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Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

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Over the years I’ve had many conversations with advisors and the executives of the firms that partner with advisors. I’ve done demos of new or enhanced software packages and the platforms used by broker-dealers, clearing firms and custodians. I’ve interviewed the heads of fintech startups and spoken to advisor-focused research firms about their latest survey findings.

And then I never wrote about those conversations, that software, those findings. While I’m not technically a reporter, I feel bad about that failure to launch, that I let down those sources of mine.

Mea culpa.

Every day, the Advisor/Research on Wealth editorial staff holds a news meeting, using a document that lists each staffer and the stories they’re working on. As of this morning I had six stories I’d committed to writing. That doesn’t count the multiple stories I planned to write that have been spiked (journalism-ese for “sent into oblivion”) over the last few weeks because I just couldn’t get to them.

Mea culpa.

So in partial atonement for my shortcomings, I’ve decided to share some of the story ideas that I’ve failed to find the time to appropriately write.

  • One of my favorite people in the business, Lori Hardwick, the COO of Pershing, said in a meeting of retirement advisors in New York a few weeks ago that when it comes to advisors’ future success, you’ll need a certain level of digitization at the very least to collaborate with your clients, who will be expecting a certain level of digitization. Pershing itself is collaborating with IBM’s Watson unit, she reported, to electronically deliver to advisors “cognitive cues” arising from client behavior in their accounts. The goal? To give advisors a heads-up on their clients’ intentions before they make a big purchase, like buying a house, or take a big step, like changing advisors.

  • In a conversation in October with Jud Bergman, CEO of Envestnet, we discussed the findings of a survey of advisors conducted by Aite. The digitization of advisory firms came up in that conversation, too. Bergman’s conclusion? Digitizing your practice, which includes true integration of data, provides the advisor with more time. And what would an advisor do with that extra time once spent on manually onboarding new clients or reconciling data? “Let computers do what they’re better at,” Bergman said, “so you can be more human.” The smart use of technology, he said, enables advisors “to do what they alone can do: solve complex psychological problems and deliver wisdom on sophisticated matters.” There’s a reason why our species is called “homo sapiens.”

  • Finally, the day before we signed off on this issue I spent 75 minutes watching a demo of what Fidelity is calling its “total advisor” digital advice platform for RIAs, broker-dealers and end investors. Named WealthScape since it combines the offerings of its WealthCentral (for RIAs) and StreetScape (for BDs) legacy tech platforms, the solution was impressive. WealthScape features a sophisticated yet intuitive user interface for advisors, and a simple, white-labeled robo-advisor called Fidelity Automated Managed Platform (AMP) created in concert with eMoney, which Fidelity acquired last February. “It helps advisors collaborate with clients,” said Fidelity’s Gary Gallagher.

When I wondered aloud why there were so few questions asked of users before they were presented with the options of opening a retirement account or an investment account, Fidelity’s Vinod Raman was quick with the informed answer. If you ask more than four to six questions, Raman said, “you lose them.” Users of robo-advisors are not interested, it seems, in spending a lot of time and effort in opening their accounts. Perhaps that’s a job for advisors.

These three news briefs all deserve a fuller telling, which I certainly hope to accomplish soon, perhaps by the time you read this. That leaves me with only three more stories to write, though I imagine the list will continue to grow and I may continue to let down my sources.

Mea maxima culpa.


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