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 protected 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, 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.
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.
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.
Richard Napolitano -- For any technology company, it’s always about the product.
Here at Advisor360°, we’re evolving from development and raw execution to understanding our long-term strategy and go-to-market plans. And having been a part of some great enterprise-focused tech companies across the years, I've realized the key tenent to providing the best experience possible all comes down to the product.
The “product” means this: solving customer problems and enabling opportunities. It’s that basic—and that essential.
Investment advisor productivity is a big deal.
According to The Kitces Report’s financial planning study, the average financial plan takes 15 hours to create and 3 client meetings to discuss. And that’s just one plan. The study calls out the fact that the majority of advisors rely on Word and Excel to supplement the writing of their financial plans. We know there’s a better, faster, stronger path to productivity.
The key is to leverage technology through digital transformation—that’s how you increase productivity.
As we look toward the future at Advisor360°, our product is well-positioned to enable the growth of those in the wealth management business. It permits advisors and broker-dealers (whether they're independent, banking, insurance broker-dealers, or rollup-RIAs) to either service more clients at scale, or to sell more of their financial products and drive efficiency in the back-end processes of their firms.
There have been many claims in the WealthTech industry about how companies deliver an integrated wealth management solution. But they haven’t delivered.
These competitors’ solutions are not integrated; their “holistic” experience is just a common look and feel—if that!—with single sign on without any real functionality depth. They’re often using marketing slogans and superficial veneers to hide the fact that what they really provide is an aggregation of different products by different companies—without any underlying shared or common framework.
How is that holistic?
At Advisor360°, we’ve worked over many years to build the only truly integrated/unified wealth management platform. What does this mean?
It means connections across all layers of the platform: from the user’s positive experience fulfilling their wants and needs, to the underlying data and process that support it. A deeply-integrated platform is critical to keeping users loyal to the product and results in the most successful business outcomes for all parties. Our holistic platform was started inside of Commonwealth Financial Network and refined over the last two decades with many features, functions, and integrations that are extremely unique in the marketplace.
It’s clear to me that our value proposition is derived from our exclusive technological advantage. This advantage is inconspicuous and somewhat hidden; however, it underscores the fundamental value proposition and is what makes Advisor360° unlike any other WealthTech company.
I have seen in many early stage companies (and even big tech behemoths like Sun Microsystems and others), that understanding your advantage is key to delivering value to your users. When the technological advantages are delivered as enterprise-class, the market opportunity is limitless.
We like to call these advantages our “superpowers.”
Superpower #1: Unified data fabric™.
This unified data fabric surrounds and embraces all sleeves of our software. This is the fundamental building block of Advisor360°. This unified fabric gives a complete view of everything within a household and every household within a business (or subsets thereof).
So, what value does our unified household data fabric bring to the table?
By assembling performance reporting, customer onboarding, CRM, portfolio rebalancing and trading document management, planning tools, a client portal, and operations (to name a few)—it means that the advisors’ system, advisors’ staff system, advisors’ client’s system, and the broker-dealers’ back office system ALL share a common and connected view of the entire book of business; Disconnected data no longer exists.
It’s a disruptor in the marketplace: the true definition of a unified experience.
Superpower #2: The Team.
Another key difference between Advisor360° and our competitors in the marketplace: our team. These colleagues are the pieces that make our product possible—they’re the foundation of both the product and the company. “People” are often cited as differentiators, but what we have is rare in the WealthTech space.
Our team is made up of an outstanding combination of financial services people from the broker-dealer world, along with experienced software veterans, that acutely understand industry challenges and workflows. As you may have seen in our recent senior management team announcement, we’re building out our enterprise leadership team.
Now that we have coupled this financial services expertise with enterprise software expertise, the result is a deep understanding of what it means to deliver enterprise-class wealth management software at scale. Moving forward, these enterprise companies represent our core client base.
The bottom line: we’re not your typical WealthTech company.
As Advisor360° expands our product development and begins implementing our go-to-market strategy, we look forward to sharing our progress in improving productivity for everyone in the WealthTech space.
Richard Napolitano — I started out in the burgeoning days of software, before dot coms, and Silicon Valleys, and when Route 128 was a thing! I was a restless tech guy that loved to see how things tick: software, people, businesses. So I got a job as a software engineer at Digital Equipment Corp.—and I couldn’t stop thinking about ways to make things better, to solve problems.
I still can’t stop.
With 30 years of building and delivering enterprise products to enterprise firms, my experience spans both engineering and sales. I understand that critical blend of product development and go-to-market experience. The wealth management business is evolving and embracing technology to enable their businesses. In the IT world, we call this Digital Transformation. So I wanted to be a part of that—to grow a company in the wealth management SaaS space.
That’s where Advisor360° comes in.
The big question.
Advisor360° saw a problem to solve: how can wealth management professionals and firms build better, stronger relationships with their clients? It simply cannot be done without improving productivity. The demographic trends and rise of the fiduciary is driving the need for more Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs), who need tools of technology to drive their productivity. Broker-dealers and insurance companies need back office processes to automation, and this pain point is in some respects even greater than the pain point for the advisors.
It’s a productivity problem for everybody.
But what if a team could figure this out? It would not only mean more productivity, but more client-facing time to build relationships. And build profits.
This was an intriguing challenge I wanted to help solve.
So that’s why I joined the company that is solving it: Advisor360°.
How it all started.
While a wholly independent company, Advisor360° was spun-off April of last year from Commonwealth Financial Network, the largest registered investment advisor/independent broker-dealer in the country. It turns out that Commonwealth’s tech division had developed (over two decades and thousands of pieces of feedback) their own award-winning, productivity-enhancing, relationship-building wealth management software.
And this technology finesse was proven: by using Commonwealth’s proprietary software, advisors were 20-30% more productive than other advisors in the market. It’s a classic case of using software technologies to improve overall productivity.
Advisor360° is the continuation of that productivity mission through the adoption of technology and embracing Digital Transformation.
A holistic productivity platform.
We saw early on the value of technology in the WealthTech sector. And Advisor360° is unique in that we’re positioned as a pure play SaaS company.
We’ve built the only holistic, deeply-integrated, unified wealth management SaaS platform in the industry.
We unify—not just integrate—all the systems (from CRM to a client portal) firms need to bring better productivity to their advisors.
It’s a big deal, because Advisor360° provides this holistic user experience throughout advisor workflow, home office, and broker-dealer back offices. Our platform lets you scale to your firm’s needs.
And build better relationships.
Ahead of the curve.
But how are we better aligned to the business plans of enterprises?
We’re focused on leveraging our R&D investment across a large number of customers to increase the innovation. As an independent entity, we can attract even more technical talent and focus on building the best product possible. Since more and more enterprise products are delivered as a service, Advisor360° fits right in.
We see the big picture: a trend away from captive high-end advisors to a number of independent advisors that are tied to insurance companies or independent broker-dealers.
The bottom line is the aging population of baby boomers is retiring with substantial assets, and they seek independent advisors. We’ve built a world-class platform that integrates and unifies it all for advisors—so they can spend less time on process, and more time on relationships.
Let’s keep building.
We are here to build a world-class enterprise software company, delivering our products to enterprises as a service. The need for technology in this WealthTech space is clear and present, and Advisor360° is poised for enormous growth in the next 12 months.
If you’d like more information about our platform, please contact us.
Darren Tedesco — I’m often asked by co-workers or industry pundits “what’s next?” in the world of WealthTech.
My answer is usually tongue-and-cheek along the lines of “let me think about it.” In reality, no one can predict the future, yet the essence of strategy is to try to do exactly that: best understand where things are going, choose what you will do to make peoples’ lives better to solve their problems (which, when you do, people gladly give you money for doing so), and choose what you will NOT do (see Michael Porter’s “What Is Strategy?”).
The essence of our strategy is about understanding the WealthTech trends and then making a choice of what you will and won’t do to address those trends.
The Trend is Your Friend
One of the most powerful forces in this world is momentum; either in a positive or negative way, once you have momentum, it’s very hard to change it. Writing this blog in what I hope is an almost post-COVID-19 world, there is a trend that is undeniable: leveraging technology to collaborate online is here to stay. In the past, most advisors were heavily centered on meeting with their clients in person—then in March of 2020, the whole world changed in a matter of mere weeks. While the pandemic has been horrible and has led to many deaths worldwide, there are some positives that will be taken from this era.
One of these positives is that over the last 3 months, more clients and advisors have met virtually, and the feedback I’ve heard from advisors is that clients have both appreciated this new form of meeting, and now expect this to be the norm going forward.
Key takeaway: WealthTech companies need to ensure that collaboration tools are a core part of their software offerings.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Just Getting Started
10 years ago, I wrote about voice navigation being a big trend that we will start to see in tools and apps. These days, Alexa, Siri, and a whole host of other named virtual assistants are mainstream. Three years ago, I wrote about AI being a big part of our future. In hindsight, I may have understated the importance and impact.
The world has pivoted quickly from technology complementing humans to humans complementing technology.
In 2015, I wrote an article for the Journal of Financial Planning titled “Creating the Blended Advisor Experience,” with a focus on exactly this: that technology and the advisor worlds are blending. We’re now seeing that advance rapidly.
“Next best actions” suggested we’ll pivot to actions taken by technology without human intervention.
Many model-management trading systems, including robo-advice companies, have been doing this with auto-rebalancing of portfolios for a while now; moving from investments to operations and planning functions will have an even greater impact.
Key takeaway: AI will take hold in how both broker-dealers and advisors run their businesses and serve their clients, and begin taking action without human interaction.
A Means to an End
20 years ago, the minority of financial advisors were planning-centric in their advice to clients; investments or insurance were almost always the focus. Now in reality, investments and insurance are an important part of helping any given client achieve their goals—but they’re products that are a means to an end. Fast-forward to 2020, the move towards leading with holistic financial planning is here and here to stay.
Understanding all pertinent aspects of a client’s life and helping them plan for successful outcomes of what is most important to them is now driving advisor/client conversations.
The real challenge for advisors is how to perform holistic financial planning at scale (creating a full-blown plan for a client can take upwards of 10+ hours). Enter WealthTech, and more specifically in our case, WealthGuide®. WealthGuide is an Advisor360° system created 8 years ago that allows advisors to customize myriad planning topics and create a “living agenda” that is used at every meeting with a client. This living agenda ensures that pre-existing assumptions and facts are still correct, but also reinforces the value proposition of all the elements that a financial advisor brings to the relationship. Tying this all into a client portal will allow for co-planning between advisors and clients in real-time which is the ultimate panacea.
Key takeaway: Financial planning is more important than it has ever been. Finding ways to scale that process is mission-critical for the financial advisors of the future.
Did you know there are subscription services/apps that now help you review how many subscription services/apps that you might be paying for—why is that? It’s because the masses have now embraced subscription-based models, yet it’s sometimes hard to keep track of all your subscriptions. I recently reviewed my subscriptions and realized I was paying for almost a dozen of them (TiVo, Hulu, Netflix, HBO GO, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, SHOWTIME, etc.). The downside is that if you aren’t leveraging all these services regularly, you are wasting money.
However, there is an upside to the subscription trend when it comes to WealthTech: paying for software should be subscription-based, not AUM or account-based.
From the end-user’s perspective, I’ve never understood the concept of your technology getting more expensive just because the stock market went up one day and I never will, which is why Advisor360° charges fees solely on a per user subscription model.
Key takeaway: The world has turned to subscription-based software, including wealth management software.
The Future Wealth Management is WealthTech that looks like…
In the end, your business needs to operate in an efficient and modern way. Partnering with a firm that allows your business to keep up with the macro trends—online collaboration, data and AI, co-planning, and a subscription-based software model—allows you to focus your time on what really matters: engaging with clients.
Are you ahead of the curve?
Darren Tedesco — Integration has long been considered the holy grail on a financial advisor’s desktop—and for good reason. Integrated technology can improve efficiency and help you maintain a high level of service for your clients. Still, there are two interesting truths to keep in mind when thinking about the role of integrated technology in financial services: integration means different things to different people, and integration is never complete.
Integration Is a Work in Progress
This is true in every industry, not just ours. Take the example of car manufacturers, which are trying to integrate more Internet-based apps and functionality into their vehicles. At some point—perhaps in the not-too-distant future—each time you drive up to the window at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, your car will know who is with you, along with their preferred drinks. It will then connect to the coffee shop, place the order, and pay with whatever payment preference you have on file, all while making sure that your loyalty reward card is properly credited. This is just one illustration of the millions of integration points being worked on at this moment across all industries.
The Internet of Things
The move toward total integration is part of what’s known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The IoT refers to how almost every single electronic item that we use on a daily basis will connect to us, to other electronic devices, and to commerce. The rise of inexpensive electronic components, as well as ubiquitous high-speed Internet, is paving the way for a more automated future.
Just look at tablet computers, which were considered a luxury item when they first burst onto the scene. Now, they’re practically disposable. Have a cracked screen? No problem! Just throw out your tablet and get a new one. It’s probably cheaper than fixing it. That’s how far we’ve come. What was once considered a thing of science fiction has now morphed into science nonfiction.
The Age of Convenience
Integration has also helped us push the limits on personal and business productivity, giving rise to the “convenience” age of integration and the IoT. Here’s just one example: Purchased by Google in 2014, the Nest thermostat probably knows more about your location than your significant other! It knows when you’re away, when you’re on your way home, and when to turn on your heat or air conditioning at just the right time to save you money while ensuring that you’ll feel comfortable the moment you step into your house. Change the thermostat manually often? Nest learns your patterns and starts to make adjustments before you do.
We’re seeing trends like this in business as well, with innovations such as printers that automatically order ink when it’s getting low and voice over IP systems that smart route to cell phones or remote receptionist vendors.
All of these things point to something I’ve come to think of as “perfect” technology: technology that you don’t have to actively use. Instead, it’s constantly working in the background and knows what to do for you and when.
What’s the Cost?
Clearly, the benefits of device interconnectivity are very real, but what’s the cost? The 2016 distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack comes to mind.
The attack targeted a company named Dyn, which offers Domain Name System (DNS) services. DNS services translate the web addresses we see every day into the IP addresses (i.e., numbers) needed to find and connect with the right servers, so browsers can deliver requested content. A DDoS attack overwhelms a DNS server with millions of lookup requests at once, rendering it incapable of completing any request.
In a nutshell, an attacker can take out the entire Internet for any end user whose DNS requests route through a given server. To orchestrate this attack, viruses were installed on unpatched devices that people simply don’t think of as “computers.” The thermostats I mentioned above were part of the electronic zombie armies that perpetrated the attack, as were refrigerators, DVRs, TVs, web cameras, and even wireless printers.
In almost all of these devices, users can go into the settings menu and check to see whether a “firmware” update is available—these updates often have both security- and performance-related enhancements baked into them. Unfortunately, some manufacturers don’t care about patching firmware, even when their devices have known vulnerabilities; they just move on to the next generation of devices.
One important lesson here: Check your Internet-enabled devices for firmware updates at least a few times a year. The benefits gained likely outweigh the downsides, and reputable manufacturers are more likely to maintain their hardware with security patches for years after purchase.
Looking beyond integration, will the world even need people for commerce? There are already programs writing programs (PwP), meaning that code is being developed without any human intervention (other than the person who writes the initial code). Plus, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to progress at a steady pace and the ubiquitous Internet is connecting even the most remote areas of the globe. Given all of this, I suspect there will come a time when you and I are no longer needed for the services that we currently provide.
The good news? AI is not likely to take over the jobs that we perform anytime soon. But what is in our near future is the next evolution of integration: unification. We can debate what led Apple to rise from bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable company one decade later. My take is that Apple took integration to the next level, creating a unified experience across devices and programs—iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iMacs all working with similar interfaces. This drove user adoption, as people were less intimidated by the technology because it all looked and worked the same way, substantially reducing the learning curve.
Darren Tedesco — If you haven’t heard of Pokémon GO, I can only imagine that you’ve been vacationing on a remote island or in the middle of Siberia. Since its release in early July, the game, a modern-day iteration of the original Pokémon trading card game, has seen unprecedented success. The uber-popular app has already been downloaded tens of millions of times, and Nintendo’s stock is up more than 60 percent in the past month (although Nintendo recently said that its exposure to profits would be limited). Never has a mobile app game been so hyped—and for good reason, I think.
My 15-year-old daughter hopped on this game the day it was released. She eventually convinced my wife to join, who then convinced me to join. This became the impetus for us to buy my 12-year-old son his first phone so that he could join, too. And that, in and of itself, exemplifies one of the many strengths of this game: it can bring families together (mobile and video games often do the opposite).
But Pokémon GO is more than just a game. After playing it for a week, I’m convinced that it will not only usher in a new chapter of gaming for humankind, but that it will teach us lessons that will change how we do business. You may think this is a bold statement. How can a game change our approach to business? Let me explain.
Lessons from Pokémon GO
1) It’s bringing families and generations together. The fact that kids and parents can go out “Pokémon hunting” together as a team—or even as rival teams—is fun. But when I first witnessed a 75-year-old man playing Pokémon GO with his granddaughter, I knew this was something more. While the original Pokémon game was largely popular with 10- to 12-year-old boys, the new game is appealing to nearly every demographic.
How can this change your business? Anything businesses do to help connect family members in general is a positive. For financial advisors, one big risk they face is losing their clients' children (and assets) to another advisor after a client passes away. It goes without saying that finding creative ways to help your clients’ families connect across generations—and with your brand—will pay dividends.
2) It’s making us feel part of a community. In general, I’ve talked with more random people in the past couple of weeks than I think I’ve talked with in the past year. That’s because PokéStops and Pokémon gyms are static and people flock to them. (If you don’t know what these are, check out Wikipedia’s description of the game.) Additionally, so far in my experience, there seems to be a bond between Pokémon GO players that is fun and genuine.
For example, one very cool aspect of the game is the concept of “lures.” Lures are not easy to attain—unless you buy them through the app—and they attract wild Pokémon to PokéStops without your having to move from that spot. (Okay, so this is the lazy part of the game.) If you use one of your lures, everyone playing Pokémon GO within about a one-half-mile radius will see it and can benefit from it. I’ve witnessed individuals thanking total strangers for their generosity.
How can this change your business? When people feel part of something bigger than themselves, they develop a profound appreciation for that connection. We partner with a local organization and invite home office staff and their guests to roll up their sleeves and make a positive difference in the world.
Do you hold your own giving back initiatives? The next time you hold a food drive or offer a book swap, consider putting signage outside your office to promote the event and invite your local community to participate. Then, if your business is lucky enough to be a PokéStop (or if you want to submit a request to become one), consider dropping lures at a set time each day. It would cost you about $1 per day to do this, and the increased traffic in front of your building could ultimately lead to extra donations to your giving back initiative—and perhaps even a new prospective client or two.
3) It’s taking gamification to the next level. Many companies have implemented a “badge” or “medal” system for social media and marketing purposes. Pokémon GO is built on the same psychological principles that drive such programs, and once you get started earning rewards, it’s hard to stop.
How can this change your business? This one’s a little tricky to implement on your own, but think about fun ways to get your clients more involved in their financial planning. If they’re struggling to set aside money for a child's college fund, for example, maybe you give them a gold star each month they contribute to the account. Once they get 12 stars, you’ll take them out to lunch.
4) It’s opening our eyes to the real world around us. It’s hard to believe, but the most popular game in the world right now is teaching us about the areas where we live and work. I’ve learned more about landmarks in my town in the past week than in the 12 years I’ve lived there.
How can this change your business? Appreciation events are an excellent way to develop greater rapport with your clients. In every town in the U.S., there are treasures that many people either don’t know much about or don’t know exist at all. Hold a client appreciation event at one of these lesser-known venues; throw in some finger food and libations and you’ve connected your clients to the community in which they live. And I’m sure they’ll spread the word that they were there . . . because of you!
5) It’s taking augmented reality (AR) mainstream. One of the best parts of this game is the introduction of AR into mainstream gaming. AR is nothing new, but it is new to the masses. Overlaying a game like this on a map of the U.S. (or other countries) is a game-changer.
How can this change your business? I’m not sure yet, but I bet it won’t be long before we know.
6) It’s keeping people active. One of the many brilliant aspects of Pokémon GO is that you have to go to the game; the game does not come to you. Although the details of how to play this game are outside the scope of this blog post, players have to do a lot of walking. PokéStops, Pokémon gyms, and wild Pokémon are all found out in the real world, not from the living room sofa. By way of example, I walked more than 20 kilometers in the first week with my family, and I’m pretty sure I would not have done so otherwise.
How can this change your business? Health and wellness—both financial and physical—are important topics in our industry today. As you work to help ensure that your clients have enough money to retire comfortably, why not find ways to help them stay active as well? Organize a team for Walk for Hunger; start an exercise club with a group of A clients and get together to play basketball or go for a swim or run on a Saturday morning; or, if you have a nice space for it at your business, hire a yoga teacher to come in and offer a class on your lawn.
A Dose of Caution
Pokémon GO is representative of how people are interacting with technology and the world around them today. But it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. Some news stories have reported that players have been “lured” into trespassing on private property and walking off cliffs; some have even walked unsuspecting into a robbery in progress. While there are always some downsides to change and disruption, I believe this summer marks a huge turning point for the future of gaming—and a huge opportunity for financial advisors to change the way they do business for the better.