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How to Take Networking, Problem Solving to the Next Level

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Doug Fritz, co-founder and president of F2 Strategy, is one of this year’s LUMINARIES in Thought Leadership & Education. Fritz has been working in the industry since 1997 and launched his own firm in 2016. 

F2 Strategy aims to educate wealth managers, family offices, RIAs and other players about the best ways they can align their technology platforms and distribution channels with the client experience their investors expect.

It recently hired Andrea Bornstein-Bayer, a consultant in the wealth-tech and banking sectors for over 25 years, as its chief compliance officer — and its first C-Suite hire. She’ll lead operations to help the firm implement high-tech, research-based solutions for RIAs and wealth firms, as well as banks, trusts and family offices.

Fritz spoke with ThinkAdvisor recently about how his career path in the industry and what makes F2 Strategy, as well as other advice-focused businesses, tick.

How did you get to your current role as president and founder of Santa Cruz, California-based F2 Strategy?

I started out working in international equities with Credit Suisse in Moscow, after double majoring in international business and Russian in college. Then the Russian ruble basically floated, and the Russian stock market crashed. They sent me back to New York, where I did international equities and got involved in Y2K  and euro conversion projects. 

That evolved into consulting. I moved to BearingPoint/KPMG Consulting … and ended up joining one of my clients Wachovia. Next, I got a phone call from my former boss who said, “Hey, I’m now at Wells Fargo out here in California. Can you come out to help us with our portfolio management advisory technology?” I said, “Ye, of course.” 

It was very interesting because I got to see two firms I worked with in the past come together. I also helped put together the advisory desktop technology for the Wells-Wachovia merger and integrate the technology into a single portal concept.

Then I got a call from First Republic, and they said, “Hey, we really need someone that’s a CTO to come in and help build out a highly scalable RIA trust and brokerage platform. Can you come over and build that sort of integrated platform?” I spent about three years at First Republic building out their advisor desktop technology.

When it came to my next step, I remembered that I’d never had a consultant in my office that had done my job and had actually done the work of technology implementation, worked with advisors and software companies, signed contracts and got people using the tools. Never. They just were strategy people by trade. 

So my idea was to form a consulting firm that actually was full of folks that had done these things … and could tell clients not just what to do but how to do it and help them get it done. That’s what F2 is. 

We’ve been lucky enough to have really good contacts and credibility within the industry. Some of my friends have become employees, like Scott Lamont, former CTO of Brown Brothers Harriman. We’ve had a phenomenal amount of credentialed support from the industry, and that’s what’s allowed us to grow.

What’s the F2 in F2 Strategy stand for?

Fritz and Fritz, since I started it with my wife Liz, who has a marketing, communications and wealth management background. She was actually even an assistant portfolio manager for a period of time. 

Most people in 2021 don’t work with their spouses. But I think every person in the country is probably on average between two and three generations removed from when everybody’s parents worked together on a farm or at a deli, shop or bodega on the corner.

That’s just how many people worked in the past. It’s actually quite natural to have a husband and wife business, and it isn’t as weird as most people probably think it is. 

F2 Strategy has proprietary research that includes the views of 70-plus wealth management chief technology officers (CTOs) and other technology executives. Can you tell us about it? 

I started it because there were groups like this back when I was a CTO and a lot of those groups have gone away. When I was a CTO, I would join these CTO forums, and I could sit in a room with people that were going through the exact same problems that I was going through. 

I could ask them questions like: “How did you get Salesforce to work? Who have you worked with? What are you paying for all this stuff?” And I couldn’t get that anywhere else. If you’re a CTO, it’s a really lonely job, especially in wealth management, where you can be the only person in the entire organization that really understands technology and its impacts on the business.

So to get together with people that have the same challenges, have tried things and [whether] they’ve been successful or not, this contact was incredibly valuable, and it’s also just like group therapy to some extent. 

I realized that there was probably a lot of value [in such an effort that could]… help my team be better as consultants. The more we know about best practices in the industry, what wealth management firms are doing and how models work and don’t work really makes us much better consultants for our clients. 

We started off about three and a half years ago, initially in partnership with the Money Management Institute, and it was fun. People really loved the fact that we weren’t making money off it. We weren’t selling their data anywhere. 

It’s like “Fight Club” a secret, you-don’t-talk-about-it tech board. We don’t have a LinkedIn page and don’t want a lot of publicity. We do share our research. We just don’t share who is in that group.

Collectively, F2 takes information [from the group], aggregates it, anonymizes it and says, “These are the trends that are going on in the space right now across a very large set of diverse companies.” 

Hopefully it’s valuable to the rest of the industry. We use it as a way to share our findings and help the industry move forward. But really it’s a result of the fact that we collectively love being in the room with our peers and sharing and hearing about how we’ve navigated challenges.

How do you see the impact of this effort on the industry? 

That’s really where a lot of our published research comes from. If you go to F2′s website and you click on our research and then our insight sections, a lot of those insights come from our aggregation of knowledge about what’s going on in the industry. 

We just published research on data aggregation, for instance, who’s doing it and how they are doing it. There are very different ways to aggregate data through different mechanisms. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re going to get the wrong information. 

We have another tech board session coming up in October. That’s going to be around workflow automation and how to automate great experiences. 

Until now, no other consulting firm had really been able to address the mid-size market because it’s not really scalable to do so in a traditional consulting sense. The outsourced CTO model, the sort of retainer-based fractional share sort of participation in this bigger team, has been a game changer for our clients. 

That’s where the majority of our growth has come. And we are growing in this space. … We’re hiring former CTOs and former executives from well-known wealth firms. Going into 2022, the larger firms are starting to say, “Hey, now you’re big. Can you be a big consulting firm and work with us?” 

Unintentionally, this growth has led to more growth. Now we’re in a mode of saying, “We want F2 to be the place where all of the best implementation design strategy minds in our industry come and to have a monopoly on the best technology, wealthtech advice, tech planning and tech people in the country.”

I’m actively looking at hiring former CTOs, former heads of digital and former heads of advisor technology from well-known firms, small and large.