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2019 IA25 Fintech Winners

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Jeff Bezos has been in the headlines for a host of reasons lately, but it’s his role as an innovator as head of Amazon that continues to impact the advice business.

In a nod to Amazon, Apple and Netflix, Charles Schwab recently rolled out a $30-a-month plan for its newly named Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium service; it includes “unlimited” support from a certified financial planner (as well as a $25,000 investment minimum and a $300 initial planning fee.) “Wow, HUGE news,” said Michael Kitces on Twitter.

Meanwhile, TD Ameritrade has been working on voice-based online trading Amazon Alexa technology and launched a financial education platform for investors based on artificial intelligence; it aims to work like the personalized recommendations generated by Amazon and Netflix.

Other firms, of course, are looking to capitalize on Amazon-inspired innovations. Platform provider Envestnet | Yodlee, for instance, bought Abe AI earlier this year to let advisors and financial firms take advantage of conversational artificial intelligence in their interactions with clients.

While the threat of Amazon moving into the financial-advice business continues to attract attention, experts like Scott Smith of Cerulli Associates counter that “the level of nuance and regulation” makes the industry “difficult to scale.”

Keeping up with all things Amazon and beyond is IA25 newbie Dani Fava, director of institutional innovation for TD Ameritrade Institutional, whose focus is to both simplify the lives of independent RIAs and make them more competitive in a digital age. She led the launch of portfolio rebalancing technology iRebal and the Model Market Center, which brings outsourced investment management to RIAs.

“I want to help RIAs better understand these technologies and the potential areas of change and disruption, so that they don’t get left behind,” she told IA, which included her in the inaugural Top Women in Wealthtech list in February.

Fava says her favorite tech tools are Slack and Alexa: “She’s becoming my own personal assistant. I can’t wait to see where Voice-First technology is in five years.”

TD Ameritrade Chief Information Officer Vijay Sankaran heads up both investor and advisor tech programs for the company out of its innovation center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The group works on everything from devices like Pepper the robot to holograph machines.

But it also has focused on ways to let clients access account information on demand without the need to call advisors and for advisors to use the Veo platform’s new virtual assistant to request document delivery through a chat function. It’s all part of the “big picture” goal of making “every associate an innovator” at TDAI, so it can go from “fulfilling ideas to creating ideas” that best support advisors.

Another source of inspiration and cooperation for TD and other firms in the advice business is Apple, led by CEO Tim Cook. In partnership with Goldman Sachs, Apple just launched a mobile-first credit card that works closely with the Wallet iPhone app and has cash-back benefits for Apple-related purchases. Also, it plans to roll out Apple TV+, a video subscription service that will compete with Netflix and others.

“In the long term, I’m extremely bullish. I think the key to the economy, unlocking its potential has always been innovation, and when I travel around the world, I’ve never seen innovation at a more feverish pace than I do today, so I’m extremely optimistic,” Cook said in Beijing earlier this year at an event covered by CNBC.

In the competitive field of platform technology, Eric Clarke is attracting lots of attention these days. The CEO of Orion Advisor Services just announced that Orion’s parent company — NorthStar Financial — and related businesses will be united and rebranded as Orion Advisor Solutions in the fall.

The news of Orion’s rebranding comes several months after rival Envestnet restructured its operations by forming two business groups and just weeks after it moved to buy the MoneyGuide suite of tools for $500 million and to acquire PortfolioCenter, Schwab’s portfolio management and reporting technology.

In response, Orion said RIAs seeking alternatives to PortfolioCenter could use its portfolio-accounting technology for free for nine months. “They make us better in the competitive environment,” Clarke said of Envestnet.

With NorthStar’s announced changes, “We want those on our technology and managed-account sides of the business to gain access to money managers we have on that front. We think our [restructuring and rebranding] definitely will increase our competitiveness in the enterprise marketplace.”

Clarke is set to take on the role of CEO for Orion Advisor Solutions, while continuing to serve as CEO of Orion Advisor Tech (the new name for Orion Advisor Services). “We are excited about the news and hope it simplifies our message to the industry,” he said.


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