February 19, 2014

The Buzz, the Cloud and Product Intros: 2014 T3 Advisor Tech Conference

Last week, the 9th annual Technology Tools for Today (T3) conference took place at the Anaheim Hilton, at the doorstep of the Anaheim Convention Center and Disneyland. This year’s event was the largest ever, slightly edging out last year’s total with nearly 600 attendees, including both advisors themselves and a wide range of advisor tech companies and their representatives.

As the conference continues to grow, T3 is increasingly the conference at which advisor tech companies must be seen; several players timed key announcements to the conference, from a big integration announcement by SEI, to Pershing’s new NetXInvestor platform to a new account aggregation dashboard offering from MoneyGuidePro.

In addition, numerous new advisor tech companies debuted their offerings, from a Personal Financial Management (PFM) tool to a simple web-based advisor CRM. This year's T3 event also featured a new "FAStech Cup" advisor tech competition for up-and-coming tech-savvy financial planning students, a strategic shift that means in the future the T3 conference may not only be a location for advisor tech tools but also new hires who know how to use them!

Overall, the mood of the conference was very upbeat, notwithstanding some Internet problems at the beginning and a looming East Coast snowstorm at the end that led many attendees to depart a few hours early. As virtually all major software tools have now transitioned to the cloud, and the number of integrations continues to proliferate, this year’s T3 conference seemed to mark a turning point where the challenge of advisor technology decisions is less and less about finding software at all, and increasingly about the difficulty of navigating a complex patchwork of integrations and choosing from an ever-wider array of potential solutions.

Attendees, New Initiatives, Speed Bumps

One of the notable things about the T3 conference is that it appeals not only to vendor wholesalers who want to reach advisors, but also their leadership and key decision-makers (as many business partnership, integrations and even mergers emerge from meetings that happen in-person at T3). This year’s conference didn’t disappoint in its access to company CEOs and CTOs, in addition to the usual advisor crowd.

Students constituted one new group at this year’s conference, with the launch of the new “FAStech Cup”, a competition sponsored by several popular advisor technology platforms that put forth “challenges” for students to learn key advisor technology tools. Competition for the FAStech cup included showcasing a hypothetical financial plan (built using MoneyGuidePro software), and delivering it via recorded video conference, as well as building hypothetical advisory firm websites, along with a Quiz Bowl of financial planning knowledge.

The winners included Texas Tech in third place, San Diego State in second and New Jersey’s William Patterson University as the grand prize winner, which included a $5,000 gift to the student program. Conference organizers Joel Bruckenstein and Dave Drucker committed at the end of the conference to renewing and growing the FAStech cup in the future. That suggests it may not be long before T3 is also a conference where advisors looking to hire an especially “tech-savvy” young financial planner go to find the best talent.

Notably, this year’s conference did have a few speed bumps. Attendance waned badly in the final half-day of the conference, as many attendees left early to get home before the monster snowstorm that was rolling up the East cCoast (yours-truly stayed to the bitter end, and as a result got stuck in Los Angeles for 2 extra days as all flights to the East Coast were cancelled).

Ironically, the conference stumbled a bit out of the gate. Despite having negotiated significant bandwidth for the event, when all the vendors loaded up their software tools for the pre-conference session and the exhibit hall setup, the hotel routers were so overwhelmed they went offline altogether, forcing most of the exhibit hall time at the opening reception to be spent with advisors and their tech vendors actually talking to each other face to face without the assistance of computers (oh, the horror!). Fortunately, the Internet was fully functional again by the second morning (the actual conference kick-off), and notwithstanding the pre-conference snafu and the weather-challenged wrap-up, this year’s T3 conference was still a strong event.

New Software, Big Announcements

The T3 conference has increasingly become the place that technology companies serving advisors make their big announcements, and this year didn’t disappoint. A wide array of press releases went out throughout the conference and were announced from the podium, including a big 4-way SEI Advisor Network integration deal with Redtail, MoneyGuidePro and ActiFi, along with Pershing launching the next generation of its online platform with NetXInvestor, a new version of Envestnet | Tamarac's Advisor Xi platform and most notably an announcement by MoneyGuidePro CEO and founder Bob Curtis that the popular MGP financial planning software will be partnering with account aggregation provider Yodlee to offer an aggregation and client dashboard tool directly to advisors, delivered at an “at-cost” price point of only $495/year (discounted to $365 or $1/day for T3 attendees). The pricing seemed targeted directly at the popular-but-pricey eMoney Advisor financial planning software (notably, eMoney was conspicuously absent from the conference).

In addition to announcements of new features for several major technology players, this year’s T3 conference also included the launch announcements of several new companies that debuted their software to advisors for the first time.

Notables included a portfolio risk analytics tool called RiXtrema (a new competitor to Hidden Levers and Macro Risk Analytics); a retirement planning software tool called RetireUp; an account aggregation and “personal financial management” (PFM) dashboard called WealthAccess (though that launch was somewhat overshadowed by the MoneyGuidePro announcement) and a new web-based “simple” advisor CRM offering called WealthBox.

Advisor Technology Cloud Transition

One notable trend highly evident at this year’s conference wass that transitioning advisor software to the cloud is no longer of question of “if” but rather “which” web-based platform is the right one to choose.

At the conference, Advicent (formerly Zywave, owner of NaviPlan and Financial Profiles) showed off its new fully-cloud-based NaviPro tool, and MoneyTree software demoed its new Total Online software suite, which means all major financial planning software tools have now been fully transitioned to the cloud. Similarly, Junxure was there to show off its new cloud-based CRM offering (the last of the major advisor CRM tools to make the transition, though a few legacy providers like ACT! are still operated via local server installations), and TD Ameritrade reiterated that its fullly web-based iRebal tool will be available in just a few more months.

Overall, advisors now have a wide range of web-based tools to run every aspect of their business. The largest ‘legacy’ tools still running on servers include portfolio management and reporting software Advent (though its users appear to slowly be transitioning to its Black Diamond option), and PortfolioCenter (though Schwab announced last fall that it is being rebuilt entirely on a web-based platform and is due out in 2015 as "Project PM"). On the other hand, for advisory firms that are more anxious to get out of the business of being responsible for this software altogether, sooner rather than later, integrated platforms from Envestnet’s Advisor Xito Orion Advisor Services were also present in full force.

In the second part of this blog posting, we’ll address some other buzz-worthy T3 happenings, including custodian unity on fraud prevention, the robo-advisor trend and what I found to be the biggest takeaways from the conference.

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