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Tech Headaches, Innovations and Threats in Focus at T3 Event

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The 2020 Technology Tools for Today (T3) Advisor conference — held in February in San Diego —  attracted about 100 technology companies that showcased their RIA-focused innovations and offered some dynamic presentations. For instance, long-absent advisor-tech entrepreneur Reed Colley took to the main stage to launch his latest technology platform — Summit Wealth Systems.

Colley first appeared at T3 more than 12 years ago with the rollout of the cloud-based performance reporting platform Black Diamond, which is known for its elegant interface, ease of use and service excellence. It is a case study in how a young startup can become a leading player in the advisor technology space in only a few years; its platform now has over $1 trillion in assets.

In 2011, Colley sold Black Diamond to Advent Software for $73 million. Four years later, SS&C bought the company for $2.3 billion.

To lay the ground for his new platform, Colley and his team interviewed more than 100 advisors and uncovered their main complaint: Much of their “tech stack,” meaning their “tech pile,” is cumbersome, has multiple systems cobbled together and suffers from feature bloat — making their systems difficult to use and limiting the adoption of most of their key capabilities.

To fix this problem, Colley introduced Summit Wealth Systems — a modern wealth management platform that includes portfolio accounting and reporting, wealth modeling, rebalancing, and client communication capabilities all housed in one unified system.

Built on advanced “cloud-native” technology that includes “micro-services, atomic design and single tenancy,” its novel systems architecture and development methodologies mean Summit Wealth can provide RIAs with their own unique database and each investor client of the RIAs with a “hyper-personalized” experience.

Cloud-Native Tech

Another returning star was Oleg Tishkevich, CEO of cloud-native platform INVENT, which he introduced at last year’s T3 gathering. It now boasts impressive growth numbers: over 10,000 users and $260 billion on the platform.

Tishkevich detailed the many ways cloud-native technology should modernize legacy systems. To fully realize these cloud-native capabilities, though, INVENT needs the cooperation of the gatekeepers in advisor tech —  the custodians.

He made the case that the wealth-tech industry needs to come together and support the major players and custodians controlling innovation in wealth management and encourage them to prioritize resources, foster a sense of urgency and accelerate change — leveraging the promise of cloud-native technologies.

Because every custodian has a different agenda and competitive appetites, getting agreement in operating methodologies, data standards and open application programming interfaces (or APIs) is nearly impossible. For innovation to flourish, it needs to come from the ground up.

The T3 discussion upped the noise and collective worry of the advisor tech industry, which is highly concerned that — with Charles Schwab’s looming acquisition of TD Ameritrade and Schwab’s favoring of its legacy platforms over TD’s — this opportunity will become more and more remote. TDA has been a leader in open architecture with its award-winning and tech-vendor- friendly Veo Open Access initiative.

Compounding this view was the news that a potential challenger to the Schwab/TD Ameritrade merger, E-Trade, could be gobbled up by Morgan Stanley. Virtually everyone at T3 agreed that this development would be the end of E-Trade’s RIA custody business, as no advisor wants to custody with a direct competitor, and no Morgan Stanley advisor wants to have a competitive channel within its own company.

Other T3 Buzz

While these custodian bombshells were dropping, the conference continued with news from Whealthcare Planning that industry veteran Kevin Ruth is joining the company as its interim CEO. He will oversee Whealthcare’s efforts to deliver integrated enterprise solutions.

Ruth led Wealth Planning and Personal Trust at Fidelity Investments (from June 2014 to January 2019) and its Wealth Planning efforts (from July 2013 to June 2014),  and earlier was head of planning, trust and financial products at UBS and private planning at Merrill Lynch. (Fidelity just lost Matthew Chisholm as its head of practice management and consulting for Clearing & Custody Solutions to Commonwealth Financial Network.)

How are these and other announcements and product demos shared at T3? The first day consists of individual keynote talks, enabling advisors to focus on what’s happening at one company (that typically is larger and better funded) at a time. Subsequent days feature sessions of dual keynote presentations happening simultaneously.

On the final day and a half, the main stage is split into thirds to accommodate even more technology content in 12-minute flash sessions, all taking place at the same time. This creates lots of FOMO (fear of missing out) and makes it very difficult for attendees to decide which session to attend.

In addition to the frenetic pace of T3’s last day or so, this event included the much-anticipated results of the T3/Inside Information Advisor Software Survey. T3 host Joel Bruckenstein and industry veteran Bob Veres produced the latest look at the growth and use of technology by advisors.

This year, over 5,000 advisors weighed in on 500-plus applications. Typically, the industry’s largest incumbents maintain their market share advantage; CRM Redtail, for instance, has extended its dominance with a 63% market vs. its nearest rival at 7%.

MoneyGuide and eMoney remain in the top spots in the financial planning category. Riskalyze towers over their competition in the risk category with a 32% market share vs. 6% for its closest competitor.

As for the custodians, the jury is split. Custodial giant Schwab comes in behind TD Ameritrade in both market share and advisor satisfaction, which again triggered advisors and tech vendors’ angst that the award-winning Veo platform may be squashed in TDA’s submission to Schwab.

There is hope, however, as much-admired and liked custodian Shareholders Service Group (SSG) has the top position in terms of advisor satisfaction. Could that provide some solace and a potential new home for the thousands of soon-to-be- disenfranchised RIAs on the TDA platform?

Ultimately, what most concerns Bruckenstein is the low use of cybersecurity applications (7%): “This is the biggest threat to the industry by far, yet advisors are more than complacent, they actually have their heads in the sand.” (To learn more about what went on at T3, check out the many tweets on the #T32020 hashtag on Twitter.)

Timothy D. Welsh, CFP® is President and founder of Nexus Strategy, LLC, a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry, and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @NexusStrategy.


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