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.
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 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.