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Topics: Opinion

Notes from the field: Invest 2017

Wealth planning, AI, and more

philipp-henzler-411.pngEarlier this week, I stopped by the Invest 2017 conference in New York. We like technology, and it’s always a pleasure to see the hard work and imagination that goes into the exhibited solutions. Below are some high level notes.

Missing In Action: performance and product

The most notable takeaway for me was what folks weren’t talking about. There was nothing about great or even innovative investment strategies. Crickets. It’s common wisdom that product- and performance-centered value propositions are in decline. The focus of attention at conferences like Invest 2017 certainly support that view.

Wealth planning

If not product and performance, then what? The most common answer we hear is “goals-based financial planning”. You ask clients what they want and then give them a portfolio that has the highest probability of helping them achieve their goals. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it risks being too passive. It assumes clients know what they want and that they’ll follow through on their plans. Some of the most interesting work we see tries to take this to a higher level—helping advisors become “life coaches”. The focus is on helping clients make choices, prepare for unexpected events and understand what’s really important. We hear phrases like “help create richer lives” or “ensuring that clients can live the life they want”. There’s lots going on this space. In terms of presenting a thoughtful, detailed vision of how this should work, United Capital continues to be impressive.

AI

Not surprisingly, quite a few firms managed to mention “AI”. Some of this may be mere buzz-phrase compliancy, but there are clearly serious efforts coming from Salesforce and IBM Watson (who announced a partnership earlier this year). The idea is to use AI predictive analytics to qualify prospects, identify clients that need attention and, in each case, point to specific actions that are likely to make a difference. If I understand correctly, you can do this solely using your organization's proprietary data, or you can opt in to use a wider set of anonymized data across firms. Also, let me provide a shout out to DataRobot, a fellow Boston-based firm. They don’t have a specific killer application of AI. Instead they aim to simplify AI analytics with a tool that can be used by regular folks, not just data scientists.  

And more

There’s other stuff going on, of course. For example, United Income is a robo specifically targeting retirement, an example of focused market segmentation. Riedel Strategy offers marketing advice based on experimental psychology. Not surprisingly, many vendors are working on creating content-rich portals and making everyday processes easier and more efficient, in particular easier account setup and reducing paperwork.

So, what new cool tech should you run out and buy?  

We’re a technology firm, and we really enjoy seeing this level of innovation. And, naturally, we believe in the power of technology to transform wealth management business models and serve investors better. I’m pretty sure every other Fintech firm feels the same. But, amidst all this hoopla, we try to remind ourselves that technology is not a silver bullet. It can never serve as a substitute for having the commitment, clear strategy and vision. Surrounded as we are by cool new tech, the most interesting question remains not “what can technology do?” (even though it’s a lot). It’s “where do I want to go?”

Topics: Opinion