Envestnet Chairman and CEO Jud Bergman.

The Envestnet Advisor Summit opened Wednesday afternoon with an address by CEO Jud Bergman, who greeted the 1,600 total attendees by addressing the robo-advisor challenge.

He used the metaphors of Metcalfe’s Law — that the value of a telecom network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users on the network — and the lessons of James J. Hill, the Great Northern Railway builder, to suggest that advisors and their clients will be the greatest beneficiaries of the digital, cloud-based network, as advisors “leverage their human and intellectual capital” to clients’ benefit.

It was Hill’s railroad, Bergman said he learned from his historian father, who connected lumber mills with home builders, iron ore mines to steel mills, benefiting many more people than just himself. That is Envestnet’s goal, Bergman said—to build connections between advisors and software makers, asset managers, broker-dealers and custodians. “As we continue to expand” the Envestnet network, “most of the value of that network will be created and enjoyed” by its users, he said: advisors and their clients.

But like Hill’s quest to find a level roadway through the Rocky Mountains between the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest, Bergman said he believes that “ many advisors have a digital divide” that serves to separate them and their practices from a “more complete engagement with their clients,” and especially with millennial clients, who prefer a digital engagement with their advisors. Those advisors “are stuck on the eastern side of the Rockies,” which is regrettable because “there’s no industry on earth more conducive to leveraging digital technology than the wealth management business.”

He promised that the acquisitions that Envestnet has made and the programs it has built and will announce at the Advisor Summit will help advisors “cross that digital divide.”

He also said that there are “three things we can thank robo-advisors for,” including:

1) Setting a market for commoditized advice, which he said Envestnet’s data puts at 55 basis points, though that doesn’t include providing “sophisticated tax or estate planning,” investment vehicle selection or “even financial planning.”

2) Validating the value of aggregated data to provide a more complete view of an investor’s financial picture, including cash and liabilities like credit card balances.

3) Demonstrating that a significant segment of the financial advice market wants 24/7 access to their investments, “driven by the millennials,” Bergman said, concluding that “the era of quarterly statements is over.”

In his greeting to attendees before Bergman’s speech, Envestnet Managing Director Ron Fiske said there were 1,600 total attendees for the summit, including 900 “clients,” meaning end advisors and home office personnel, up 20% from last year.

See all the onsite coverage of the Envestnet Advisor Summit.