The stakes were high for all parties at the recent Technology Tools for Today (T3) Enterprise Conference, held beachside in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The advisor industry’s technology ecosystem all gathered to showcase their wares in front of the big buyers from the larger independent broker-dealers, banks and national RIAs.
“T3 Enterprise is important in so many ways, particularly as these large financial services executives will literally be deciding for the hundreds and even thousands of advisors they support what technology they will be using to work with clients and [to] run their businesses,” said conference host and T3 producer, Joel Bruckenstein.
This theme played out in real time in the conference finale, a panel moderated by Suzanne Siracuse, a well-known industry consultant. Siracuse grilled four CTO’s from Dynasty Financial Partners, Cetera Financial Group, Ladenburg Thalmann, and Cambridge Investment Research on what they were focused on in their businesses to support the thousands of advisor clients.
For David Ballard, SVP for Ladenburg Thalmann, his mandate has been to enhance the client experience, particularly in terms of the technology tools he provides, such as a unified advisor and client portal. “We’re working with INVENT.us to bring a Cloud-native, unified technology environment to upgrade and modernize our technology stack,” Ballard said in his opening remarks. “We are streamlining the technology integration process by outsourcing it to INVENT.us, so for any vendor they need to go through that Cloud-native approach, and it has created tremendous efficiencies and cost savings.” Similarly, Cambridge Investment Research CTO and SVP Nick Graham is on a mission to deploy upgrades across systems, to ensure consistency of data and “remove paper from the process” wherever possible, he noted.
Cetera’s CIO Mike Ragunas focused on ease of doing business, and additionally looking at newer, emerging technologies to help advisors better work with their clients. Interestingly, Ragunas comes from a consumer background and is newer to the wealth management space. However, he said that is an advantage as he’s able to into that background to provide tools to help advisors better understand how clients think, such as with the new facial recognition technology Cetera has deployed, along with more automated marketing tools.
From the platform provider perspective, Dynasty’s CTO Eric Castillo is responding to advisor feedback that they often learn the best from each other. As a result, Castillo is providing a chat feature so that advisors can communicate across the firm’s platforms, as well Dynasty is adding more tools for business intelligence.
What will be the biggest changes in 2020, Siracuse asked the panel. Interestingly, the answers had nothing to do with technology itself, but rather were related to big industry movements from policy and pricing changes that will alter the way advisors will do business and deliver advice.
“By far, the biggest game changer will be the full effects of the elimination of commissions for trades,” said Castillo. “This will provide a big boost to the direct indexing space and have a tremendous negative impact on the need for ETFs and mutual funds as many of the diversification benefits those fund structures provide now can be implemented directly by owning the underlying securities; and because there are no more costs for trading, then that approach to mimic an index is now frictionless and cost-less.”
The technology implications here, according to many experts, are that with zero trading costs, software can take over that space. For example, Orion’s powerful Astro optimization and rebalancing technology can replace the operating costs of ETFs and mutual funds.
Both Graham and Ballard pointed to regulatory changes as it relates to privacy laws and Reg BI. “These state-driven privacy laws are now in 3 states — California, Nevada and Maine — with 11 other states considering them,” said Graham. “Firms will not be able to paper their way out of this in terms of disclosures; there are real technology issues and costs to manage in how client data gets shared.”
Cetera’s Ragunas pointed to the rise of fee-for-service financial planning through subscription and retainer fees, as well as in the gamification of financial planning. This is why he’s investing in the ability to provide alternative pricing for financial planning services two ways: through a deal with Michael Kitces and Alan Moore’s AdvicePay fee-for-service billing and payment technology, along with Envestnet | Money Guide’s Blocks componentization of the planning process into bite-size pieces.