To get a handle on the state of affairs in the advisor technology industry, the annual Technology Tools for Today (T3) conference held last week at the Hyatt in Garden Grove, California, was the place to be.
Based on the attendance, energy, and slew of new announcements, it is clear that advisor tech is hot. Nearly 80 technology vendors were putting their innovations on display for over 600 attendees for 2 ½ days of non-stop presentations, demonstrations, deal making, and networking.
“The pace of change is accelerating,” noted T3 host Joel Bruckenstein in his opening remarks. Bruckenstein was speaking about the many innovations in technology that are rapidly transforming the wealth management space. For one, there has been a notable shift in the perception that robot technology should not be treated as emerging competition for advisors, but rather as a complementary tool advisors can use to scale and automate their practices – a significant change from only a couple of years ago.
This theme was carried out in the many product enhancements from the industry’s top vendors to provide more online tools, client self-service capabilities, and workflow automation.
Kicking off the first day was Aaron Klein, CEO of Riskalyze (a key partner in the Black Diamond Wealth Platform) who was debuting new enhancements to his digital investment platform, Autopilot. He showcased the launch of next generation tools and the “Autopilot Partner Store,” a marketplace that creates automated access to models, strategies, and research from some of the industry’s top asset managers and strategists.
According to Klein, the extension of digital tools into advisors’ workflows is critical because the demand for personal advice is increasing, but is also becoming more difficult to provide at volume. “The problem with personalization is that it doesn’t scale, and the problem with automation is that there is no personalization,” he said. “What is needed is an ‘automated account platform’ that streamlines the process to flexibly automate advice, while still personalizing the experience, which is what the Partner Store is all about.”
Later on the first day of the conference was a keynote presentation from SS&C Advent’s own Dave Welling, Co-General Manager of SS&C Advent and Head of Advisory, who presented on, “The Office of the Future Isn’t in the Office.” Welling presented his research and point of view that clients of advisors are looking to interact with their advisors in multiple ways.
Clients of advisors have come to expect access to their advisor and financial information on any device at any time. According to some studies, at least two-thirds of advisors’ clients expect their wealth management relationship to include a strong digital component, meaning that now the office is no longer at the center of the advisor-client relationship.
Welling also spoke about the evolution of advisor technology and some of the “disconnects” between what advisors think and what their clients actually think, such as a broader acceptance of digital advice.
Continuing the digital advice transformation theme at this year’s T3 was a lively panel discussion featuring the pioneering robo, Jemstep, along with custodian executives.
Dan Skiles, President of SSG and a former technology executive at Schwab Advisor Services, provided his insight on how to approach the decisions around deploying new technology. “If you’re not breaking things, then you are not making progress,” he advised the audience, encouraging them to not be afraid to alter existing processes or beliefs to modernize their firms.
Of course you can’t go to any conference these days without a focus on cybersecurity. Brian Hamburger, CEO of Market Counsel, a compliance-consulting firm, gave the crowd a cybersecurity pep talk. “Cybersecurity is actually not a regulatory issue,” Hamburger said. “However it is an important area for regulators to focus on based on the high profile nature of hacks we have seen.”
Hamburger pointed out that while there is no specific regulatory regime for cybersecurity, regulators are interpreting aspects of Regulation SP – the privacy mandate – that requires advisors to “implement reasonable safeguards to protect client data.” What is “reasonable? “That is open for interpretation with 20/20 hindsight by regulators,” Hamburger wryly noted.
His advice is to focus on education and training of employees to practice “good internet hygiene” to understand what is sensitive data and how to protect it, have third party tests of systems as well as to diligently review all vendor relationships and contracts.
Concluding the evening festivities on the final night was the first annual, “FinTech Air Affair” a conference celebration event held at the Hangar 21. Sponsored by a consortium of tech vendors, including Black Diamond, this lively party featured helicopter rides; open bars, live DJs and more.
To get the full picture of what happened at T3, be sure to check out the many tweets on the #T32017 hashtag on Twitter.