Automation, New Pricing Models, APIs, and more
I was at the Disrupt Advice Conference on Tuesday to present a demo of the Smartleaf system. The purpose was not to illustrate specific features of our system, but to introduce and explain the broader concept of automated rebalancing. I wanted to show why folks who have never given much thought to rebalancing systems should take an interest. We’ll post a link to a video of this presentation when it becomes available.
For those that couldn't participate, here are some of the larger themes and interesting ideas we heard:
- Only the Best Advisors Will Survive. Only the best advisors — those who deliver the most value — are going to survive as advisory services become more transparent and technology raises the bar of what's possible. Basically, there won't be a place for bad service to hide.
- Automate What You Can. You should automate the processes that can be automated so that you can focus on building better relationships with clients. This includes everything from posting on social media to client outreach to, of course, rebalancing. This idea isn’t new, but the range of services that subject to automation continues to grow.
- Financial Planning is Key. Return and product-oriented value propositions are in decline. Every presenter and every firm we spoke with — I don’t think there was a single exception — embraced that wealth management should be built around financial planning. On the vendor side, we’re seeing a lot of resources going into facilitating this. We didn’t see any new “killer features” in the planning space, but we like seeing the high level of innovation and competition.
- APIs Matter. Systems of all types are becoming easier to integrate with each other, as more and more vendors build their offerings around APIs (Application Program Interfaces). This may be the most far reaching “meta” innovation of all, because it means that buyers can take advantage of innovative solutions. Competition is good, but it’s mostly moot if firms are locked into their existing vendors. Some firms, like Orion and CircleBlack, are staking a claim to being a sort of integration hub.
- New Pricing Models. Some advisory firms are trying out new pricing models, including fixed annual fees, per hour fees, and bps fees with a dollar cap. For most of the companies exploring these new fees, the point is not to be cheaper, but to better align interests. Two noteworthy examples: AdvicePeriod offers fixed quarterly fees that depend on the complexity of the client’s accounts; Timothy Financial Counsel charges by the hour.