The Top 10 WMToday Posts from 2016

Craig’s Note: I love these summary articles because they’re a great way to re-purpose content while providing you, our loyal readers, with a handy overview of the year gone by.  Robo-Advisors are still a hot topic, although I believe a B2C shakeup is likely in 2017.  Portfolio rebalancing tools have been a staple on this blog since it started.  And our Women in FinTech was a success and will kick off a series that will run throughout 2017.
As we look back on the past twelve months, one thing we learned was that it’s impossible to predict exactly how technology will change our industry.  But we know change will come and companies will find new ways to leverage old tools.  While it’s true that digital advice (robo-advisors) was the most popular subject matter, the myriad of options and implementations boggles the mind.  Some posts were about integrating robo technology and how it will accelerate shifts in assets (#9, #5, #2), while others were about traditional B2C platforms (#3) and alternatives (#1).
Thanks for tuning in and we’re looking forward to an equally exciting 2017!

#10: Women in FinTech: A Missing Pieces of the Puzzle
women fintech

Look around the halls of conference centers and asset management offices and you will observe that only 15% of the crowd is women. That trends seems to hold true for the FinTech world despite recruiting efforts, specialized conferences and educational initiatives. We connected with three successful women who have made their mark in the field to talk about the state of the industry and get their take on what it takes to make it.
For this article, we were fortunate to get valuable insights from Tina Powell (founder of robo-advisor SheCapital), Ramona Ortega (founder of a personal financial platform My Money My Future) and Sharon Liebowitz (CEO of Meritam Investment Advisors). All three female FinTech players that we interviewed emphasized the importance of identifying an existing service gap, building a nurturing a support network and taking risks. After all, there is no playbook for building a successful platform – but learning from the best can save you time and headaches.

#9: 3 Reasons DigitalPlus Advisors Will Topple the Robos

digital adviceContinuing with the robo theme, 2016 brought further proof that automated platforms are unlikely to eliminate the need for traditional financial advisors. As Vanguard and Charles Schwab continue to snap up AUM with their digital offerings, we seem to have an emerging winner in the DigitalPlus model. That development is not surprising: after all, only a small portion of financial advice can be fully automated. However, firms that are successful at leveraging technology to identify need and create an outstanding client experience will be well-positioned to dominate the field.
client engagementRaise your hand if you have plenty of time to generate original content that connects with your prospective clients and get it through compliance on a regular basis. You are not alone: most advisors are stumped by this task and make a half-hearted effort on the social media front just to conclude that “it does not work”. Can the situation be salvaged? You guessed it – with the right technology, advisors can now streamline content sharing, maximize their reach and even prospect more effectively. Grapevine6, Vestorly and AdvisorStream are just three platforms that deserve a good look.

#7: The Data Whisperer: How Yodlee Plans to Revolutionize Financial Advice

Envestnet’s acquisition of Yodlee for an awe-inspiring price tag of $590M raised many eyebrows back in 2015. Some experts applauded the decision while many others were downright critical. It looks like the power couple has settled in just fine. 2016 has seen the two companies create synergies and value in ways that could revolutionize wealth management. Between advanced-capability predictive analytics and improved visibility into the holistic picture of the clients’ finances, advisors get access to a tool that can create better outcomes and forge strong bonds with client families. Yodlee’s focus on taking diverse and cross-platform data and turning it into actionable insights is impressive and Envestnet seems well-positioned to benefit from the early

#6: The Hidden Secrets of Portfolio Rebalancing by Michael Kitces

portfolio rebalancing softwareEvery advisor is familiar with the concept of rebalancing. Most have even moved away from cumbersome Excel spreadsheets by now. However, there is still much disagreement in the industry about just which rebalancing method yields the best results. This article is based on best practices for rebalancing as shared by Michael Kitces on stage at the 2016 IMCA conference. We reached out to other industry experts to get their take on Kitces’ analysis. The post covers the state of the industry for rebalancing software and offers some unconventional yet well-supported advice.

#5: TD Ameritrade Rides the RoboAdvisor Wave with Latest iRebal

 TD Ameritrade positioned the latest iteration of iRebal as “Intel inside”. With 6 external partners currently leveraging iRebal to boost the capabilities of their digital advice platforms, the rebalancer’s audience has seen impressive growth. We had an opportunity to test-drive iRebal and walked away impressed with the depth of trading rule customization options and tax-aware asset location. The tool is a great fit for advisors with sophisticated clients, although custodian choice is limited to TD Ameritrade.
Technology platforms are competing to become every advisor’s tool of choice. From facilitating behavioral coaching to offering beautiful client portals, adding in social media integration, data aggregation and analysis and opportunities to scale with automated processes,  you have a considerable menu of choices. Our advice is to start with an overarching strategy, talk to experts and ask for advice to maximize the long-term benefit of your decision. After all, chasing after the shiniest new toy on the market will only get you so far!

#3: Wealthfront Revs Up With AI, But Is Still Running on Fumes

Wealthfront2016 was off to a rocky start for Wealthfront. Five years into the game, the once-promising platform has found itself floundering as Betterment, Charles Schwab and Vanguard proceeded to snap up AUM. In an effort to revitalize Wealthfront’s appeal, the robo-advisor rolled out a host of new features including an artificial intelligence engine to analyze user behavior, an upgraded dashboard and integration capabilities for a list of financial apps. Unfortunately for Wealthfront, the efforts are likely to land a little late. Wealthfront is in a fight for its survival – not just against more disruptive and innovative robos but also against traditional advisors armed with digital platform capabilities.

#2: Will Top Gun RIAs Flock to Adhesion’s Robo-Advisor Platform?

Our second most-read and shared post for 2016 was on a broad trend we have seen in technology investment choices made by large RIAs. It seems like they have all received the same memo: check an automated advice platform off the list or fade into obscurity. We set our sights on  Adhesion’s EFT Select which is billed as the “first open architecture digital advice platform for RIAs”. A collaboration between Adhesion Wealth Advisors, Riskalyze and TD Ameritrade, the new platform has a lot of attractive features. We liked its streamlined account opening functionality and Riskalyze-powered proposal generation engine. We think advisors will appreciate the nice addition of iRebal courtesy of TD Ameritrade. Built-in Tax Alpha tools are also attractive. We will continue to watch EFT Select to see if the appeal of the open architecture combined with a powerful engine will prove capable of creating a wave.
Drum roll please for the most read and shared post from 2016…

#1: How a Snapchat RoboAdvisor Could Rock the Industry

Snapchat RoboadvisorIt began with a rumor of Snapchat developing its own roboadvisor service and became the launching pad for bigger questions. What would a social media roboadvisor look like? More importantly, what would it mean for the industry as a whole? The premise is an interesting one given the wide-spread reach and name recognition of social media platforms. Our verdict is that if a Snapchat robo were to be introduced, it would probably be similar to Acorns in focus. The under-25 users of the app are likely to flock to a savings app over a pure EFT investment one. A Snapchat robo might also discover what other automated platforms are learning now: people’s appetite for shiny new technologies wanes when markets hit a bump. With stiff competition from industry behemoths like Charles Schwab and market uncertainty, Snapchat’s ability to attract the crowds and take business away from incumbents remains to be seen.

Top 10 WMToday Posts for 2016

And that wraps up the year! As we ring in 2017, we are grateful to all the readers of WMToday. Thank you for making this one of the most popular blogs in the financial industry! Make sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter so that you don’t miss a post.

Grapevine6: A Social Media Secret Weapon for Advisors

Maintaining engagement with clients and prospects has always been a costly and time-consuming, yet critical task for financial advisors. Social media has provided a free communications channel, but it does not reduce the effort required to locate or create and distribute captivating content.

It has been a perennial industry puzzle: how can advisors effectively leverage networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to engage contacts in a way that is scalable, adds value, and helps to identify new sales opportunities?

Enter digital content management platforms. At their core, they all promise the same thing: engaging content that is curated and distributed with minimal effort from advisors.

Some platforms, like Vestorly, are powered by an artificial intelligence engine and offer highly scalable and individual customization. Others, like AdvisorStream or Hearsay Social, promise to ease the compliance headaches with 100% pre-approved content. In this field of options, Grapevine6 provides a unique blend of features that RIA’s and broker-dealers will find useful for curating and distributing content for advisors.

client engagement

Mike Orr, one of the founders of Grapevine6, describes the platform as a tool created to help advisors sell via social media. It is delivered via both a desktop and mobile app that allows advisors to share content, publish it to numerous social networks and integrate relevant events into an their prospecting workflow. The individual version of the software is free, with enterprise options and extra services available.

Curated Content for Client Outreach

Grapevine6 was built to simplify content sharing and improve client engagement, Orr explained. With 6,000 online publishers and 50,000 articles added daily, the volume of content on the platform is more than enough to meet the needs of any firm.

Advisors can select their preferred social networks and content sources to narrow the pool of recommended articles. This is important, because the quality of curation determines whether contacts enjoy the shared articles or cringe with one look at the suggested titles.

But curation quality is only one part of the solution. The other is interest matching. In a perfect world, each advisor would know their clients and prospects well enough to customize every message to suit their professional and personal interests. Unfortunately, this is never the case. So, the Grapevine6 team developed an algorithm that can analyze content interaction history to continually improve tclient engagementhe relevance of content being distributed.

One issue I found with all of these tools is the lack of content customization when you first start using them.  There is no way for the apps to gather information about the interests of the clients and prospects.  So, the first series of posts are a bit of a crapshoot as advisors broadcast content that they think might be interesting, but at the start, is nothing more than educated guessing as to what their contacts might click on.

All of the firms we spoke to claim that their engines learn as people interact with the content by clicking on the links and/or forwarding them to others.  They interpret these actions as expressing interest in the topic(s) of the content and adjust the future content being sent out accordingly.

Sharing a Firm’s Own Content

Grapevine6 subscribers are not limited only to syndicated content. At the enterprise level, firms create pre-populated content streams of internally generated content.  Their advisors can then select content from these streams or even share their own blog posts, videos, and articles by adding those to an editable stream.Grapevine6 social medial

Of course, regulators require that all advisor-generated content go through an approval process before it is allowed to be shared externally.  Grapevine6 provides a workflow for compliance, marketing and other departments to approve content in any stream.

Vestorly takes this functionality one step further by offering to host advisor blogs, podcasts, and other content document directly on their platform.  Based on conversations with Vestorly, some of their subscribers use their own content exclusively. That approach seems like a good fit for firms that have the resources to generate high-quality content and wish to benefit from robust data analytics that power Vestorly’s algorithms.

The approaches to distributing content differs among the vendors.  Grapevine6 and AdvisorStream both push selected content out via social media networks, mainly LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  This is similar to social media management tools such as Buffer, SproutSocial or Hootsuite, which also has a reseller agreement with Grapevine6.

Vestorly is the outlier. While they support posting content via social media, they prefer to distribute content via email.  Their application bundles articles together into slick newsletters that are white labeled for their clients.  This method reduces complexity for the advisors, but also limits the breadth of reachable contacts.

Similar to Grapevine6, Vestorly integrates with social media management app Hootsuite, which can manage multiple streams of outbound content.  My consulting firm is a heavy user of Hootsuite for scheduling content across all of our networks, so this connectivity would be a critical requirement if we were selecting a curation tool, as it would be for any advisory firm.

Prospecting With Grapevine6

An upcoming feature of Grapevine6 that should spark interest is their “Opportunity Card”.  Their algorithms will scan the news for events that can result in money movement, such as an executive job change, a company being acquired, or an IPO. The dashboard will present subscribers with a list of trigger events, and advisors will be able to pre-select event types they are most interested in.

client engagement

Any time a local event in the news trips the trigger, an Opportunity Card will pop up on the advisor’s interface. The advisor will have the option to keep the opportunity or pass on it. If the advisor chooses to keep the opportunity, Grapevine6 will suggest next actionable steps for follow up. Depending on the event, those may include reading up on the executive affected by the event, connecting with him on LinkedIn, or using other social media to connect and engage. All of these options will be automatically linked and accessible with a single click.

This new capability is currently in beta test mode, and the early results are encouraging. Mike Orr shared a story of an advisor who received an Opportunity Card with a lead on a local company getting acquired. Three founders in their early 20’s were about to walk away with a lot of money. The advisor reached out to them on LinkedIn, discovered they did not have a financial advisor, and offered a meeting. Eventually, he was able to close all three of them as clients. That is impressive.

Hearsay Social has similar functionality that monitors ‘social signals’ in order to identify money-in-motion events.

Something that I would like to see Grapevine6 add is the option of capturing new leads through content sharing. Vestorly does this every time content is shared and directs them into the clients’ CRM so they become part of the prospecting workflow.  (See 3 Strategies for Digital Client Engagement With Vestorly)

Convenience and Ease of Use

When an advisor buys a subscription to a digital content platform, they want to get a stream or a library of on-brand articles and the ease of building an editorial calendar in a few clicks per week. Grapevine6, Vestorly, and AdvisorStream are all an upgrade over having to spend hours on the Internet digging forclient engagement content to share. The build-in automation can create highly scalable customization, although from what I could see AdvisorStream ranks lowest of the three on that front.

Grapevine6 delivers on the both convenience and scalability fronts. I like that the platform’s algorithm suggests optimal time for publishing a post, since that gives it the best chance of being read. It can also suggest opportunities to share content again based on different reading patterns across social networks. Timing is good, but what does the platform do to suggest the best-fit articles?

Visual interest map is the answer. This feature is unique to Grapevine6 and adds a lot of value in my opinion. The system can analyze the subscriber’s own social presence brand, as well as the interests of every contact. It then presents those interests in a compelling and clear visual map that conveys the balance of topics. Would you like more article suggestions about retirement planning and fewer about artisanal chocolates? No problem. Just tweak the graphs with simple levers and watch the recommended library change immediately.

One feature that Grapevine6 is missing right now is CRM integration. Advisors can import their contacts from social networks, but full CRM integration is under development. According to Orr, Salesforce is first on their list for integration in upcoming releases.

User Interactions and Analytics

client engagementBecause of the lack of CRM integration, Grapevine6 analytics are a bit weak. As of now, it is not possible to get insight into the articles read at the individual prospect level. Advisors have visibility into which platforms are generating the most engagement, and which posts create the most interest in terms of likes, shares, and clicks. That is enough to inform content selection, but not great for specific prospecting.

This gap in functionality stands in sharp contrast to Vestorly that tracks all interactions down to the contact level. With Vestorly, advisors can see every single article ever read by a prospect. With that level of intelligence, an advisor can gauge the prospect’s engagement level and topics of interest. That allows for strategic follow-up and creates potential for more business.

Compliance and Brand Safety

At the enterprise level, Grapevine6 subscribers get the benefit of an automated brand policy and compliance safety scans. This functionality is particularly critical in a brand-conscious and compliance-driven wealth advisory industry.

In terms of brand safety, the system allows users to set up safety parameters aroundclient engagement their personal and corporate brand. Using those guidelines, the algorithm will only recommend articles that the fit the subscriber’s profile.

Grapevine6’s response to compliance is automated pre-review. At the enterprise level, individual compliance offices have the ability to pre-approve content libraries that are made available to the firm’s advisors with no additional checks needed. This pre-approved library approach is similar to AdvisorStream.

Posts that did not originate in a pre-approved library go through a near-real time automated compliance check that uses compliance policies specific to the company. This automation can go a long way towards eliminating the annoying bottleneck associated with manual review and approval. A proprietary algorithm generates a “risk score” and either automatically approves the post if the score is below the company’s accepted level, or rejects it if the score is above the tolerance threshold. Advisors have the option of re-working and re-submitting the rejected post.

Archival is run automatically, and activity after publication is monitored and reviewed. In the event of a possible compliance issue after publication, corporate office can either take the post down, or reach out to the advisor and request action.

Pricing

According to Orr, subscribers can expect tier-based pricing. Tier 1 will include opportunities that are exclusive within an enterprise but not to the enterprise. In other words, an advisor with Cetera and HD Vest could get the same opportunity card. Tier 2 opportunities will be true exclusive leads. Orr explained that Tier 2 would be a good fit for top level advisors who will be most effective and timely in their follow up.

Grapevine6 Social Media Secret Weapon

Among the platforms that promise turnkey set-up and minimal time commitment, Grapevine6 stands out for its visual interest profile maps, as well as the upcoming release of Opportunity Cards. The ability to tap into publicly available news feeds and extract data on upcoming money movement can spell growth potential for advisors who are willing to invest in the exclusive intel. The automated risk score-based compliance check is also attractive, as it minimizes the dreaded “will my post get approved before it becomes irrelevant?” limbo.

The features that could be more robust include readership analytics, which will hopefully be forthcoming with CRM integration. Grapevine6 does not seem to offer the lead capture through reader sharing and forwards, something that both Vestorly and AdvisorStream capitalize on.

I like the simplicity of the interface, as well as the visual aspects of Grapevine6, and will look forward to new features and upgrades becoming available on the platform.  I would also recommend it for any RIA or broker-dealer looking for an enterprise-level tool to manage their social media content curation.

3 Ways Vestorly Delivers Next-Generation Client Engagement

Once upon a time, creating client engagement online took a lot of time and effort. Advisors labored to create original content, or scoured the Internet for articles to share. Results were often stodgy, boring, and mediocre. Clients and prospects ignored the shared content, and no one lived happily ever after. Along came a wave of startups looking to automate and improve client engagement. One of those was Vestorly.

The Vestorly platform was created in 2012 by  and  to solve the digital relationship-building puzzle. The two founders, who previously started a digital advertising and lead generation firm called AdvisorLeap, began Vestorly with a simple premise: helping people read and share interesting content.

When I first heard of it, the idea sounded intriguing because it promised a high level of automation and customization at the same time, boosted by data analysis.  Since Justin Wisz, the CEO of Vestorly, and I were at the 2016 Envestnet Advisor Summit in Chicago together, we sat down for a chat about social media, client engagement and the state of his firm.

Merging Artificial Intelligence with Marketing

Wisz and his team originally set out to build a better data-driven marketing platform. Their goal was to go beyond curating personalized news feeds on a large scale and to reach for delivering actionable business intelligence data.

As Wisz explains it, Vestorly is based on three key product values:

  1. Deliver content that consumers want;
  2. Reduce workload for advisors;
  3. Provide data advisors did not previously have.

The Vestorly platform is powered by an artificial intelligence engine that uses a proprietary algorithm in a sequence of “if-then” decisions that learn from past experience.  Wisz referred to this as a “closed feedback loop”.  He explained that every event on the platform is tracked, so that it can be used to inform the next steps.

Start with Engagement

According to Wisz, the Vestorly platform drives next-generation engagement.  This goes beyond just sending out emails and requires leveraging technology to build relationships.

Today’s investors are more tech-savvy and expect more online interaction with advisors.  It’s more than just Millennials that want content that is “personal, mobile, and in real-time,” observed Wisz.

How Does Vestorly Work?

Vestorly is one of the leaders in a relatively new market segment of automated digital marketing tools.  Their competitors include AdvisorStream and Grapevine6.

Vestorly delivers next-generation client engagementAt their core, automated digital marketing tools do five things:

  • Content aggregation
  • Content curation
  • Selection of content for each contact
  • Delivery of content
  • Client engagement tracking

When advisors first sign up, they import or upload their contacts into Vestorly. The platform currently offers integration with popular CRMs Salesforce and Redtail.  Advisors can import their contacts and can also tell Vestorly to synchronize data so that any new leads created in Vestorly will be be reflected back into the CRM.

Vestorly then generates the first newsletter to all contacts. The initial batch of articles is mostly generic, and the same content goes to all contacts.  This is a bit ‘spammy’ in my opinion.  I would prefer that they work more like their competitor, Grapevine6, which analyzes your contacts’ LinkedIn profiles so that even the very first email is personalized.

Vestorly delivers next-generation client engagementThe first newsletter with around six articles is sent automatically by Vestorly via email. It is white-labeled with the advisor’s branding and looks very slick and visually appealing.

Any subsequent interactions that the client has with the content are tracked by the Vestorly algorithm.  The collected behavioral data is analyzed, and used to customize subsequent content.  As a result, the second newsletter will come in multiple “content cluster” versions.

The newsletters become more refined with each iteration with the end result of almost every client receiving a unique batch of content.

Content curation can be entirely automated and most users prefer that, Wisz stated. He describes it as “scaled customization that would be impossible to achieve on a human level.”

While there is value to automation, I like the functionality in Grapevine6 that allows you to tweak every contact’s content preferences manually using a bunch of sliders.

A Controllable Web Experience

Vestorly delivers next-generation client engagementIn addition to the personalized newsletters and social media posts, Vestorly can be integrated with the advisor’s website for seamless browsing. The artificial intelligence engine only has access to system-read content, so advisors are assured that no articles about Donald Trump will show up in clients’ feeds, unless they express an interest. This is important, because the quality of curation is critical for delivering relevant and engaging articles.

Another unique aspect of Vestorly is its ability to shift the advisor’s focus from generating and curating content to looking at interaction data. Writing newsletter articles, recording videos, and curating content takes time. By relying on Vestorly, advisors can save themselves hours of work, get better customization, and focus on taking the next steps towards enrollment.

Something that is missing from Vestorly is a profile interest graph like Grapevine6 has for every contact. This provides a visual representation of each contact’s interests.

The platform is enterprise-friendly, with centralized control and administration Although Vestorly has applications across many industries, its compliance module is custom-built for wealth management. Home office has the ability to customize control and supervision settings. As a result, clients and prospects receive a consistent corporate brand experience. The recent launch of Compliance Exchange enables users to meet broker-dealer content approval, archiving, and social media guidelines automatically.

Wisz claims that Vestorly delivers sales enablement… How?

Sales Enablement

One of Vestorly’s big selling points is its ability to generate warm leads. “When you send personalized collections of content to a client or a prospect, there is an almost 30% chance that it will be forwarded to a friend, family member, or a colleague. When they do that, 69% of the time the recipient activates it,” shared Wisz. Once the new prospect opens the email and opts into the system, he gets access to a personalized news feed and becomes a lead.

Vestorly delivers next-generation client engagement

A case study for Halbert Hargrove illustrates that in about 30 minutes of human time invested per week, the firm’s clients get a curated steam of content on the website and personalized e-newsletters. Halbert Hargrove reports that its database grew by 15% with client referrals prompted by Vestorly content. One prospect reached out unsolicited and became a client.

How typical are those results, and how well does Vestorly convert warm leads into clients?

According to Wisz, conversion results vary. The platform currently does not track the close rate for Vestorly-generated leads as compared to other leads. Wisz explained that Vestorly is primarily a sales enablement engine. Its purpose is to offer interesting content, save the advisor time, and provide data for action.

I was disappointed by the lack of an automated feedback loop from Vestorly back to CRM. The subscriber can see client interaction patterns and history in Vestorly. Unfortunately, they do not automatically transfer into the original CRM. There appears to be a way to pull some of the data into the CRM, but the process is manual and the number of fields is limited.

Expanding Client Base

In January, Wisz has secured an additional $4.1 million in VC funding for his firm. The money was directed to improving the product map and refining the platform’s functionality.

Vestorly currently has 800 clients, many of them large RIAs and broker dealers. Advisor Group (formerly AIG Advisors) and Mercer Advisers are among the clients. Orion Advisor Solutions portfolio accounting service now includes Vestorly Standard digital content subscription at no additional charge, with advanced customization and data reporting available for a fee.

Vestorly’s digital content is available on Pershing’s NetX360 platform for RIAs and broker-dealers that custody with them.  Pershing acts as a reseller of Vestorly, and Wisz claims they have helped his firm close a number of large deals.

Real-time engagement is gaining traction in the industry, with Envestnet announcing its partnership with AdvisorStream at the Advisor Summit. This platform allows advisors to leverage licensed content from leading publications. Users can distribute compliance-vetted content, monitor open rates, and deliver a user experience that is mobile and uninterrupted by paywalls and third party sites.

In 2014, Vestorly announced a partnership with FinanceLogix.  In light of the acquisition of FinanceLogix by Envestnet, this arrangement might fall by the wayside.

Vestorly Delivers Next-Generation Client Engagement

Wisz shared that his team is updating the core algorithm to improve suggestions based on past behavior of the prospect. If a lead had opened multiple newsletters and demonstrated an interest in retirement planning, the system will suggest that the advisor reach out with a one on one message to schedule a conversation.

Vestorly and their competitors are a vast improvement over static content libraries. With the recent round of VC funding, the Vestorly platform will continue to improve as more data and functionality becomes available. The development of sales enablement suggestions sounds particularly promising, because no other platform on the market today does that.

Final verdict? Vestorly is not meant to be a replacement for the advisor’s strategic decision-making, but it can reduce workload, provide real-time engagement data and provide scale for the advisor’s prospecting and sales enablement.