I have been going to the Technology Tools for Today (T3) Conference for many years. In my opinion, it has always been the best technology conference in our industry; it’s attended by many fintech companies showing their wares and its main sessions are focused on the latest technology platforms and innovations. I found some key themes of this years’ conference especially interesting, not to mention a few technologies, the ever-popular 2020 T3/Inside Information Advisor Software Survey and the currently unanswered questions regarding the state of custodians.
Cloud, platforms and microservices
This is actually just one trend seen from three different levels, and it is the next evolution of fintech architecture and infrastructure. The enabling environment is the cloud, which allows a new generation of platforms, built by a new architectural approach called microservices.
- Cloud. Last year, Oleg Tishkevich rolled out Invent.us, a company focused on large organizations (Broker Dealers and large Registered Investment Advisers), which enabled them to move into the cloud. This year Oleg gave an update on the progress, which included going global, acquiring some big name clients and deploying a number of well-known industry insiders as consultants.
- Platform. As the press is out in force at the conference, it is a great place for product launches. This year was fairly quiet in this aspect, although Reed Colley, the founder of Black Diamond, took the opportunity to explain the vision of his latest venture: Summit Wealth Systems. It is early in its life cycle, but appears to be pushing the envelope of reporting of complex financial information on mobile platforms.
- Microservices. An important theme for this year’s show, I saw at least three presenters use the term. For at least the last five years, a catch-word of the conference has been integration. In the early days this was aspirational, but now it is real. Microservices take the concept to the next level. Whereas integrations are the connection of two software suites by an application programming interface (API), microservices are a whole series of software modules, each supplying a specific service that are all connected together to provide a system. Today’s leading fintech companies are using this architecture to develop their own systems. In the future you will see companies provide microservices to each other. Here is some background on micro-services.
This fintech architecture trend is mainly opaque to financial advisors and ideally it will stay so. It is up to the fintech firms to use these tools to deliver new client capabilities that advisors will care about.
Emerging financial planning tools
A key industry trend is the move from advisors offering investment services to advice services. A slew of new firms are creating technology aimed at catering to offering better advice. Here are three that I liked at the conference (disclaimer: these are small, early companies with little market share, but doing some interesting things).
- Timelineapp. (www.timelineapp.com and @AbrahamOnMoney) The CEO of Timelineapp, Abraham Okusanya, gave an overview of Livetrack. It’s a visualization tool that allows both advisors and clients to see their retirement journeys and retirement distribution options. It is a different specific view which could well appeal to retirees.
- FP Alpha. (www.fpalpha.com and @_FPAlpha) Andrew Altfest is the advisor behind Altfest Personal Wealth Management. He has used his experience to identify gaps in advice and has formed FP Alpha. The concept is that an advisor is able to scan documents (such as wills and estate documents). The system uses AI to parse the scanned-in information, then come up with recommendations for the advisor on solutions for the client. If effective, this would save advisors a lot of time, and could allow some advisors to offer new services.
- Benjamin. (www.getbenjamin.com and @mattreiner) Matt Reiner, the founder of Benjamin, has focused on a different area of advice. As all advisors know preparation for a meeting can take hours and the follow up the same. Benjamin attempts to make this process more efficient. They do this by understanding your workflow, having integration with your systems and then pulling the data form reporting and communicating it to your clients.
T3/Inside Information Advisor Software Survey
Always one of the fun aspects of the conference is the Software Survey, run each year by Joel Bruckenstein and Bob Veres. They roll it out with the air of a political poll and they have lots of pithy commentary about why one firm is doing better than another. Like political polls, some of the data gathering can be a little suspect, with some campaigning going on by the companies being reviewed. However, there is no doubt that it is one of the most comprehensive software polls in our industry and clearly identifies trends and firms with momentum.
They do a couple of interesting things that most other surveys do not. There is a question that asks what software advisors are considering. This gives a view into which way firm adoptions are trending. The scope is very broad — if you want an idea of every software vendor in a specific discipline, download this survey.
Let me give you a couple of specific areas and their dominant players:
Redtail has an amazing 62% market share. Brian McLaughlin and his team have a focus on keeping core functionality simple and arguably have the best-in-the-business training, which keeps their market share growing.
Wealthbox, at 7% for smaller advisor firms and Salesforce at 6% for the larger firms, is the nearest competition. Despite this dominance, the survey identifies 31 different CRM tools!
MoneyGuidePro® has a 26% share and eMoney 19%. The third player that is growing fast is RightCapital with a 5% share. The trend here is firms are adding modular and simpler planning options. For instance, MoneyGuidePro® is rolling out Blocks and eMoney has eMoney Plus.
As we know most advisors are not great at marketing, but the survey shows that the digital marketing is maturing. FMG Suite has a 10% market share and the Broadridge offerings 10% also. Snappy Kraken is coming up fast with a 3% share.
This has always been a focus at SEI, so I was interested in the survey question that asked if advisors are using them. 50% said they were, which seems high to me. The survey stated that they would ask for more information in the future. We look forward to the results.
Shhhh – Custodian earthquakes
There was a trend that was avoided at the conference: the changing of the custodial landscape. The drive to no-commission fees has resulted in major acquisitions: Schwab buying TD, and Morgan Stanley buying ETrade. Both Schwab and TD were at the conference and they both started their sessions by saying that they were not going to cover the elephant in the room — the acquisition. They are just one example. In general, advisors’ questions about this shifting custodial world went unanswered. Whose platform survives in an acquisition? How are the custodians going to charge in the future? With the commoditization of basic custody, how are custodians and platform vendors going to change their services? With the shift of the custodial tectonic plates, how does an advisor choose a custodian?
I, of course, am biased because SEI has a good solution, but it was interesting how little this key issue was covered at the conference.
In summary, it is good for advisors to venture out to see what is happening outside the walls of their office. If the mission is to understand today’s technology, then T3 is a good destination. Here are some industry reviews of the event: InvestmentNews focusing on the make-up of T3’s attendees, and WealthManagement.com providing a conference overview. Twitter provides a fun review of all aspects of the conference, both imagined and real!
None of the firms listed are affiliated with SEI or its subsidiaries.
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