media to stay connected.
We’ve never had more time to spend countless hours scrolling through social media in search of some entertainment! Why not use that opportunity to keep your brand top of mind, to get on the radar of your clients and prospects.
Find relevant articles to share with your followers that align with your point of view. Post content that provides empathy and makes people want to reach out. Follow clients to keep a pulse on their emotional state and well-being.
And most importantly, use social media as a way to help others learn about the breadth of services that you offer. Many clients may not know all of the ways in which you can support them during this time, so advertising your services might connect with existing and future clients in new ways.
4) Revisit financial plans.
While it’s best practice to review financial plans annually, there’s nothing like a pandemic to reinforce the need for a fresh look and perspective on those plans. Client goals, objectives, and overall outlook on handling risk look very different today than they did last year. (Last year I was thinking about a family trip overseas, and now my biggest concern is getting my family’s estate and protection products in order in case of an emergency).
Advisor360°’s WealthGuide® is a “living agenda” to help communicate different ways in which you can help support your client. And the 1- Click Review® report allows you to pull all of the relevant plan and portfolio reports together to tell the story of where you are and where your client wants to go. Provide clients peace of mind by proactively initiating these conversations and sharing documents via the client portal.
5)Offer digital access.
By providing clients with online access to their accounts, you build trust through transparency. Many clients find peace of mind by self-service: having access to log into, view, and control their accounts.
This is easy with enhanced features in Advisor360°’s client portal, such as account aggregation, the document vault (their central storehouse of important docs), and secure messaging. During these uncertain times, these client resources help clients get the full picture—and increase engagement for the long run.
While these crazy times may not be over quite yet, let these best practices help you and your colleagues forge stronger, supportive client relationships.
Because clients need you now more than ever.
Jennifer Sawan is Director of Product Strategy at Advisor360°, helping our product teams define a client’s vision—and then build great products.