The independent advisory space has always been a home for innovation. Its very fragmented nature spurs people to come up with new ideas and ways to do things that other, more established industries would squash simply under their own weight and influence.
Thus, here in late 2014, it is no secret that we are seeing an amazing renaissance in advisor technology driven by entrepreneurs attracted to doing the right thing by the client and applying a healthy dose of advanced technology to make it happen.
These entrepreneurs’ ability to see opportunities to reinvent processes that the industry has taken as a given in the normal course of doing business is what sets them apart. Often, by combining the best of different applications and processes into one streamlined platform can be the instrument of change that alters the way wealth management advice is delivered.
One such entrepreneur is David Benskin, CEO and founder of Wealth Access, the “high net worth version of mint.com for advisors.” Benskin spent about 13 years working with Merrill Lynch as a high net worth advisor and even with all of the resources of Mother Merrill, suffered trying to get his arms around a high-net-worth client’s portfolio. He would literally build spreadsheets late into the night before family meetings inputting their data, pulling information from screenshots of emails and account statements.
“There has got to be a better way,” Benskin recalls and set out to mine for tech gold in the independent advisor space and build Wealth Access.
Benskin saw the opportunity and left Merrill to found Wealth Access in 2011. The platform is cloud-based, and has an advanced account aggregation engine to automatically bring in positions and holdings from over 20,000 financial institutions and is optimized on all mobile devices. Wealth access currently reports on nearly $10 billion in both assets and liabilities through its balance sheet approach, has attracted a healthy dose of VC funding and employs nearly 20 staff.
The killer app for Wealth Access, however, is its ability to show multi-generational wealth views that appeal to the children of wealthy clients – advisors’ future prospect pipeline. This advanced reporting engine, integrated with the outputs of portfolio management, performance reporting and financial planning systems, along with its client portal, fills a key gap in advisor technology.
Following the “best in breed” strategy that industry experts and custodians propone, advisors have invested in multiple systems, yet often lack that one unified reporting piece to pull the client’s entire balance sheet together.
Thus, Benskin’s innovation is creating that open architecture front-end reporting and business intelligence system that doesn’t replace portfolio management, performance reporting or financial planning systems, rather unifies and enhances their results on one platform.
Particularly as the “robo advisors” have now invaded wealth management, advisors need to up their game and provide a technology solution to enhance the client experience above and beyond quarterly paper statements.
While robo advisors will never replace human advisors for the higher level needs of personal financial planning and wealth management, they have raised the table stakes for everyone with their elegant and simple client facing platforms. Now, more than ever, advisors need to up their client experience game. The good news is that there are solutions at hand.
Fragmentation in an industry often leads to inefficiencies, however, it also drives innovation that centralistic, top-heavy industries quash. In the case of the independent advisor space, we are seeing this dynamic played out in real time. Case in point: David Benskin and Wealth Access.