The Impact of Digital Innovation and the Future of Fintech With Mohan Gurupackiam

Mohan Gurupackiam is the Chief Information Officer at Steward Partners Global Advisory: an employee-owned, full-service partnership that caters to family, institutional, and multigenerational investors.

In this podcast, Doug and Mohan discuss the latest technological advancements in the financial industry, talking through the impact of digital innovation and the future of fintech.

Topics discussed:

  • Mohan’s extensive 25-year career in the finance industry, including roles at E-Trade, Cetera, and AssetMark.
  • The significant technological advancements in the financial industry, such as the rise of FinTech and the shift towards a paperless office.
  • Tailoring technology solutions to meet the unique needs of individual advisors rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • The potential of artificial intelligence to enhance efficiency in areas like client meetings, portfolio construction, and investment management.
  • How technology benefits investors by improving efficiencies and enabling more sophisticated investment management and seamless interactions.
  • Gurupackiam praises the collaborative and partnership-driven culture at Steward Partners, which fosters open and respectful conversations and includes everyone as a partner.
  • The critical importance of cybersecurity infrastructure in protecting firm data and assets from increasing cyber threats.

Resources: Steward Partners

Related: Identifying Advisor Pain Points With Adam Holt


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Douglas Heikkinen  00:03

This is Advisorpedia's Power Your Advice podcast and I'm Doug Heikkinen. We're joined by Mohan Gurupackiam, who is the Chief Information Officer at Steward Partners Global Advisory, which is an employee-owned, full-service partnership that caters to family, institutional, and multigenerational investors. Welcome, Mohan.


Mohan Gurupackiam  00:22

Thank you. Thanks for having me.


Douglas Heikkinen  00:25

Tell us about your path at Steward Partners. You've had a number of very interesting stops where you contributed to a bunch of major players in the industry.


Mohan Gurupackiam  00:33

So I will, I would say, I've been very fortunate to be a part of a lot of great organizations. I spent, I've been in the industry for more than 25 years, I started off at E trade, spent 16 years, that was a great experience. I had a lot of opportunities to build the platforms from scratch, understood the direct to consumer business. I also was the first technology leader to start off the wealth management and investing group at E Trade. So building that from scratch was an interesting experience, especially in a firm that was well known for, I would say trading, active trading. Then subsequently, I had an opportunity to go and be the chief technology officer at Cetera. Cetera, as you know, is a large independent broker dealer, a lot of different business models, 11 broker dealers at one point, and when learned a lot, especially around the different different business models, right, every advisor is unique. And that is a message I've carried through the rest of my career. Left, I left Cetera, and then moved on to Asset Mark. Big time again, Asset Mark has also well known for their, I would say, commitment towards excellence in operations, the customer service. So to a large extent, a lot of these organizations have shaped me in so many ways. And I brought in all of those experiences into Steward, to bring the next innovation generation of growth within Steward.


Douglas Heikkinen  02:16

Over the past 25 years, you've really seen a revolution in technology, we all have. What do you think has been the most impactful advancement for advisors?


Mohan Gurupackiam  02:25

What is the most impactful? So I would say the two things, right? We are seeing a lot more innovation happening in the industry. That's one thing I would say is if you look at like the number of players, especially in the FinTech space, like 20 years ago versus now, there are a lot more FinTech players, there are a lot more providers, there are people who are specializing in certain products, right. You could not have imagined somebody specializing in an alternate investment back office operations 20 years ago, but that's a reality now. A lot of it is driven by advances in technology, the entry barrier for a lot of these firms have actually come down. So we are seeing continued innovation in the industry. That is one big impactful, you know, it's a trend. The second trend I would say is towards digitalization. We are moving towards a paperless office to a large extent, which would not have been possible like 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. And that requires an entire I would say digitalization of the journey all the way from have you sourced leads? Have you opened accounts? Have you managed the lifecycle of a client and a customer and even an advisor for that matter. And that trend was also accelerated, especially with COVID, where it was a forced digitalization to a large extent, right. Even firms that were lagging behind, had to speed up to survive and be in the market. So those are, I think, the two large I would say impacts I've seen as it pertains to the advisor and the end client, with advances in technology.


Douglas Heikkinen  04:17

Let's go a little bit further. Where do you imagine the future of technology can take us? I'm thinking Alexa is listening to a family. They're planning a vacation, it communicates that information to their advisor, and the advisor knows it and makes an outbound call to the family and says let's let's let me help you.


Mohan Gurupackiam  04:38

So that's an interesting thought. Would I let my advisor listen in in to my Alexa conversation is questionable. But I think you bring up a good point which is to provide holistic advice, right? It is not enough to do a financial plan once every four years and abandon it. There needs to be a continuous I would say, monitoring whether it's lifecycle events of the client, right? Incidents, events that are happening with the, with the client, there is there has to be an ongoing would say feedback. It doesn't have to be Alexa but you could use other sources, I'm going to use an example like hey when there is a LinkedIn profile change for one of your clients, you could basically track it and say, Well, time to have a conversation about 401 K rollover, right? Those kinds of life events, right? It could also mean the risk profile of the client has changed, right? So it's not just for growing business, but also managing the lifecycle. So technology is ubiquitous. And I think those could be harnessed in so many ways for the betterment of the client, which in turn, is for the betterment for the advisor and us. Right. So I would say that is probably the one I'm really looking forward to how can we make technology ubiquitous, but not invisible enough and that you will embrace and adapt.


Douglas Heikkinen  06:17

When building a tech stack for this group, how do you think about it? What are some of the different buckets you need to think about that puts together something that works for so many?


Mohan Gurupackiam  06:27

So the first thing I would say is, start off with the notion that no two advisors are the same. I think that is a big mistake that a lot of firms do, which is to try to design and, you know, develop a platform without getting considerable input, right. That is the first thing we always want to avoid, which is go ask the most fundamental question, which is, hey, what do you want? What do you need? That is a first question. We strongly believe I strongly believe that no two advisors are the same. People actually look at different ways of running the same business models. I'm going to shamelessly quote one of my advisor, he said, if you talk to any advisor, we do only 11 things in the life cycle, whether it's getting leads, opening accounts, managing the cones, investment management, but I need flexibility in those 11 things I did. I think that was a very interesting anecdote that it's like, something I carry, which is we strive to provide flexibility. As long as you know, there is no regulatory issue. Right. And we strongly believe that the ongoing innovation in the industry is something that you have to embrace. So in coming back to your question, how do I build out for a tech stack. So there are some platforms, enterprise platforms, where we try to build a broader consensus, but the first place we always start is talking to our end users. Getting their input earlier, is very critical, right and fought, we still would like to have the flexibility in terms of allowing the advisors to be able to pick and choose platforms and tools that meets their requirements that meets their needs. So it's not a I would say a monolithic structure, we go with a two pronged approach where there is an enterprise platform, and we are going to have a flexible ecosystem where we continue to embrace innovation, but also allow for the flexibility that the advisors are looking for, to run the business.


Douglas Heikkinen  08:50

Of course, we have to get your opinion on where AI fits into all of this.


Mohan Gurupackiam  08:56

So good question, right. Obviously, a lot of technology advances have made artificial intelligence, I would say available at a much lower price point. That was you see a lot of platforms embracing AI, right. But what we have seen so far, we are only scratching the surface. There is a lot of I would say advances especially as it when it comes to efficient efficiencies and interaction client meetings. There is also a lot of advances in the large language models like the rgpd of the world. That's where we are seeing a lot of advances. I strongly believe that we will continue to see advances in other areas. A good example would be portfolio construction, but it's not really something that is, you know, widely used today, but over the next few years as the technology gets refined, more user friendly, there is going to be more I would say users of artificial intelligence, especially in areas of supervision, differently in terms of back office operations, investment management, client onboarding - those are areas where we will continue to see. But the one where we are already seeing a large impact is around assistive technologies, being able to, you know, drive down the number of questions we get or number of quaries we get, that is an area where we have already seen huge advances and artificial intelligence would continue to grow into the other areas for the next few years.


Douglas Heikkinen  10:47

How does the advancement, all this technology, benefit the investor? Does it give them more power, more collaboration with their advisor, a better understanding of their financial lives? Or a combination of all that?


Mohan Gurupackiam  11:00

I think it's all of the above, right? The first thing I would say is around efficiencies, the, especially with the wealth transfer happening, and we are moving to a more digitally savvy Digitally Native Client, right, and they expect seamless interaction seamless, you know, I would say engagement with their advisors, and the systems behind it. So obviously, that's probably the first area where the clients are seeing significant, I would say, difference. In terms of advances in technology. We are going to see increasingly sophisticated investment management, especially today, when everyone is chasing a higher return rate. The average client today is lot more financially savvy, a lot more technically savvy. Right? That's because there are a lot of tools out there on the street on the market, where, you know, they come with a higher level of knowledge and expectation, right. So we are seeing a lot more financially, I would say literate, and advanced. Clients, were coming in much more well prepared.


Douglas Heikkinen  12:17

Their education level has just skyrocketed.


Mohan Gurupackiam  12:19

I think it's not just the education level, but how they apply it. Right? I'm sure a lot of them won't understand the investment models, but Artificial intelligence has made it easier for them to make inferences about invest- investment choices. That is everyone is looking for the next Amazon, the next the next app and so the average investor is lot more savvy, thanks to advances in technology.


Douglas Heikkinen  12:48

What's great about this firm, what do you enjoy about your experience here?


Mohan Gurupackiam  12:57

So far, like, you know, first of all, great culture. You know, I joined this firm, like a year and a half ago. And what attracted me was the culture, the culture of this organization is something that is very collaborative, right. And it's not something that I feel myself, but even the vendors who talk to us, they come and say, you guys don't have any politics, right? So the partnership is something that we truly embrace, truly celebrate. Right? And we love open, respectful conversation. So that's the first first thing but I also believe in this business model of like being able to have an employee owned, you know, organization where it feel part of the organization. One thing I feel proud of is like every everyone in our organization is a partner. If you look at our email signature, the first line always says "partner", whether you're the doorman or the chairman, right? That's, that's something we are very proud of, right, that culture of working towards, you know, larger successes, and embracing the partnership culture. That is what attracted me. And obviously, the management team, the strength of the management team, when I spoke to them. And the board, I spoke in a phenomenal group. That's probably, you know, the best thing you could ask for, especially for a technology leader like me, who would like to embrace and drive innovation. That was probably the greatest, I would say, attraction for me.


Douglas Heikkinen  14:37

All right. Lastly, what's the technology you're currently using that you can't live without?


Mohan Gurupackiam  14:45

What is the technology that I'm currently using cannot live without? I'm going to you I'm going to use an technology that no one sees, but the infrastructure that we have on cybersecurity, right, a lot of times it's overlooked right. But it is extremely important, especially in this day and age, where there is, there is definitely a huge spike in number of, I would say cyber incidents. And that's something that, you know, has to be dealt with every firm deals with it. Right. So I'm going to use a, you know, cybersecurity is probably the number one area in terms of protecting our data, protecting our assets, protecting the firm from headline risks, financial risks, right. So that is one I absolutely cannot live without. And I would say every CIA would say like, that's the one thing that will keep them up in the night.


Douglas Heikkinen  15:49

And that's, I would have never have guessed that.


Mohan Gurupackiam  15:54

It's easy to say something that is very, you know, flashy and attractive. But you know, that's something that you cannot live without, irrespective of the size of the phone. We have to protect our assets. That's probably our number one priority. Everything else comes after that.


Douglas Heikkinen  16:11

Mohan. It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.


Mohan Gurupackiam  16:13

Likewise Doug, it was a pleasure. Thank you very much.


Douglas Heikkinen  16:16

To learn more about Steward Partners, please visit Please follow us for timely updates on next LinkedIn and Facebook all at Advisorpedia. For everyone at Advisorpedia, our producer Julia Smolen, our engineer Tory Miller and the Power Your Advice podcast team. This is Doug Heikkinen.