US Financial advisers: confused and plucking daisies


April is underway and as I think of the digitization in wealth management for financial advisors, I see a confused and a low penetration segment.

A March month end report in the FT titled “US financial advisers give robo-advisers a frosty reception” points to single digit adaptation rates of online advice platfroms from advisers. Just 4% in the US!

Taking a closer look to those brave early adaptors, I question their motives and the ways they actually use these platforms.

  • Are they for serving the “poor” relatives of their existing HNW clients?
  • Are they essentially treating these tools as an add-on, a plug-in but not The platform to offer value to customers?
  • Are they just the Entry point for the younger prospects and with smaller amounts of wealth, who all actually intend to Cross-over to “full-service” as soon as possible?

The financial advisers sitting on the sidelines and watching robo-offerings popping up from everywhere in the US (whether B2B, B2B2C, or B2C), have gotten more confused in March. Of course, their radar screen remains centered around the 1,000 pages framework of the DOL rulings that will affect (directly and with unforeseen side effects) their business. At the same time, Salesforce announced in March a next generation of tools targeted for the digitization needs of financial advisors. Salesforce does understand the changing expectation of customers in terms of their service standards for their broad financial needs and also the challenges from the regulations. The ecosystem includes partners from Evenest-Yodlee, to Docusign and Ciphercloud and Informatica, and many more.

United Capital immediately announced that it plans to white-label a customized version of Salesforce to RIAs. Everybody is feeling the pressure to upgrade and digitize their offerings one way or another. Seems on the surface that RIAs should be pleased that there is lots of choice.

Schwab actually created the confusion, because they announced that they are dropping their Salesforce customized solution for RIAs. The OpenView Integrated office, launched in 2012, that their network has been using, will no longer be available. This brought up the riskiness of using customized and essentially proprietary solution from custodians. Schwab gave a 3 month notice for this termination to the 150 clients. Will these RIAs, to be evicted in 3 months, move over to new Salesforce platform? Choices seem to abound.

Fidelity has not yet shown their cards in this game. They launched shyly the FidelityGo platform that is a robo-platform for retail, after dropping the Betterment partnership with which they cut their teeth in the robo business. But it remains to be seen how they will integrate the Emoney advisor they acquired in 2015 for the RIA network.

While the incumbent players are creating confusion to RIAs, Fintechs are pivoting towards the B2B and B2B2C segment and RIAs.  In the US, one cannot help but pay attention to

the recent mega-round of funding of Betterment ($100 million Series E) that they will use to develop more the institutional offering for advisors.

Riskalyze is a Fintech that is focused from the start on servicing the needs of RIAs in a more agile and digitized way than either the incumbents or the other Robos that are hybrid in terms of the audience they have been targeting. They have been focusing on risk assessment and using big data algorithms for suitability and have been overseeing $120billion AUM. They are integrated with TD America who has chosen not to build or buy (in contrast to Fidelity), but integrate with multiple providers. Risaklyze has also partnered with Emoney Advisor.

Totum Wealth, that has sprung up recently. This Fintech CEO who cut her teeth at Nutmeg, is the other Fintech that claims to be an enabler for the online digital needs of RIAs. Very much focused on an alternative way for assessing client risk appetite. Very much preaching that traditional risk assessment questionnaires are missing the mark. Totum Wealth is in beta version and and has more than 30 firms singed up for a 3month trail.

Riskalyze and Totum Wealth, already show signs of being the Betterment-Wealthfronts of the robos for RIAs. They have started a kind of bras-de-fer on the social media about their hidden costs and their modeling assumptions etc.

Whether they will be leapfrogged by Salerforce or Fidelity, is to be seen. Most probably, these Fintechs will partner with more TD Americas and grow behind the scenes of the complex stack providing wealth management services.

The DOL cheat sheet indicates that despite the fuss created all this time about the impeding changes and side effects to the RIA business, not much essential actually got approved. For taxable accounts, the advice provided needs to be suitable; the controversial imposition of fiduciary standards didnt actually materialize and a watered-down version is the new regualtion. Only for retirement accounts, the “strict” fiduciary standards that put the customer interest above all, are applicable.

Seeking Alpha reports that for regular financial advice: “Biggest impact is added disclosures on websites. Seriously.”

RIAs adaptation rates look stale for 2016. I see this year as one of picking and plucking daisies and wondering whether the new digital wealth management tools are:

For me, Not for me; For me, Not for me;

Daily Fintech Advisers provides strategic consulting to organizations with business and investment interests in Fintech. Efi Pylarinou is a Digital Wealth Management thought leader.

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