How AdviceTech Can Make Your Advisory Resilient

This article continues the Institute’s new interview series with Virtual Engagement Leaders to examine and learn from their virtual event experiences. One upcoming event of particular interest is a Virtual Showcase of Advisor Tech being developed by Adam Holt, CEO of Asset-Map – an advisor software platform used to help visualize client households' financial situation and as an engagement experience for delivering financial guidance. 

We invite you to explore more details about our event and register to participate in our AdviceTech.Live event where we will all learn and innovate together. 

Asset-Map’s AdviceTech.Live event on August 27 2020 will cover a broad range of strategically important advisor topics including Advisor Marketing Tech, CRM Solutions, Financial Planning tools, Portfolio Management enablers, and Practice Multipliers. The virtual event is being developed as an advisor technology showcase so forward-thinking perspectives can be shared from peers and competitors in the space. The goal is to lift financial advisor awareness into the capabilities available to them right now and invite advisors’ questions that need to be answered for both today and tomorrow.

The broad range of speakers at the showcase will include: Craig Iskowitz Founder of Ezra Group, Brian McLaughlin CEO of Redtail Technology, Robert Sofia CEO of Snappy Kraken, Lisa Graham Director of eMoney, Adrian Johnstone Co-Founder of Practifi, Steve Zuschin EVP of LifeYield, Kevin Hughes Chief Growth Officer of Envestnet/MoneyGuide, and Corey Westphal CEO of Mobile Assistant.

We reached out to Adam Holt, as FinTech CEO and former advisor, to explore his unique perspective and thinking behind creating the event. We are interested in how he specifically designed the virtual event to provide meaningful context and guidance for advisors. With a dizzying number of technology and business models now being explored, It is a major challenge for advisors to know where to focus change and how best to innovate their firms and processes to our new business operating and client engagement environment. There seems to be a clear, overriding need to encourage a focus on developing a defined, personalized tech strategy and taking immediate first steps towards its best implementation.

Hortz: Why are you using the term AdviceTech for your event versus other terms like FinTech?

Holt: The word “FinTech” covers such a broad field and has become so overused.  I am seeing credit card processing, global payments and social crowdfunding solutions pop up in the category and realized the term was getting too washed out for us. “AdviceTech” focuses on all the specific technology tools that professionals use to deliver financial advice in the modern age.  Even narrowing it down to AdviceTech - which we think contains about 20 categories - has nearly 500 solutions already.  To help clarify this important landscape, we will be releasing at the forum a public domain “map of the advisor tech market” that we call the AdviceTech Compass. We feel it will help advisors understand where these tools sit in context to each other. 

Hortz: How is your event structure different and more beneficial for advisor participants in contrast to some other financial technology events?  

Holt: Well the first is that our event is a virtual one-day program, and second that it’s entirely live -meaning it does not rely on pre-recorded content.  I know from experience that when you want to learn something, total immersion and live challenging discussions get your complete attention. It is the best way to get a massive increase in knowledge and insight which becomes our big differentiator. 

There is no question that previous in-person advisor tech events were expensive to attend, host and to sponsor. I think many tech company sponsors of these events are a bit leery of spending the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to be present, and the significant travel and time cost for advisors to learn in a typical physical conference. 

Personally, I love the in-person events because it’s all about the people that I see, connect and learn from.  But the pay-to-play status quo for sponsors who can outspend others is not necessarily promoting innovation and accessibility in our space.  It allows the big players to out-spend on brand positioning which in turn overshadows the scrappy innovators.  The bottom line is that making an event virtual, accessible, and with equal billing for all tech companies allows solutions to compete on their merit - not their marketing or budgets. It also allows us to not just spotlight the technology, but also include a wide range and diversity of business perspectives. 

Hortz: How did you design this virtual event to maximize practical education and solutions needed by advisors right now?  

Holt: Most advisors actively at work do not have time to attend the traditional, multiple-day in-person event to explore potential technology solutions.  In response, I said to myself, in any given day I only have five and a half hours of attention span. So, I committed to getting the most relevant content into those 5 and a half hours with all US time zones in mind. My goal focused on ‘How do I pack the most critical value about the advice technology space into that time frame?’ 

In deciding on the showcase content and looking at the challenge advisors have in choosing what technology to focus on, I think it is critical to always consider the end consumer first.  In our case our customers are Financial advisors who continuously share that they are “trying to figure out what tech they need.” It is a daunting process - not unlike an investor approaching financial planning. 

Choosing the right tech is a long-term decision – it is complex and there is a high-cost of being wrong.  We have seen how legacy decisions can impact a firm for years and hold back innovation, while the right decisions that match the firm’s personality and a strategically needed capability can bestow competitive leadership and strong client engagement. 

The key at this event is to educate advisors to make those decisions and get rid of all the smoke by putting all the tech leaders – both larger established firms and younger FinTech companies - on the same level-playing field, not to pitch, but rather share and debate. We are moderating the discussions to providing us current insights and on where these leaders are "taking us" in the next 5 years.

Hortz: How did you choose the specific topics of the key panels your event is organized around?

Holt: That answer is revealed by Asset-Map’s approach to the problem advisors have choosing technology today.  Just like financial decisions in a household, having the opportunity to visualize the problem really helps with communication of the solutions.  That was why we built the ‘Map of the advice-tech market’ we discussed before.  We called it a Compass because it is intended to provide direction (it also resembles a compass visually).  

When we had to consider all of the different types of advisor/client facing technologies that were available to advisors today, looking at the Compass, themes popped out visually. One was that most advisors have what we considered a “core technology stack” including financial planning, CRM and Portfolio Management. We also recognized that many advisors chose to use technology to solve different problems including document management, risk and allocation management, marketing automation, specialty planning applications, calculators and a whole host of different categories. The theme that popped out, because of looking at this visually, was that clearly tools were either geared for a customer engagement experience or for a practice management experience.

It was clear that discussions needed to be organized by how technology was used and how it impacted the business of delivering advice. It turns out that decisions on technology tools are really about how they return on investment. They either impact time or revenue gains and what matters most is whether its adoption can actually deliver on the original value proposition. So, the Compass helps us identify which tools are critical, as well as where they deliver value in the overall technology stack. Once we can identify this, then it is important for us to know who the major players in this category of solution are. The speakers and content were chosen to enable an advisor to explore those solutions without bias to size, marketing, rating, or how good the tech vendors’ website is.  

So the real intent of AdviceTech.LIVE was to create an environment where the leaders of some of the most prolific tools used by advisors, would help them understand where they are taking not only their specific product set, but effectively where they are taking advice delivery itself. Think about it this way: an advisor who purchases a technology is likely to stay in that technology for 7 or so years, which means that their advice delivery customer experience will be dictated by how that platform evolves and innovates. We think that this decision should be intentional and not haphazard. This event is going to create a unique environment for creating awareness and also validating where an advisor wants to take their practice.

Hortz: How do you ensure meaningful debate versus canned presentations and talking points?

Holt: Meaningful debate is really all about how you set up the format for it. In the moderated sessions, we are allowing for each of the leadership representatives of the technology companies to present four minutes on their vision for the space and their company. When everybody is done, the moderator - who is an experienced industry veteran - will ask a series of debate-style questions that are intended to inspire open challenges. We are also giving the participating advisors the ability to submit discussion topics as well which will inform the moderator as to what advisors wants to address- similar to a town hall meeting.

Hortz: What are the interactive abilities you built into the event?

Holt: We made a pretty significant investment collectively in the format and platform of this event which, because it is virtual, is enabled entirely on a mobile app and desktop environment. As you can already tell, accessibility was important to us since it is a recurring theme. There are some individuals who will participate that really want to receive and digest information simply from the main panels to learn from the leaders about the different solutions and their vision forward.

There are others that want to interact directly with these companies and so we've built a virtual exhibit hall where many of the companies will be running successive 15-minute demos or presentations with an open chat and interactive communication abilities for advisors with the members of those companies. We expect that advisers who attend might stop by 5 to 10 different companies and explore what they are building today. In this case, we think of it very much like an exhibit hall where one can “walk” around and learn what different companies are doing at their own pace. Likely the most common outcome will be for advisors to visit companies that they are already working with and/or their integration Partners who are present at the event in complimentary categories.

Hortz: Do you feel that this type of virtual technology forum will accelerate the buy-in and implementation of Advisor technology?

Holt: I'm not sure that it's going to increase the buy-in or the implementation, but we do know that the biggest barrier towards taking action is the lack of clarity or confidence towards making a good decision. If we help advisors achieve better understanding of what their choices are and create an open environment where they can ask the questions they need to ask, then we have achieved our mission. All growth and change starts with exploration of one's options. Our contribution to the industry can be raising the bar and setting a new standard for education and accessibility of options with inclusion of diverse thinking to help solve the problems of the future.

Hortz: Any last thoughts you would like to share with advisors about your upcoming virtual technology Forum? 

Holt: You don't want to miss this one. It is all about diversity and inclusion of people and ideas. We decided to address accessibility in the industry, not just for technology innovation, but also for inclusion of diverse perspectives in the population. 

We felt such an alignment with our Benefactor Partner this year - the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning Diversity Initiatives – that is why we are committing 50% of all ticket sales from this event to go to their mission to empower education and progress in creating access to women and people of color in the financial services industry. 

We invite you to explore more details about our event and register to participate in our AdviceTech.Live event where we will all learn and innovate together.