Categories

10 Disruptive Demos from InVest NYC 2018

Posted by on Jul 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

This has become one of my favorite parts of conferences: The Demos.  A steady stream of vendors, each given under ten minutes extolling their new features to a highly critical audience that can sometimes get a little glassy eyed with wonder.

In these sessions, it pays to be on early, since by the time the last presenters take the stage, everyone’s brains have probably turned to mush. This round of demos took place at the In|Vest NYC 2018 conference last month. You can check out my conference overview here: Digital Digest from the InVest 2018 Conference

And the role of the East German judge will be played by Kendra Thompson from Accenture.

I liked adding judges to the demo format when I first saw it back at the Digital Banking Conference in May.  The SourceMedia people asked me what I thought about doing it for this conference as well and I said it would be a fantastic idea.  They were in need of a fourth, and I was able to refer them to Kevin Adams from Raymond James, who did a terrific job.

At my consulting firm, Ezra Group, we run a lot of RFP and vendor selections projects that require product demos. We probably see a few dozen or more every year. Part of our process is to teach our clients how to leverage a demo as part fo the software evaluation process.

What we find is that, without training, most people do not pay attention to the right things during the demo and barely remember anything afterwards.  Our clients know what to look for and take copious notes using our templates to help them with their evaluations.

These “Shark Tank” style demos at conferences with one after another is difficult to get anything out of. What I like about having the judges there is that they remind the audience of the good and bad points that they saw.

I’m commenting on the demos in alphabetical order, just to make it easier for me to keep track.

Addepar

Addepar has gathered a tremendous amount of assets from large RIAs and family offices because of their gorgeous reporting and deep knowledge and support for alternative investments.  They’ve done so well that they have become the bar that most reporting tools measure themselves against.

One vendor I spoke said that Addepar was selling Porsches while everyone else was selling Chevys. Although, they do get dinged for the difficulty in implementation which requires heavy consulting support for most firms.  Their flexibility could also stand to be improved.

The proposal generation features also jumped out at me during the demo.  Interesting that they would move in that direction. It could be their first step towards building out an entire wealth platform.

This is true. Especially if you have a lot of complex holdings like asset-backed securities where the portfolio management and reporting systems had minimal visibility into the underlying investments.

Advizr

When Advizr came out with their financial planning product, many people thought they were just a cheap knock-off of eMoney or MoneyGuide.

Boy, were they wrong!

They have since developed a suite of advice-based offerings—including investment management, wealth planning, trust administration, and specialized services that have helped them to score big wins with wealth management firms targeting the HNW segment.

Advizr’s CEO, Hussein Zaidi, demonstrated their new business line,Workplace, that was built on their self-directed financial planning technology. Instead of fighting it out one RIA at a time, Zaidi had the idea to go after the employer retirement plan market instead.

Advizr Workplace enables financial advisors, record keepers, employers, investment advisers and broker-dealers to offer customizable financial wellness programs and marketing collateral that drive end-user engagement and encourage behavioral changes.

Is the UK on Advizr’s list of overseas expansion targets?  Sounds like an opportunity.

Clearnomics

There are so many wannabe and copycat products on the market or being released (“Another robo-advisor platform? Seriously?) that it could make your head explode. So when a company comes along with an original idea, it makes everyone sit up and take notice.

Enter Clearnomics.

I met their CEO, James Liu, at the T3 Conference back in February and was impressed by his presentation.  Their analytics and reports give advisors the ability to translate complex economic and market data into a clear, simple message that clients can easily understand.

Creating chartbooks is a task I was assigned many moons ago and it took me days to complete just one for a big client meeting.  An advisor using Clearnomics tools can build polished chartbooks with customized market and economic insights very quickly.  It’s all white labeled and can include talking points customized for each client.

I love heat maps!

eMoney Advisor

I go back and forth as to whether I prefer these demo sessions to focus on new companies with brand new products or if there is something to gain from seeing  existing vendors show new features.

eMoney did a fantastic job with a demo of their new voice-activation commands via Alexa.  I was impressed with the ease of use and the ability to move across the interface quickly.

Stringing commands together without Alexa getting confused is definitely a major hurdle. But they were still able to get the basic navigation completed during the demo. Although, this type of integration has suddenly become quite popular and is showing up all over the place.

Don’t worry, I was thinking that as well. “Make it so, Number One!”

I’d like to see the major wealth management vendors replace their cluttered, confusing user interfaces with a simple Google-like search bar.

Envestnet | Yodlee

Envestnet acquired Yodlee back in 2015 for a cool $660 million.  They have spent the past three years working to integrate it into their overall wealth management offering. (See 5 Reasons Why the Envestnet Acquisition of Yodlee Was Brilliant)

Data aggregation has become table stakes for most wealth management firms and most every platform vendor as well. Some vendors took Envestnet’s route and bought their own aggregation technology (i.e. Morningstar and ByAllAccounts) while others buy the data in various forms of partnerships.

One trend we have seen is technology vendors contracting with three or more aggregation vendors in order to become an aggregator of aggregators. This allows them to evaluate the data and decide which is providing the most accurate source almost in real time. (See The Data Whisperer: How Yodlee Plans to Revolutionize Financial Advice)

Envestnet redesigned their self-service digital advice offering this year, which I saw at their conference back in May. I agree with the judges that the user interface was not very exciting and seems that they’re just playing catchup in this area.

These are some screenshots of the not-so-impressive user interface of the client portal.

NexJ CRM

It’s rare that during a demo that they presenter explains the underlying technology behind the product. Google’s Material Design framework has been evolving since 2011 and appears in almost all of their products from Gmail to Android. By leveraging this, it seems that Next is working towards design unity across their entire set of products.

I agree with the judges that they didn’t present much that was new, which is kind of the whole reason why you would get up on stage at a conference like this. Especially with the other companies showcasing new AI, voice activation, and other cool stuff. (See Redtail vs Salesforce FSC: Which is the best CRM for Financial Advisors?)

RetireUp

RetireUp is taking a slightly different tack by focusing on facilitating the purchase of insurance products that support a well-designed financial plan. Their software has the ability to model annuities based on specifications received from their insurance company partners. The selected annuity is placed inside the client’s plan where the advisor can use a slider to adjust the amount of money to transfer in from a selected account and instantly see the impact on future cash flows.

More firms are expanding their product offerings into tangential areas and markets. Financial planning vendors are adding abilities to implement the plans they design by filling out the necessary insurance forms like RetireUp or even executing the trades needed to populate an equity portfolio like Advizr. (See Stranger Things Are Happening to Financial Planning Software)

I like their user interface and how it walks the advisor through the process.

Investors’ appetite for alternatives have been growing steadily with global AUM reaching $6.5 trillion last year. Total assets managed by the Top 100 alternative investment managers globally was up 10% in 2017, according to research produced by Willis Towers Watson.

Scivantage

Scivantage had one of the first digital offerings out of the gate, but they haven’t updated it in awhile, so I’m glad to see them show a refresh. They’ve fallen a bit behind in this space, so I’m interested to see if they can catch up to digital leaders like Jemstep and SigFig. (See Comparing The Best Digital Advice “Robo-Advisor” Platforms For RIAs)

That’s a good point, especially given how ubiquitous their robo advice has become. Almost every firm has a digital wealth channel now, but you can only make it work if you have staff to support it. Otherwise you are spending money on technology that you can’t use. There is a very small target market of firms that have the exepertise to do this efficiently.

Smartleaf

Smartleaf had a long history as focusing on the bank space and partnering with the bigger wealth management platforms and TAMPs as their rebalancer of choice. They have always offered strong tax management functionality including budgeting and real-time tracking of gains and losses.

(See Advisor’s Guide To Choosing The Best Portfolio Rebalancing Software)

Many advisors have a difficult time explaining the value of rebalancing to their clients. Smartleaf built a report that helps them walk their clients through the reasoning behind the rebalance and how it benefits them.

One area that I always felt Smartleaf needed to improve was their user interface. Most other rebalancers have dashboard style front end that enabled exception-based management. Smartleaf never had this. Their response was that it was “not an alerting system, It’s a solution system. We don’t alert you to problems, we solve them!”

Looking at these new UI screen it appears as though they have migrated to a new way of thinking.

The primary method that Smartleaf clients use to select accounts that need to be rebalanced is the cost/benefit score.  This is unique among rebalancers that I have seen where every account falls into the category of rebalance triggered or not.

Private Client Resources (PCR)

PCR is often going head to head with Addepar and trying to differentiate themselves in the family office and HNW RIA spaces. PCR does it with customization and flexibility, while Addepar does it with report design and deep support for alternatives. API’s have been around forever, but are turning into a new wave as a lot of the larger wealth management firms are building their own user interfaces and plugging in data and services via APIs. Without a robust library, you can not compete for this business.

Salesforce

I don’t want to slam Salesforce, but I’ve never liked their UI. I was first exposed to it back in 2007 and the interface hasn’t gotten much better since then.

Salesforce blows everyone else away in the ability to customize and develop on top of their platform and with their app exchange, but it still requires a heavy lift from your tech staff, and a lot of companies just don’t have the capacity or the understanding to do it right.

I’d like to see more practical examples of their Einstein AI as well. I want to see how it really works. I wasn’t impressed with the optimization of client visits. To me, that’s more eye candy than anything an advisor would use. Do they think that advisors are like traveling salesmen?

The number of client portals are multiplying like rabbits at a pet store; there are so many of them I think clients are getting overwhemed. Some independent broker-dealers have three or more portals available for advisors and see a mix of deployments with some overlapping. This is no way to run a business.

It’s true you that every vendor thinks they need a client portal, but it really needs to be awesome if you are going to get enough clients to use it. Between platorm vendors, financial planning and CRM’s, everyone has a portal and wants to be the hub where all other product integrate. (See The Battle for the RIA Technology Integration Hub)

Leave a Reply

Contact us