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How Thought Leadership Is Front and Center for Advisors Today

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What You Need to Know

  • As the wealth management industry confronts monumental change, new and innovative thinking is required.
  • Giving clients the advice they need for the future is essential, Ric Edelman says.
  • Thought leadership combines expertise, vision and courage, Schwab Chief Digital Officer Neesha Hathi says.

The financial services industry is undergoing a huge amount of change as it adjusts to demographic, technological and other shifts. As a result, advisors and firms need new and innovative thinking on how the industry can best adopt and thrive.

This is the broad take on thought leadership from the judges of this year’s inaugural ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES, a groundbreaking program that recognizes the individuals, firms and programs working to move the industry forward in thought leadership and three other areas (diversity and inclusion, executive leadership and deal-making/growth). 

“Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why are we doing it that way? How can we be doing it better? What are we not doing that we need to do? What is or what might be coming, and what must we do to prepare?” asked Ric Edelman, founder of Edelman Financial Engines.

“It’s essential we focus on these and related questions so we can make sure the advice we give our clients is the advice they need for the future,” explained Edelman, who also founded the Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals. “And we must then make sure all advisors are asking and answering these questions and altering their practices accordingly, for the benefit of all investors everywhere.”

The Right Mix

Thought leadership is “a combination of three attributes expertise, vision and courage,” according to Charles Schwab Chief Digital Officer Neesha Hathi. “During times of transformation like the period of change our industry is experiencing right now, thought leadership is particularly critical.”

Why is it so important? “It helps us consider new perspectives, keep our eye on the potential that the future holds and inspire important conversations on what we, as an industry, need to do to innovate and steer our companies and our marketplace toward a better future for those we serve,” Hathi explained.

To Mark Tibergien, the former head of BNY Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions, thought leadership is about people in positions of influence sharing “ideas, observations and insights that cause a community or industry to contemplate the implications for them and their businesses, and to take action to drive a better outcome.”

Other judges agree, such as Aneri Jambusaria, LPL Financial’s head of strategy, new ventures and analytics. Since financial advice is “a relatively new discipline, where the rules are changing constantly as customer needs, institutions and regulations evolve, thought leadership is critical to driving better outcomes for clients by enabling advisors and companies to harness the latest thinking,” she explained. 

Key Issues in Focus

While thought leadership encompasses a wide range of topics, Jambusaria says she is especially “energized” by the industry’s focus on clients who have been “historically underserved by the financial advice industry.” 

This includes the LGBTQ+ community, adults with special needs and individuals with cognitive decline. “We are truly on the cutting edge of figuring out how to make the system work for everyone,” she explained. 

For Tibergien, these are among the most interesting issues for thought leaders in the industry today: how to make the advice business a compelling career choice; financial literacy; and diversity, equity and inclusion for those who work in the industry and the communities they serve. 

When it comes to model thought leaders, Tibergien points to people who are active in the industry like blogger and planner Michael Kitces (of, Buckingham Strategic Wealth and XYPN Planning Network), Ensemble Practice CEO Philip Palaveev and Ross Levin, co-founder of Accredited Investors.

For Hathi, the changes and potential we’re seeing in trends related to the data economy, personalization and values-based investing, and crowd-sourced investing” are most exciting. “All of these areas will change the face of our industry in the future,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Edelman sees exponential technologies in general and blockchain and digital assets in particular” as a developing area of thought leadership. “These innovations are changing every aspect of life on the planet,” he said.