7 Key Trends from the TD Ameritrade Conference – Day 2

TD Ameritrade’s annual advisor conference always provides an interesting glimpse into future trends in financial technology. The firm’s agnostic approach to technology means that its advisors have access to a wide variety of established and emerging solutions.

National LINC 2016 brought a wide range informative and entertaining sessions.  Digital channels, social media and tech tips from top advisors were some of the highlights that are covered below.   We’ve gathered seven of the key takeaways from the conference, as posted on Twitter, and wrapped commentary around them to provide you with a quick summary of the day’s action.

1. There are Digital Opportunities in Wealth Management Today

  • Mark Bruno, Associate Publisher, InvestmentNews
  • David Lyon, CEO, Oranj
  • Niko Karvounis, Chief Strategy Officer, Quovo

Traditional advisory firms that don’t stay abreast of the latest technology solutions will eventually find themselves outside the industry. How and when they use technology to meet their objectives is what is important. Firms must leverage technology to succeed in the modern financial landscape. (See Oranj David Lyon: We’re The Un-Robo-Advisor)

In 2016, advisors are likely to find regulatory agencies have become more aggressive in their investigations. Advisors can’t expect to show up to an SEC audit with unorganized boxes of paper. They need to work with a partner that understands how to automate their compliance needs. (See 25 Awesome Financial Advisor Technology Tools)

TD Ameritrade has always taken an open approach to technology decisions on the VEO platform instead of picking winners and losers. While this requires more legwork for their technology staff around integration and support, it gives advisors a wider range of options.

TD’s advisor platform, VEO, is a completely open one when it comes to supporting a wide variety of financial tools. If you are an advisor at the firm you can click on a list of the software they support and it will inform you with a graphical interface whether or not and to what degree a certain tool is integrated on the platform. This has enabled them to turn VEO into a technology hub for advisors. (See The Battle for the RIA Technology Integration Hub)

I agree with this. You don’t want to seek growth for growth’s sake. Firms trying to increase productivity without also improving the client experience aren’t likely to grow as fast as those who focus on the client even while improving their technology offerings.

2. Social Media is a Critical Aspect of Advisory Success

  • Blane Warrene, Member Board of Directors, QuonWarrene

Advisors must be as organized about their marketing as they are about their other business processes.  Social media has become a huge part of all successful firms’ marketing efforts, especially to Millennials.

These successful firms plan their social media strategy and execute it with gusto.  They understand how their clients communicate on social media, they hire the right resources and set realistic goals.

But consistency is the foundation that support a social media strategy. All the firm’s accounts should have the same logo, branding, and supporting material as their website.  Simple information such as business hours, location, email address and phone numbers should be up to date.

And once the essentials are in place, create a social media calendar to make sure the selected channels that are chosen stay updated regularly with valuable content.  (See 6 Ways that Socialware Can Save Advisors from Social Media Failure)

I read this chart as saying that 56% of millennials are only willing to spare an hour or less to speak to an advisor, if at all. This is another metric demonstrating that advisors need a digital channel to succeed with this demographic. Online, low-touch solutions are accessible and can quickly provide Millennials with any information they need.

Working with Millennials is not something advisors should take lightly. They are not all poor college students or entry-level workers – a significant portion of them have assets to work with. The level of assets they possess isn’t necessarily a significant barrier to adding them as clients. Robo-advisors should be able to scale and handle large numbers of small accounts for a low incremental cost.

While there is a small, but growing segment of Millennials that have more than $250,000 to invest, this feature of the platforms allows advisors to focus on the demographic as a whole. Even those without substantial assets can be brought on board with the hope that over time they will be able to add assets. (See Craig Iskowitz: Robo-Advisors Can Not Live by Millennials Alone: ASI’s Andrew Rudd)

3. Innovative ideas Are Already Changing Wealth Management

  • Alexey Sokolin, Partner and Chief Operating Officer, Vanare

A lot of firms would love to become the Yelp! of financial advisors by acting as a gatekeeper for investors choosing a financial advisor. This is a difficult task to accomplish as the relationship investors have with advisors is a complicated one – it is not just based on discrete transactions like buying dinner.

Investors don’t generally choose an advisor the same way they might shop for a car. They don’t check Consumer Reports and look up an advisor’s rating. Instead, they are more likely to treat the process the same as they would finding a doctor and make their choice more on the basis of referrals from friends than from reviews on the web. The concept also would face compliance issues in terms of the type of information eligible for disclosure. (See Can The Power of the Crowd Disrupt Financial Advice?)

Application programming interfaces, or APIs, are a standard method for systems from different vendors to communicate.  When people talk about financial APIs, it is something like a CRM program sending contact data to a financial planning application.

How important APIs are depends on the technology approach your firm takes. If you lean more towards an all-in-one solution from a single vendor, APIs are not as important since there are few, if any other applications around that need data.

If your firm prefers a best of breed approach, then APIs become a critical part of building seamless integration with other systems. This process can become a clunky nightmare if the APIs are buggy or do not provide access to the key data points required.  This makes it important to examine the APIs offered by your software providers in addition to examining their core functionality.

I was recently interviewed for a podcast by Hearsay social, where I spoke about some future trends I see developing in the industry. One that I think is around 5-10 years away is automating risk tolerance questionnaires.

Normally, when people are asked about their risk tolerance they don’t necessarily really understand the concept. As a result, their answers can give a false impression of their actual aversion or acceptance of risk. By gathering aggregated data and feeding it into sophisticated algorithms, firms like Envestnet | Yodlee, Quovo or Intuit will be able to calculate investors’ risk tolerance based on billions of financial transactions. This will result in a more accurate risk score and portfolios that are better suited to investors’ needs.

(Check out my interview from Hearsay Social: HSonAir Podcast: Interview with Craig Iskowitz of the Ezra Group)

Crowdfunding sites are already gaining traction. Kickstarter has raised nearly a billion dollars to date. That is real money any way you look at it!

Equity crowdfunding is based on existing methodology used by peers such as Indiegogo, but they offer actual ownership of the companies instead of rewards.  StartEngine led the way in this emerging sector in 2015. The company, which is not a bank, but rather an online platform connecting entrepreneurs and investors, attracted over $47 million in share reservations for innovative automaker Elio Motors and approximately $18 million in reservations for aviation firm XTI Aircraft.

As people become more comfortable with non-financial players becoming involved in the investment process it will transform the financial landscape as we know it. An article I wrote about Snapchat’s move to develop a robo-advisor covers this trend in greater detail (See How a Snapchat Robo Advisor Could Rock the Industry):

“This has more to do with the demographics of the platform’s audience than any lack of trust. In my estimation, the Millennial generation is more likely to work with non-financial entities than any preceding generation. Individuals in this generation have experienced a tectonic shift in attitudes towards such businesses in the course of growing up with smart phones and social media as an integral part of their lives.”

(See also Can the Power of the Crowd Disrupt Financial Advice?)

4. Top Performing Advisors Leverage Technology to Maintain Their Edge

Moderated by: Joel Bruckenstein, Publisher, Technology Tools for Today

  • Heather Robertson Fortner, Chief Compliance Officer & Chief Operating Officer, Signature FD
  • Mark Pearson, President & Chief Investment Officer, Nepsis Capital Management, Inc.
  • Jim Cannon, Founder & CEO, Dynamic Wealth Advisors

Jemstep features topnotch technology, so this acquisition should not scare advisors away from using the product. I’ve written previously that Invesco would be foolish to do anything to prevent other advisors from using the product. While it’s always possible that they do, I think it would be counterproductive on their part. More likely, in my opinion, is that Jemstep, along with other up-and-coming robo advisors, starts to challenge the established platforms by innovating. (See 3 Thoughts on Why Invesco Acquiring Jemstep Was A Smart Move)

Cannon’s firm has put together an impressive cloud-based technology infrastructure.  Orion has been quietly building out their platform from their core portfolio accounting outsourcing to offer a complete wealth management solution. They have announced integrations with Wealth Access for client portals, Advizr for financial planning and Invesco Jemstep for digital channels.

His firm will be well-positioned to respond to regulatory requests with their compliance efforts supported by Erado.  They provide archiving of all incoming and outgoing communications, including email, social media and mobile.  The peace of mind that this provides to firms is invaluable and greatly reduces the potential for hits to their reputation due to advisor mistakes.

(See Orion Advisor Services Pumps Up Financial Planning with ASI Integration)

While advisors can use Outlook as a CRM, it is not an efficient tool for prospecting or managing clients. Solutions like Redtail and Junxure are both built specifically for advisors. They provide functionality such as contact management and annual reviews allowing you to keep in touch with and build stronger relationships with your clients. Salesforce is trying to catch up by building their own platform for financial advisors. (See Salesforce seeks to disrupt adviser-facing CRM market with launch of wealth management portal)

The market share numbers presented in the slide seem skewed to me in that they appear to include too many non-RIA respondents such as broker-dealer advisors. They also don’t include CRMs that are part of end-to-end platforms such as Tamarac. Tamarac has a wealth management platform just for RIAs with a substantial amount of users.

As of right now, industry-specific CRM providers are dominating the market, according to a 2015 InvestmentNews Adviser Technology Study. The study showed 27% of respondents using Redtail and another 26% using Junxure, compared to the 9% using Salesforce. (See Which CRM is Right for You? Envestnet|Tamarac’s Advisor CRM)

5. Attracting the Right Clients Requires Consistency

  • Lindsay Troxell, Senior Business Solutions Relationship Consultant, TD Ameritrade Institutional
  • Jay Wampler, Senior Business Solutions Relationship Consultant, TD Ameritrade Institutional

I would agree with these although I feel pricing should be lower. If you have the right marketing and the right branding, pricing not as important. Introductions and branding are essentially the same thing, so there are actually 4 rather than 5 items on the list. If you get the first three things right then people will pick you to invest with; they aren’t going to be deterred from working with you because you charge 10 or 20 basis points more than your competition. They will pick you because your prospecting is effective at bringing in a steady stream of clients with the right type of demographics.

As for prospecting, the following article I wrote about hosting events presents some ideas on the topic. (See 5 Ways to Break Out of the Box and Host Effective Client Events)

6. There are Two Secrets to Building a Memorable Advisor Brand

  • Joe Steuter, Director of Marketing, Peak Advisor Alliance

This number is way too low.  I would expect it has to do with the way the question was asked.  Seeing how consumer preferences have morphed over the past 10-15 years away from brick-and-mortar and in-person contact and onto the web, I think more investors would want to interact with online channels than 39%.

According to a survey done by Wells Fargo, when asked about different ways to get financial advice, 71% of investors say that having access to online or digital investing tools is somewhat or very important to them. Accenture also did a survey that showed 68% of investors are comfortable with never actually actually meeting their advisor face-to-face.

7. iRebal is Making Headway with RIAs

This is 1,700 firms, so the number of advisors using the product is much higher.  It is an impressive increase on a decent base. it is even more impressive considering how long TD Ameritrade let iRebal run on auto-pilot since they acquired them back in 2007 until around 2014, when they launched the cloud version, iRebal for VEO.

Of course, giving their rebalancing software away for free, only on assets custodied with them, is a terrific incentive for advisors to at least try it out.  But the right mix of functionality and useability must be there for advisors to commit to the software and convert their accounts over.

iRebal has shown that it still is in the game and their product team has continually improved it, with leaps and bounds coming in the past 18 months.  They offer a wide array of rebalancing options including a household-level, for more holistic service to clients.  As well as more complex feature like security equivalents that allow an advisor to swap a position form their model, but iRebal will only buy it for new positions and will not sell any legacy holdings.  This is a great tool for reducing clients’ tax impact.  (See What’s New in Portfolio Rebalancing Tools?)

I had never heard this statistic before.  Although, I would like then to redo this survey across all TDA advisors and see what the results are.  Those attending the iRebal session at the national conference a probably a tiny bit more gung ho about rebalancing than the average advisor.  Just a hunch.

But explaining your rebalancing process could be a valuable part of a client relationship.  Especially if you have a tool that is as powerful and flexible as iRebal.

OK.  Now things are getting a bit silly.  This isn’t an episode of Oprah.  Although, she would be a fantastic keynote speaker, if you could get her.

Announcements

No industry conference would be complete without its share of press releases about new products, services and partnerships.

The new Vanare solution is built on top of the Foliodynamix wealth management platform. Taking advantage of this preexisting infrastructure allowed Vanare to expand its robo-advisor product to include more features than most of its peers right from the start. Foliodynamix already had unified managed accounts (UMAs), and the Vanare platform adds to that with a proposal system and robust asset allocation functionality, among other features (NestEgg Roboadvisor).

The asset allocation system automatically puts assets in the proper asset category for the purposes of tax efficiency, a function that isn’t found in most robo advisors, forcing advisors to do the job by hand. The Vanare platform is also able to perform sophisticated model management. It can handle a number of different models spread out across accounts and also make models of models – for instance incorporating a fixed income and equity model within an overall portfolio model. (See Can Client-Directed UMA’s Help Defend Against Robo-Advisors?)

Considering what I just wrote about Vanare, this announcement seems a bit underwhelming at first glance. However, I am reserving judgement until I have my call on Monday with Barrett Ayers, Chief Solutions Officer, Adhesion Wealth.  I do have a high opinion of all of the players involved in this announcement. But can Riskalyze support the myriad of partnerships they have gotten into?  Sometimes a small firm can bite off more than they can chew… (See Smart and Agile: Riskalyze and Quovo Help Advisors Stay Ahead of Robos)

I agree with this while noting that the industry should be focused on attracting more advisors of all types. With an average advisor age of 55, there is a looming advisor shortage in the industry, with advisors retiring faster than new ones can be hired.

Firms may be better able to attract clients such as female CEOs or entrepreneurs if they add female advisors to their ranks. Plus why avoid half of the population? If a firm is bringing on new advisors, why not add a representative amount of females? Equal numbers can only help when it comes to brainstorming and building a gender neutral environment.

A company that I find very interesting in this regard is Advizr.com. This startup has built a lightweight financial planning tool that is making inroads in the industry and beyond. The design of the platform is intuitive and beautiful to look at, which is not often the case with financial planning tools. While it doesn’t possess all the functionality of a solution like eMoney Advisor, it has more than enough tools to get the job done.

Advizr.com is made for advisors who aren’t heavy planners. It’s a perfect solution for advisors launching an additional wealth management platform or attempting to attract younger clients. Along with its simpler core functionality comes a reduced price as compared to more heavy-duty solutions in the sector. Partnering the product with Quovo for data aggregation is an option advisors using the product may want to consider.

Some robo advisors offer basic financial planning ideas – but this is not the same as offering a real financial plan. An advisor can give investors a more holistic view of their investing strategy as it relates to their financial objectives as a whole. Rather than getting bogged down in terminology and stats that may just confuse clients, advisors should walk through the planning process at a high level. To this end, offering true financial planning functionality via a streamlined solution such as Advizr.com can help set you apart from robos.

The Advizr.com platform can offer insurance analysis, which is not something most low end tools can handle. Plus, it allows for collaboration with clients via online tools making for a hybrid solution – something no robo advisor can do. By offering core financial tools without lots of bells and whistles that still give you what you need to deliver a solid financial plan to your clients you can add value for your clients and differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

TD Ameritrade National LINC Conference

Day 2 was great mix of technology information and practice management advice presented by some of the best and brightest in the industry.  While I’m sure you would have rather been in Orlando, FL experience this all first hand, by reading the top tweets of the conference with commentary is the next best thing.

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