financial advisor technology

#ItzOnWealthTech Ep. 70: Best of 2020 – Part 1

Considering the crazy events that have swept over the world so far this year, we thought it would be prudent to compile our Best of 2020 episode a little early, just in case.  We had an incredible lineup of guests and it was difficult for the #ItzOnWealthtech team to decide who made the cut.  We pulled the most interesting clip from each episode, so you’re getting a compilation that is jam-packed with useful information, trends and opinions on the state of the wealth management industry.

  • WealthTech Platforms of the World with Urs Bolt
  • Bitcoin Apathy is No Longer Kosher with Sunayna Tuteja
  • The Wizard of Social Networks with Jay Palter
  • Life is a Marathon, Not a Sprint with Leda Csanka
  • The Mad Rush into Digital Advice with Bill Capuzzi
  • Wealth Management Isn’t Cool with Ned Phillips

If you didn’t see your favorite 2020 guest in this list, please send an email over to our Digital Content Coordinator, Elana, and tell her who you’d like to hear in our Part 2 that will be coming out in January, assuming we all make it that far.

Enjoy!

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Complete Episode Transcript:

Craig: It’s a fantastic day in the wonderful world of wealthtech! Welcome to episode 70 of the Wealth Management Today podcast. This is our Best of 2020 episode, Part 1. You’re probably wondering why are we doing a Best of episode, it’s only October. Well, you know, considering the crazy events that have swept over the world this year, we thought it would be prudent to compile our annual best of episode a little early, if you know what I mean, just in case. We have had a really incredible lineup of guests this year up til this point in the year, and it was difficult for the team, the #ItzOnWealthTech team to decide who made the cut. We brainstormed, going back and forth and we pulled out who we felt were the best guests for this Part 1 episode – we’ll do a Part 2 probably in January of next year for the end of this year – and we pulled an interesting clip from each episode. So you’re getting a compilation that is jam packed, full of useful information, trends and opinions on the state of the wealth management industry.

As always, I’m your host Craig Iskowitz. I run a consulting firm called Ezra Group. We’re experts in everything related to wealthtech. Now this is the part where I usually give our standard marketing pitch, but I’m going to go off script so I can get in a plug for our market research team that has been growing by leaps and bounds doing a fantastic job led by our head of research, Jean Sullivan. If you are running a fintech firm, looking to expand into a new client segment, either with a new product or an upgrade to an existing product, what you are going to need is data and insights on the client segments you’re targeting. You need to know what those prospective clients are looking for, the size of the obtainable market, revenue potential, the main competitors in that space, and any functionality, gaps in your product that need to be addressed. You can get all of this and more from the Ezra Group research team, we’ve been doing it for a long time, we have a long track record working with fintechs just like your firm. So if you’re on the executive team at a growing fintech vendor, contact us by going to our website EzraGroupLLC.com and clicking on the “Schedule a Complimentary Strategy Session” button at the bottom of the homepage. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

The Three Types of Business Capitalfinancial advisor technology

First up on this Best of 2020 episode is Jay Palter of Jay Palter Social Advisory, a leading fintech influencer who helps business leaders engage through social networks. Jay and I go back a bit, we met through the conference circuit in wealth management, which I’m hoping picks up again at some point so we can all see each other in person again. But in this clip, Jay talks about three types of capital and how to leverage them to get the most out of your social networks. And if you have some time, I would highly recommend Jay’s article called “13 Tips for Mastering the LinkedIn Algorithm”. So here we go with the clip where you’re saying is that the, the tools, the outward appearance of the tools look the same, but how it works underneath is changing all the time.

Craig: So what you’re saying is that the tools, the outward appearance of the tools look the same, but how it works underneath is changing all the time.

Jay: So functionality is going to change and the tool of the day is going to change. And some of the tactical things we might do are going to change. But I’m also trying to emphasize that there’s human principles, there’s psychology principles. If you’re good to people, if you help people, if you are kind to people online, if you’re generous in the time you invest in helping them, helping promote their content, helping engage in conversation on posts that they make, that is kind of universal. If you’re generally focusing on helping people and it’s good for you in a business networking setting, you get attention back when you give attention and those are universals regardless of what platform you’re on in social media. Regardless of whether you’re in an offline setting or an online setting, even it’s still valuable to pay attention to people.

Jay: Well, for sure. And I think the social networks have been packaged and delivered to us and translated to us as these platforms for marketing and advertising and selling. And I think they certainly can be used in those ways, and there’s nothing wrong with looking at them from that point of view, but I think we do that sometimes at the exclusion of recognizing they’re called social networks for a reason. People have relationships with each other on them. Look in the world today, people are going online to date more and more, finding spouses and finding partners. So it should be no surprise that we should look at digital social networks as places where we can discover new people that might be important to our business, maybe they’re employees in the future, maybe they’re just partners, maybe they’re influencers in the space. We need to recognize that social networks are places where we should go to build relationships that are central to our businesses. In every business I know, a social network isn’t a really huge part of the business. I mean, I often use a Venn diagram that looks at the three types of capital that you need to achieve ROI and succeed in your business; there’s financial capital, which we understand as investments and assets. There’s human capital, which are employees and knowledge and skill and there’s social capital, which are relationships, and long term engagements. This real social capital that people feel good will towards you and your business and will try to help you, will want to help you, social networks. So, the conclusion of that is that social networks are really for building this type of capital that is essential for your business to succeed. The social capital.

The Next Frontier of Financial Wellbeingfinancial advisor technology

Craig: Next up is Bill Capuzzi, CEO of Apex Clearing. Since Bill took over apex in 2015, the disruptive custodian has scaled up from processing just 10,000 new accounts per month to 10,000 per day. It’s more than a 20 or 30x increase. Apex specializes in working with firms that are leading innovators in wealth management technology, such as Betterment, Robinhood, ThinkorSwim and TradeKing. I call this clip “The Next Frontier of Financial Wellbeing, and this is a broad industry trend that we’re seeing. It’s called a number of different things, it’s called financial wellness by some firms, there are those calling it financial wellbeing. We used to call it holistic wealth management, and it’s all driven by the realization that advisors need to know more about their clients’ financial lives all the way through, not just the assets, liabilities, expenses, insurance, they need a full picture. So let’s hear what Bill has to say about that.

Craig: Why do you think that is? Is this because of all the different disruptive FinTechs you have? And this is something I’ve seen, which is I think is very contrarian to how everyone predicted. Everyone predicted, Oh, when the market goes down all these robo-advisors, everyone was going to flee. Instead they did the opposite. Everyone embraced them and rushed to them. Why do you think that is?

Bill: Well, I think first of all, think about what you’ve been doing over the last month, right? You’ve been tethered to your computer and tethered to your phone. I think people have very quickly adapted to this new world as normal. That’s where we started the conversation. That’s number one, number two is, I think you used the word before, frictionless. You have a phone in your hands. It’s now close to free, right, the ability to open an account. Let’s just talk about Apex, open an account with no paperwork, be able to fund in seconds, get that whole process done. And oh, by the way, work with somebody that is doing it for “free” or close to free. It just creates opportunities for folks. So it’s a total shock to me that we added that many accounts in the last month.

Craig: That was the second largest number of accounts. When was the first?

Bill: When Robinhood announced that they were going to be adding crypto, almost two years ago, we opened 905,000 accounts in 2018. We average somewhere between 200 and 300,000 accounts a month, so you can get a sense of how much increased velocity there has been a little over the course of a month.

Craig: That’s incredible. I mean, everyone is seeing huge increases.

Bill: Look, the other thing I would say is, and I think this goes to the broader advisor world is, it’s not just frictionless in terms of open accounts and gimmicky around it’s free. I think, to your point, the popular belief was that everyone was going to run away from robos, run away from FinTechs because there was no one to call. And very quietly over the course of the last two years, these platforms have been able to connect with their constituents on an electronic basis on the ways. I’ll give you my personal experience. I have an advisor at LPL. He’s tried to get ahold of me and my wife to talk about the impact of the market on our portfolio. I know the impact, right? I don’t need to talk to him, whereas some of our clients who I have accounts with have been able to connect with me in the ways that worked for me, whether that’s over Twitter, whether that’s within their app, over email. And I think it’s starting to play out and I think the tailwind there is going to continue to work to their advantage. And I frankly think it’s something that the broader advisor world has to sit up and take notice. This isn’t about accounts that just don’t have any money. It’s really around how our world is going to continue to evolve. I think this is a great accelerator for how things have already been evolving over the course of the last couple of years.

The Cultural Challenges of Digital Transformationfinancial advisor technology

Craig: Next up is Urs Bolt. Urs is a Swiss wealthtech and regtech expert with over 30 years of experience, mainly in the areas of risk and regulation and wealth management, investment banking and banking technologies. Urs is regularly ranked as one of the top influencers in wealthtech, fintech, regtech and blockchain as well. Now I know Urs focuses a lot on private banking, but in this clip, he talks about ways to bring wealth management technology to mass affluent investors.

Craig: You mentioned digital transformation is a cultural challenge. You touched a little bit on that. So can you talk about the differences? Obviously we understand that in other countries that were lagging economically, or lagging technologically for many decades that turns into an advantage for them since they can leapfrog over the old tech, right to the new tech, when it’s available. Like in Africa, they leap right to mobile phones. They skipped all the crap in between. So where do you see that as being an advantage and how will that shake out when it comes to digital wealth?

Urs: Yeah, that’s an advantage in one way. But what I also see when traveling to many countries especially in Asia, but also Nigeria last year, is that they lack the depth and the breadth of the service, the capabilities and also the traditions, how to manage wealth, which has a longterm view. So that’s why there is probably a huge need also for established private banks and bankers, it’s their profession. That’s why obviously private banks out of Switzerland, in Asia are very successfully offering such services because there are many aspects playing into it. But we always talk about the upper 1% of wealth, and what I am really fascinated and interested in is to see how do you actually serve the growing middle class, which are not even touched because the incumbents with their processes, they can simply not serve them profitably. And that’s I think where the worlds will collide, right? They will come together, platforms will meet the traditional way of doing private banking. I think that’s something which we will be part of our conversations for the next 5 to 10 years at least.

Craig: Interesting. Another thing you mentioned was Europe is lagging. So do you think Europe lagging is temporary or is it something that they will eventually catch up, or they will never catch up and then US and Asian firms will come in and take over the wealth business?

Urs: I mean the lacking in a way from the tech platforms, don’t forget we don’t have an Amazon here. We had some place in Sweden which became then a US platform, I think it was Skype. Right? And it was something else. Can we have some in the FinTech space like TransferWise? So we have some unicorns, some more than a billion dollar worth of FinTechs and in the WealthTech space, I don’t really see that. So I think it it will merge in a way. So I think we need to understand that platforms are the new way of doing things and sharing resources and risks and maybe do the mundane tasks via shared platforms, use them as a service and not in the typical sense which many already do like business process outsourcing. So I’m talking from the private bank side, and I think that might then lead to a more platform-based also sharing intelligence maybe. And do you also know that in Europe it’s also more difficult in terms of data privacy? So it’s much more challenging, which is a trend across the world at Europe was first with a more stringent data privacy law, the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR it’s called, and I think that also needs to be considered. But I think in the space, in wealth management I mean, this is a huge part of being a trusted advisor built on security security data.

Invest In Others

Life is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Craig: And the next clip is from Leda Csanka, the former CTO of Cetera Financial. Leda out runs her own consulting firm called Strategic Technology Consulting. And she has an executive coaching business. And she’s also an author. She wrote a book called “How To Lead A Corporate Spin-Off: The Tech Leader’s Survival Guide to a Strategic Divestiture”. This clip came from our Winners of WealthTech episode with Leda, where we dive into the career path of industry leaders like herself. If you like this clip, you should definitely check out the rest of these episodes on the blog.

Craig: That’s for sure. So we were talking about Cetera, and you mentioned Valerie Brown, who’s a wonderful person, really super smart. I was lucky enough to work with her a little bit, or work for her as a consultant on a project. So I got to know her. And when you said, she told you Leda, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, but you didn’t listen and you got burned out. What did you do to get unburned out? How’d you recharge and refresh yourself?

Leda: Yeah, we have to fast forward a number of years. So I worked really closely with Valerie and I was an executive at Cetera for about six and a half years. Ultimately, in the history of Cetera, there was a sale of a company from Lightyear Capital to RCS Capital. And, at some point, I like to tell the story too, it’s more about myself, Craig, so I’m sorry about that. I was not actually excited about my work anymore. We were not spending money. I was not working on the types of projects I wanted. One of my money’s my paths to burn out was to hire my successor, who I loved. It was Mukesh Mehta, we got along terrific. But I just wasn’t feeling the same passion and energy that I had when I was at the helm and leading the organization through significant transformation. I was out on Friday afternoon, I was out walking on the beach, because they did ultimately get my house on the beach in California. And I was on mile 7 of a 10 mile walk, because I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I decided right there that I was going to retire. So I was 49, and I wasn’t the only one who was involved with me making that kind of decision, I kind of worked out the details with my partner at the time. And so I went in Monday and I retired. And so I took a couple of years and sort of went soul searching.

You know, really within another week I happened to be at a Deepak Chopra event and he was teaching us how to meditate, and I had, whether it was the euphoria of letting go of work or the responsibility or whatever it was. I had an overwhelming spiritual experience at the Deepak Chopra Center in California and decided that meditation was like the secret way of life. And, what had I been missing out on all this time? I ultimately spent about a year and a half traveling around the world, I went to visit a lot of different countries, meditated my way around. I became an instructor for Deepak Chopra to teach meditation to other people. And I started retraining myself in terms of, being an executive and a life coach. Then ultimately I stumbled across how do you grow your own consulting company?

And I went to workshop and the secret to growing your own consulting company at that time was you have to write a book, right? What are you an expert at? And at this point in time the Advisor Group had called me up and I had done some consulting work for them as they were in the process of spinning off from AIG. So I was able to go over there and leverage a lot of the skill sets and the things that I learned at Cetera. And I did it a second time, but now as a consultant. So when I was in this workshop and they were like, if you want to be consultant, you have to be an expert at something. And I was like, I’m not expert at anything. You know, I just an IT lady. And then ultimately what I figured out is that I am an expert at, running huge, large transformational projects.

I know how to do it. I know how to bring structure. I know how to bring order to the chaos and I know how to lead a lot of people through that. Ultimately I decided I would write the book to just give myself a little credibility and some confidence because confidence is the theme.

Craig: It is the theme, I was noticing that.

Leda: No matter how successful you think you are, some people, maybe everybody, I don’t know, there’s always that little voice that could nag you in the back that says, am I doing everything right? Am I doing the best I can? So ultimately, to answer a long story, I re-tooled myself, I started consulting, I traveled. The spiritual experience that I had with Deepak Chopra Center changed my values overnight. So I literally was a different person. And it took me a little while to get my sea legs back, I’ll call it so to speak. And I’ve recently started working with Advisor Group again, as a consultant, helping them with a large technology transformation project that they have going on. And for someone who’s retired, I’m sure surely working a lot. I still like to hang on to that label like, Oh, I’m retired.

Craig: I’m glad I could tempt you out of retirement for my project last year.

Leda: We worked together and that really just kind of got me excited about working again. So I really appreciate that.

Craig: I have that effect on people.

Leda: Now I bring this new center, different perspective, really everything. And the little things that would trigger me before, when I was approaching burnout, doesn’t bother me. As you know, I’m not gonna say I don’t get my feathers ruffled once in a while, but it’s just not the same. I used to think that the spinoff from Cetera, I mean, to become Cetera was my biggest accomplishment. Frankly, it’s coming back. So coming back now is the biggest accomplishment.

Bitcoin Apathy is No Longer Kosher

Craig: Sunayna Tuteja is Head of Digital Assets at TD Ameritrade, where she’s responsible for building support for scalable blockchain and cryptocurrency projects at the custodian. This clip is from Sunayna’s second appearance on the podcast, and if you’d like to learn more about her, definitely go back and listen to her Winners of WealthTech interview from I believe late last year. But in this clip, she is encouraging advisors to learn more about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies because these technologies are soon going to be mainstream and your client’s gonna be either holding some, asking about buying it or asking about how they should include it in their portfolio. So advisors need to learn about them.

Craig: Is TD seeing more advisors investing their clients’ portfolios into Bitcoin?

Sunayna: I would definitely say that the RIAs are at an interesting inflection point. Craig, as you know, we host our annual RIA event every year at the end of January, which again seems like an eternity ago, but at our last LINC conference in partnership with Ric Edelman who you know and is friend of the advisor community, we hosted a full day education event for the RIAs. And really the goal was to help to help build awareness and acumen so they can get comfortable with it, have an understanding where they can also serve the needs of their clients. At one point I asked a room of like hundreds, thousands of advisors and said, how many of you believe Bitcoin is a fad? And none of the hands went up and as you know, this is not a shy group, and I then said, okay, how many of you would have raised your hands a year ago or two years ago? And pretty much all hands went up. And then talking to the advisors, we really hearing that there’s this inflection point where their clients are trying to ask them about it and they really need to understand and listen, we’re not in the advice giving business, but we do believe that we want to give them credible information and education. And as I say to everybody, it is totally cool to be skeptical. In fact, I’d encourage skepticism.

Sunayna: When I first heard about Bitcoin in 2012, it took me a good nine months to get my head around it because you know, you almost have to suspend belief of certain things to fully get this. But what I tell people is skepticism is totally Kosher, but what is no longer Kosher is apathy. You cannot be ignorant about it. You have to lean in, you have to learn because ultimately knowledge is power. And hence education is an area where we’ve invested a lot of time and effort to make sure whether you’re an active trader, a retail investor or an RIA that you have access to credible education, good understanding, and then you can make the best decision you want for yourself and your clients.

Craig: Can I quote you on that? Bitcoin apathy is no longer Kosher.

Sunayna: Oh yeah. I tell people all the time skepticism is okay. Apathy, not Kosher.

Craig: What’s your prediction for wealth management with Bitcoin and other crypto? So Bitcoin isn’t the only cryptocurrency, right? It’s clearly the largest, but we have lots of other ones like Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin, you know, BitcoinCash, Stellar. Do you see baskets of crypto becoming more the way advisors will invest or do you think Bitcoin will still become the primary way?

Sunayna: Yeah, I agree we’ve kind of been focused on Bitcoin, but the universe of digital assets is pretty big and continues to grow. What I would say is there is a bit of that 80/20 rule where if you’re just getting into digital assets or you already are in digital assets, a lot of people tend to start with Bitcoin or stay with Bitcoin before they get into some of the other coins. So that’s definitely an important focus area for us. I think in terms of wealth management this is something I actually share a lot with my colleagues and friends that are in the native crypto community, creating a bridge between traditional wealth management and the proliferating space of digital assets is there’s actually a lot of resonance in what’s happening with digital assets to what’s happened in wealth management over the last 40 years.

Sunayna: And the story I share with them is about May Day, which very well. Until May Day came along on May 1st, 1975, access to capital markets was reserved for a very small group that either had the right connections or a lot of money in capital to gain access. May 1st, 1975 came around, and the rule change with May Day completely changed the landscape and disrupted Wall Street. It gave rise to our entire industry, the RIA industry, the discount brokerage industry. So we’re definitely seeing that same resonance and that same ethos democratizing access, breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field of bringing Wall Street to Main Street, apply to digital assets. And I recently was on a biography binge and read to Joe Ricketts, his biography, “The Harder You Work, the Luckier You Get”, and Charles Schwab’s biography “Invested”, and it was amazing. If I had removed the word “discount brokerage” from their stories, a lot of what they went through in building this industry is actually very similar to what we’re going through as we’re building up the digital assets industry.

Sunayna: So I think we can learn a lot from what traditional wealth management has been able to build and accomplish in the last 40 years in terms of empowering everyday Americans to take charge of their financial future. And I think digital assets is the next step in that legacy, and frankly, a key reason as to why TD Ameritrade is leading into it. You know, it’s driven by client demand and it’s also driven by our DNA and continuing this legacy of leveling the playing field for everyday investors in the RIA community.

Don’t Stand Still or You’ll Be Left Behind

Craig: Next and the final clip from this Best of 2020 Part 1 episode is Ned Phillips from Bambu, founder and CEO of Bambu. Bambu’s technology enables firms to launch their own robo-advisor platforms. And he’s based out in Singapore. Ned started his fintech journey with E-Trade as it became the leading provider of online brokerage services, and then bounced around a bit and eventually became the consultant and launched the first robo advisor in Asia. So I was really interested to talk to Ned and hear his opinion on things, and he spoke about the disruption in the APAC market as super apps, things like Grab and WeChat and other apps are building out tools for the wealth management space and what the impact is.

Ned: Ha! Now Craig, whether that was meant to be clickbait to a degree, the reality is this. I really like that in that we have seen in these last three months in particular, the amount of inquiries coming to us is incredible. And again, partly obviously driven by what’s happening, but I think in wealth management, and this is not our statement it’s been said before, if you’re standing still in wealth management today, that’s I think that’s pretty much it for you.

Craig: You need to keep moving. And that’s what will hold back firms and I don’t think it’s necessarily just wealth management, it’s every industry. We can’t sit still because every industry is using technology way more than they thought they would, and there’s more disruptive forces coming that they don’t see. If they saw them, they wouldn’t be disruptive.

Ned: So we have some companies in Asia that in the US you would have heard of, obviously Alibaba and Tencent. But out here we have two super apps called Grab and Gojek, which started like Uber but has moved into all types. They’re getting into wealth management. To me, is it disruptive when one bank launches a robo compared to another bank? It’s disruptive a bit. But what Alibaba has their wealth, their money market tool called Yu’E Bao, which means leftover treasure, where they swept the cash from the wallet into a money market fund. Quarter of a trillion of AUM, largest money market fund in the world. In two years, that is disruptive. Sweeping, miniature amounts from your wallet when you buy a coffee. The disruption to me is a key point. If you’re a large asset manager and you don’t have a person whose job it is to distribute your funds to a tech company, you’re already too far down the rung of the innovation stakes. It’s not just keeping up with your peers. Your neighbors are building crazy different wealth management tools, 24/7, and in Asia driven by this super app mentality. That’s helped us a lot, being in Singapore, Craig that’s, what’s helping FinTech here. The super apps are driving everything from wealth tag to e-payments, whether it’s blockchain. Like it doesn’t even have to be crazy innovative to work. And the take-up is in the multi-millions and I think it was great.

Craig: I’ve written in the past also that I see wealth management being taken over by apps, or mobile-based wealth tools, and they all go at it different way. Firms like Acorns, Stash, MoneyLion they see the world differently than traditional wealth management does. Traditional wealth management sees clients as somebody you talk to once a quarter or a couple times a year. And if they’re calling you more, that’s annoying, why are they doing it, it’s a problem. They’re upset. They shouldn’t do that. Whereas, no business in the world works that way. Every other business in the world says, I want to talk to you more. You’re my customer. What else can I do for you? What else can I sell you?

Ned: But the interesting point is this. So this is our experience Craig, in how this has happened. When we pitch, when we talk to financial institutions, they have a question and the question is this, how can technology help me sell more products? When we speak to super apps, they say, how can we keep the customer in our ecosystem? They don’t care what products they sell. They’re not there to sell products. And here’s the thing, how many people wake up every morning and think I’d like to buy a balanced equity portfolio today? You don’t, you wake up and think I want a better financial life. And Craig, you nailed it. You don’t want to speak to your advisor because you think he’s going to sell you a product. What you just is a better financial life. And I think as long as banks keep asking, how can technology help me sell more products? They’re building the wrong things and the super apps Craig, four years ago, it was my pitch. You need a robo because a super app, a mobile app will sell wealth. And four years ago, everyone laughed at me. They’re like, Ned, don’t be silly. Today, everybody believes it or they are. They adjusting to it? I don’t know, but you’re right. Advisors will survive and they will flourish. But not if they ignore what’s happening.

Craig: Hey, it’s Craig. So there’s Part 1 of our Best of 2020. We had six really good clips. I thought from leaders in the space, great interviews, you got the best of those interviews. Feel free to go back to Wealth Management Today, wmtoday.com. You can listen to the full interviews with all of these people and learn a lot. And if there’s someone we didn’t include who you heard earlier, and you want them in the next Best of stuff, please shoot us an email or shoot our Head of Digital Content Coordination, Elana, at elana@ezragroupllc.com. Remember to subscribe to the podcast and leave us a five star review on iTunes, and we’ll talk to you all next time.

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