We've witnessed some outsized technology impacts on our industry this past year.
The pandemic first forced clients and advisors to fully embrace virtual sessions and digital-first advice platforms. That shift to digital spurred clients' experimentation with investing apps, which has fed remarkable behavior around particular stocks and cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile, the wealth management industry has seen its forms of disruption, including consolidation among custodians and more wealth tech funding and M&A deals.
So how do advisor technology providers and custodians navigate these changes together? With AdvisorEngine completing its integration with Schwab Advisor Center®, it seemed like a good time for a broader discussion. To that end, I recently moderated a fireside chat on this topic between Charles Schwab's senior vice president and head of Digital Advisor Solutions, Andrew Salesky, and AdvisorEngine CEO, Rich Cancro.
Salesky oversees the technology platforms used by over 13,000 RIAs custodying client assets with Schwab. Salesky oversees the technology platforms used by over 13,000 RIAs custodying client assets with Schwab. He has been with Schwab for over 25 years, with roles leading the Retail digital capabilities, Schwab nationwide branch network and launching Schwab’s first fee-based advice offer (Schwab Private Client) and retail franchising model (now with ~75 franchise branches). Prior to his current role, he launched Schwab’s Global Data organization, serving as the initial Global Data Officer.
As AdvisorEngine's founder and CEO, Cancro has over 25 years of experience building wealth management technology. Prior, he was head of the RIA custody business at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and responsible for developing their global wealth and investment management financial planning and reporting tools.
Here are the highlights from our conversation.
What advisor technology changes have you observed over the past 12 months, both from a usage and adoption perspective?
Salesky: "It'll be a year we all remember. Digital adoption has accelerated. There's been a lot of different claims about just how fast it's been. I saw one claim that we've covered five years in just one year. I also saw a stat that I thought was interesting; Disney+ achieved in five months what it took Netflix seven years to achieve. Clearly, digital adoption has been on a tear. When I think about the advisor space, yes, there's been incredible digital adoption. The real impact of the past year has been the removal of the prior obstacles. Advisors have a lot of obstacles around digital -- some of them real, some of them perceived. I think this past year has really chipped away at those obstacles. Whether it's been the over 200% growth in e-signatures, DocuSign type capabilities, co-browsing, whether it's WebEx or Zoom -- clients are willing to interact in this type of environment versus a face-to-face environment. With the usage of our end-client portal, what we call Alliance, a lot of advisors claim they want to do everything for their clients, but end-clients are willing to do a lot of things on their own as well. We've seen great adoption in our end-client experience over the past twelve months. This removal of obstacles and acceleration of adoption, I think it's not something that's going to dissipate. We've set a new trend, a new set of momentum that hopefully, we're going to benefit from for years to come."
How have RIAs adapted to this acceleration?
Cancro: "The pandemic didn't create any new trends; it created momentum around these trends. Prior to the pandemic, I would stop by my local pharmacy, Duane Reed, several times a week -- but I've gone three times in the past 12 months. I learned that I could get everything that I bought from Duane Reed without leaving my house. I have fundamentally changed my buying habits. So what does this mean? Custodians need to grow faster, so do advisors. With 14 months of working remotely, work and home have now collided. It's time to fundamentally change how you run your business."
What are the critical challenges for both custodians and advisors?
Salesky + Cancro:
From a technology standpoint, what expectations should advisors have when it comes to the Schwab, TD Ameritrade consolidation?
Salesky: "This is a challenging integration [Schwab + TD Ameritrade], partially because we are bringing together two strong technology providers. It would be much easier if one were truly much more dominant than the other -- and you are just consolidating onto the dominant platform -- but there are benefits on both sides. Our commitment is to bring together, we said the best of both, but we changed it to the "better of both." How do we come together to land in a better of both scenarios? We are committed to that."
Are advisors better off stitching together the "best of breeds" technology or going with an all-in-one solution?
Cancro: "My observation is this -- in the 1990s and 2000s -- advisors typically made point solution decisions. So if I go back to the 1990s, advisors needed a client reporting tool. Then it was that they needed a cool CRM, goals-based planning followed too -- all are point solutions. While those might have been good decisions because they solved a specific problem and did it well. But now, is your experience scalable? Can you really scale your business if everything looks and feels different and doesn't operate together? Is it a different experience? Does it look the same? That gets into the brand, the font, all the different data moments. I think a lot of firms, over the past several years, have woken up to the fact that a better way forward is a platform that is open-architecture so that you can get that best of breed, fully integrated experience."
How is Schwab evolving in how it works with technology vendors?
What can advisors do to keep up with the pace of this fintech acceleration?
In these times, it's clear we are all thinking about how businesses can adapt to the rapid changes we've witnessed these past months. I hope the insights shared this fireside give some direction for your roadmap forward. Building important partnerships with trusted industry firms like Schwab is just part of the ongoing work we do here at AdvisorEngine to help your business be ready for the future.
If you'd like to see how our platform has fully integrated with Schwab Advisor Center, we'd be happy to help you schedule a demo.