In the first part of this two-part blog series, we reported on the atmosphere and some key product introductions at the annual T3—Technology Tools for Tomorrow—conference, Joel Bruckenstein and Dave Drucker’s increasingly important gathering. Below, we talk about some other buzz-worthy trends I saw at the conference, and list the major takeaways.
As virtually all the major advisor software tools are now online, the clear trend emerging from the T3 conference was that software providers and the investment custodians are now working hard to truly integrate and automate workflows more deeply, and make them more functional from mobile devices.
During the RIA custodian panel during T3—which in recognition of the conference’s clout included leaders from Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Pershing Advisor Solutions—the discussion focused on custodian efforts for everything from e-signatures and digital paperwork to mobile check deposit for advisors and their clients. Another focus was on straight-through processing, where an account might be fully opened and funded via a mobile device, with all the intermediate steps of paperwork and deposits/transfers handled digitally in a single-step process.
On the other hand, in an increasingly virtual world, the custodians also fully acknowledged the rising challenge of identity theft and wire fraud, and noted that they are sharing information about identity theft attempts in an effort to maintain better security for all advisors. As Schwab Advisor Services’ technology guru Neesha Hathi pointed out, “anti-fraud efforts are not something we want to differentiate on” and instead emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts to maintain investor trust of the financial services industry in the aggregate.
Another notable trend at T3 was the growing range of “middleware” providers, which are software tools designed to sit between or on top of existing software, most commonly a CRM, to help ensure that the tools work well together. This year’s offerings included several middleware providers for Salesforce in particular (including the Athene Group’s “Skience,” Concenter Services’ XLR8, Orchestrate’s Process Composer, and AppCrown) along with the debut of the Fox Planning Network’s “Genesis Smartware” workflow automation software.
Amusingly, while T3 is a (human) advisor technology conference, at one point during the opening general session a “robo-advisor” made an appearance, courtesy of MoneyGuidePro. Dressed in full robotic costume and with a robotic voice modulator, the “robo-advisor” expressed its intent to replace financial advisors, noting that “You can call me at 3:00 AM. I am Robo Advisor. I never sleep. I will manage your money.”
Mocking the narrow focus of robo-advisors, though, the robotic voice struggled to answer any of the more complex and nuanced questions that were thrown at it by MGP CEO Bob Curtis, instead falling back to repeating its “I am Robo Advisor…” mantra, and then being overshadowed by a second robo-advisor meant to signify IBM’s Watson, which is being deployed as a business intelligence tool to help financial advisors serve consumers better.
Over all, there seemed to be little concern regarding “robo-advisors” at the conference, and while the T3 conference draws an admittedly technology-optimistic group, an audience poll in the opening session found that approximately 98% of the attendees viewed the ongoing evolution of advisor technology to be an opportunity more than a threat.
The Major T3 Takeaways