How Real Advisors Can Steal the Robo-Advisors’ Advantage

FlexScore, an in-depth scoring system, encourages clients to engage in financial planning and reveal their financial data

New planning tool might help financial advisors get the robots working for them. New planning tool might help financial advisors get the robots working for them.

Fearful that an army of robo-advisors will raid your clients, eat your lunch, burn your fields and leave you high and dry?

Then you may be interested to know about a new tech offering that’s not trying to turn robots into financial advisors but rather to get the robots to work for the financial advisor.

Meet FlexScore, an online financial planning scoring system designed to provide average Americans with their “number”—not just for retirement but a numeric description of their entire financial picture.

The online tool, which has attracted some 30,000 consumers during its beta phase from September through April 29, is now available free to advisors as FlexScore Pro in a new advisor beta phase lasting till October 1.

In an interview with ThinkAdvisor, FlexScore’s CEO, Jason Gordo emphasized that far from competing with financial advisors, the tool actually solves a problem endemic in the advisor-client relationship: the tendency of clients to withhold information about their finances that they’re managing outside that relationship.

“They are willing to tell us everything because they want to get to a [perfect score of] 1,000; it’s a scoring system and clients want more points,” Gordo says of the game-style program.

“We’re trying to empower people to better engage with their advisor,” he adds. “Our whole aim was to build an engagement tool for clients. They can link accounts in an engaging format encouraging them to tell more about themselves, and the advisor can see everything going on. We don’t manage money; we don’t pitch advisors’ clients; we enhance the relationship the advisor has with clients.”

Indeed, Gordo, himself a practicing financial advisor with RIA firm Valley Wealth, based in California’s Central Valley, says of one of his own staff advisors:

“He thought he knew everything about a $600,000 client until [using FlexScore] he uncovered a $300,000 401(k) at Schwab. We uses Schwab as a custodian, so now [the advisor] manages $900,000 from that client.”

Gordo and his partner Jeffrey Burrow’s background as financial advisors is a key differentiator, he says, from the many robo-advisors out there.

Click to enlarge FlexScore screenshotFutureAdvisor, Betterment, LearnVest, Wealthfront—all of their founders “came from tech and are looking to disrupt this industry,” he says, adding that they’re also seeking to manage assets.

“[But] we’ve given tens of thousands of people financial advice. We know the industry can do better and we are not in any way, shape or form trying to cut out the financial advisor. We’re driving awareness back to that advisor; we want to help brand the advisor and develop that client as a better client to the advisor.”

So far over 100 advisors have signed up since the April 29 advisor version beta launch; that’s in addition to boutique planning firm United Capital, which makes the product available to all of its 74 advisors.

Gordo says the program is scalable and his ambition is to form additional partnerships with OSJs at broker-dealers, even firms as large as Merrill Lynch.

The FlexScore CEO says Merrill is an especially apt client because of its Bank of America connection.

“We can help anybody with wealth creation. It’s just as powerful for a $12-an-hour receptionist as for somebody with millions of dollars.”

Indeed, that cross-wealth spectrum insight, borne of Gordo’s and Burrow’s experience as advisors during the Great Recession, is what inspired FlexScore’s creation. Serving both high-net-worth business owners and their modest-income 401(k) plan participants in 2008, they found that both client segments came to them with the same questions:

“‘How am I doing with my money?’” and ‘How do I improve my financial situation?’ We looked around and didn’t find anything that quickly [answered those questions],” he recalls.

They subsequently surveyed over 3,000 people and found that fully 92% had no clue what steps they needed to take to get their financial act together.

Their goal was to offer something akin to AAA’s travel guidance, which lets consumers instantly know through their diamond ratings whether they’re looking at a Motel 6 or a Sheraton in Maui. The duo created their scoring algorithm based on a period survey the CFP Board conducts of its advisors and the financial planning engagement issues they confront with their clients.

Using an online wizard, users can link all their accounts, state their goals—such as when they want to retire, college savings or second-home ambitions and see what’s achievable.

If their goals are unrealistic, they can drop the aspiration for a beach house, or increase their rate of saving and investing. If they’re unhappy with a score of, say, 583 (a score of 1,000 represents financial independence), they can immediately add points by responding to one or more of a number of “action steps” the program offers.

Many of those action steps involve providing more information—about clients’ insurance policies for example. The program always provides incentives to add information.

When the advisor version beta ends on Oct. 1, Gordo says the currently free service will cost advisors $150 a month and a $75 initiation fee. The service is month to month, so advisors have no long-term contract and can drop it at any time. FlexScore licenses its account aggregation program through Fiserv, so there is a per head additional fee for the program that encourages deeper disclosure about client finances, he says.

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