Are You Future Ready? A Panel of Experts Provides Some Big Ideas

Are You Future Ready? A Panel of Experts Provides Some Big Ideas

A unique characteristic about the RIA community, and one I admire most, is the collective thought leadership voice that provides continuing guidance and direction.  

I was reminded of this fact while attending a recent Fidelity Inside Track conference panel with 5 prominent industry experts who discussed the topic of ‘Looking Forward: Insights on Creating Future-Ready Firms’.  This 1-hour session delivered unique perspective on what these model firms will looks like, and the best practices that firms can consider adopting to enhance their growth in the coming years.

Moderator by David Canter, Executive Vice President, Practice Management and Consulting, Fidelity Investments, here’s the abridged summary of the takeaways:

Understand the DOL Fiduciary Rule – Own it, embrace it, use it as opportunity to cement the fiduciary duty within your firms.

Advocate a Fiduciary Culture – You can’t just ‘talk the talk’, you need to ‘walk the walk’ Your internal practices need to match the values of putting clients first.

--Karen Barr, Karen Barr, President, Chief Executive Officer, Investment Adviser Association

Be clear about your value proposition – Financial planning can be presented as a real differentiator, especially when leveraged with technology.  

Focus on the client experience – Technology presents a big opportunity for advisors to up their game, especially with digital advice. Everybody needs to get on board.

--Joel Bruckenstein, CFP, Publisher, T3 Tech Hub

Adjust your methods – Internal staff training has to be looked at in a new and different way to groom the next generation of employees.

Speak to everyone – There’s a unique crossing of younger tech savvy employees and older clients who are used to using traditional forms of communication. The challenge is to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.

--Beverly Flaxington, Industry Professional and Coach, The Human Behavior Coach®

Expand your perspective – Discern from what’s right in front of you with the client and what’s further down the road. With every change, there are ramifications and opportunities.

Fears are often misplaced – We’re often following the bouncing ball; automated advice, social media, DOL Fiduciary Rule. What’s tripping up advisors are real liabilities and risk. Spend time with staff, so they really understand what’s important and urgent.

--Brian Hamburger, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer, MarketCounsel

Leaders need to develop future leaders – Because firms are growing at such a rapid pace, today’s CEOs need to look toward those who share a common vision and passion for the firm’s culture. You cannot be successful in this business without people.   

 Pay attention to the super ensembles – these emerging firms are setting the standards for the industry on everything from talent, partnership, and clients service.

--Philip Palaveev, Owner and Chief Executive Officer, The Ensemble Practice LLC

The big takeaway – Firms that will be best prepared for the future are those that not only have an eye towards the future but an actionable plan, from growth to succession and everthing thing in between, to take them there. 

In my next article, I’ll share some key insights on marketing and business development and what can be learned from some leading RIAs highlighted in Fidelity’s Be Greater: Why Being Good Enough Is No Longer An Option - Volume 2 book.

Bill McGuire
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Bill McGuire is principal of W.M.McGuire, a full service marketing resource serving the Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) community. We help with every aspect of your market ... Click for full bio

The Lies Spread by Bankers About Cryptocurrencies

The Lies Spread by Bankers About Cryptocurrencies

I had a chat with The Financial Times the other day, and provided lots of background as to why I don’t think cryptocurrencies are the choice of criminals. The comment that was reported was the following:

Chris Skinner, a financial technology author, said it was “complete rubbish” to suggest the main use of cryptocurrencies was criminal. “There is some criminal activity associated with some cryptocurrencies but it is quite minimal,” he said. “It’s a myth that the financial community want to promote.”

I feel I need to explain this further, so here goes.

My response was in answer to Vasant Prabhu, Chief Financial Officer of Visa (the card network) who made two claims:

1) Most people have no idea what they’re doing with cryptocurrency investments; and

2) Cryptocurrencies are mainly being used by criminals.

With the first point, I agree. In fact, I loved the John Oliver Show that discussed crypto and started with the line that cryptocurrencies are “everything you don’t understand about money combined with everything you don’t understand about computers”. A perfect combination for idiots to invest in. I agree with both Vasant and John, as many people are buying cryptocurrencies for no other reason than other people are buying them.

The second point I completely disagree with. Mr Prabhu said cryptocurrencies were a “favourite” for criminals.

“It’s very hard to get dirty money through a banking system. Cryptocurrency is phenomenal for all that stuff . . . Every crook and every dirty politician in the world, I bet, is in cryptocurrency.”

This is complete baloney and is a smokescreen being created by financial people to deflect the real purpose of cryptocurrencies, which is to use software and servers to manage value rather than buildings and humans. In other words, cryptocurrencies have the opportunity to reduce or even replace banks, which is why I find it interesting how often I hear a financial person say that bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are just for criminals when it’s blatantly not true. Unfortunately because they are in a position of authority, politicians believe them; and unfortunately, because they are also in a position of authority, the media believes them; and unfortunately, because they are in a position of authority, the public sometimes believes them too.

Most law enforcement authorities however, state that the levels of criminal activity with cryptocurrencies is so tiny today that it doesn’t matter and, specifically, does not warrant deflecting their time and energy to investigate them. Just to illustrate this, the total worldwide investment in all cryptocurrencies is around $300 billion today. Even if criminals were running 10% of that, it’s still just $30 billion. That is an insignificant amount compared to the trillions being laundered through the traditional financial system, mainly through offshore companies buying up properties.

From The TelegraphNovember 2017:

Organised crime generates income equivalent to around 2.7pc of global GDP. Around $1.6 trillion of this is laundered to disguise its criminal origins: financial crime is undoubtedly a worldwide problem.

From What Mortgage, February 2018:

Julian Dixon, CEO of Fortytwo Data, whose research found that more than a third (37%) of all suspicious activity reports (SAR) across the entire legal sector were related to property: “For criminals, the vast amount of cash involved in property purchases provides the perfect cover for laundering the proceeds of drugs, terrorism and firearms offences.

From The TimesFebruary 2018:

Rob Wainwright, director of [Europol], revealed that 3 to 4 per cent of the £100 billion of illicit cash circulating in Europe is laundered through anonymous digital currencies such as bitcoin.

So that’s around £4 billion max right now. That’s less than a particle of a drop in the ocean of crime globally.

Now, the concern may be that cryptocurrencies offers the opportunity to launder funds. This is possibly true and is why I said there is some criminal activity with some cryptocurrencies which is tiny today, but might grow over time. Even then, it is speculative and too early to call. For example, that paragraph from The Times is factually incorrect, as bitcoin is not anonymous. In fact, nearly all digital transactions can be tracked and traced online, and therefore offer the worst use case for money laundering.

This is why the only currency that criminals currently use in any volume for illicit activity is Monero, because it is nearly an equivalent of digital cash. Nevertheless, the total market cap of Monero is $3 billion, and even if half of that is criminal activity, it’s totally insignificant on a global scale.

All in all, it is obvious that most financial people have created this myth of criminals opting for cryptocurrencies for two reasons:

1) it is to protect their turf, as they don’t want to lose their role as intermediators of finance; and

2) it is to deflect the authorities from looking at the true perpetrators of illicit monetary activity, namely the banking system.

Bear these two points in mind when I say that banks were built for the physical distribution of paper, which is why cash and property are the physical assets that are the preference of criminal choice. If you didn’t know it, London is actually the money laundering capital of the world:

  • British registered companies and British-based banks helped move at least $20 billion of the proceeds of criminal activities out of Russia between 2010 and 2014.
  • Transparency International’s research found 766 UK corporate vehicles involved in 52 large scale corruption and money laundering cases approaching valuations of £80 billion.
  • Around half of the 766 companies alleged to have been involved in high-end money laundering were based at just eight UK addresses.
  • The Home Affairs Select Committee hearings found that the London property market is the primary avenue for the laundering of £100 billion of illicit money a year. No wonder first time buyers cannot get on the property ladder.

If anything is the preferred market for money launderers then it is banks, not cryptocurrencies. No wonder financial people are trying to deflect the media elsewhere.

Bottom-line: as all things move to digital distribution of data, the trail to audit such movements get easier because they can be sniffed out and monitored; as a result, most criminal activity will continue to leverage the weak links in the chain, which is the physical distribution of paper through cash and property assets in the traditional financial system.

I’ve written a lot on this in the past and would point to these two blog entries for more:

And there’s also a lengthy but worthwhile read about why bitcoin cannot be regulated, as it is protected by America’s first amendment and the right to free speech.

Chris Skinner
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Chris Skinner is one of the most influential and prolific thought leaders on the future of banking, finance and technology. The Financial Brand awarded him best blog and ... Click for full bio