Over the years, the T3 conference—now in its 19th year—created and still run by advisor technology expert Joel Bruckenstein has become a homecoming and reunion of sorts for me—in addition to meeting new tech entrepreneurs and advisors.
It really is as much a community meeting as a conference. As a journalist, I’m lucky that I don’t have to navigate the business side and its intricacies, such as the constant increase in prices and costs that vendors and exhibitors experience and complain about, the constant shortage of advisors and the occasional running out of food, lunch or coffee that is always taken too early.
Most of it is accepted in good spirit, as the real value comes in seeing both old friends (and in my case, sources) and tech companies (both established and new) and the overall strong programming that Bruckenstein brings together.
While discussions of last week’s bank collapse and continued market volatility certainly dominated thought and conversation, the focus always returned to the sessions at hand, and with that I discuss some of what I thought were highlights.
“Artificial intelligence is stupid” was my favorite part of the event and came from the mouth of Dynasty CTO Frank Coates. He didn’t mean it literally; Like a lot of things Coates says, I think it was meant to capture attention and wake and wake everyone up. On the sentiment in its non-literal form, I agree, and Coates went on to elaborate: Advisors in particular and advisors (especially marketers) also love ideas that threaten advisors.
We’ve lived through similar cycles with robo-advisors, the shift to cloud-based and cloud-based technologies, and cybersecurity breaches and scares (more on that later).
I firmly believe that – just like the fear of robo-advisors before it, which led to a huge amount of innovation in advisor technology – AI, including machine learning, natural language processing, and generative AI (e.g. ChatGPT and its already dozen or so competitors) will be transformative, at times disruptive, but ultimately a force multiplier and addition to the work of financial advisors.
Coates later noted that a big challenge that even AI builders acknowledge is, “How do I make a footnote?”
“When you think about conversational AI, how can I ensure that?” said Coates, adding that “today there’s no easy way to tell what a source is and whether it’s valid.”
Another panel speaker reassured the advisors in the audience in a manner reminiscent of the dawn of robo-advisors.
Spenser Segal, founder and CEO of ActiFi, Inc., a technology consulting and services provider, said much of the discussion about AI and the advisor industry boils down to “judgment and wisdom.”
“We separate out what can be automated and easily applied to the technology you use, but AI can’t read your customer,” he said.
These technologies will and are already helping advisors and their businesses increase efficiency and automate processes in unprecedented ways.
The first day’s session helped illustrate this: “HIFON Talks Tech – AI Comes to RIA.” It was moderated by Shaun Kapusinski, Founder of HIFON Technology Network, with panelists Trevor Chuna, CTO of Sequoia Financial Group and Vib Arya, COO of Shufro Rose, and drew an audience that filled the room.
I was amazed when Chuna shared how Sequoia had discovered AI-based chatbot provider CogniCor in a piece written by its founder Sindhu Joseph. WealthManagement.com.
Chuna went on to describe his and Sequoia’s approach to deciding how to use AI: “Start with what’s the most painful part of my world today,” he said.
Simply put, by taking the most mind-boggling, labor-intensive, previously manual processes and workflows that advisors and staff had to perform, and letting AI perform them, and perform them in a demanding, repeatable way, increasing efficiency and eliminating NIGOs by involving humans. out of the mix. This enables what has been discussed and not realized over the past decade: allowing advisors to spend more time with their clients or focus on ways to maximize other aspects of the relationship, such as helping them achieve their goals.
FP Alpha Estate Planning and Non-life Insurance modules
Along these same lines, I can move on to discuss what appears to be an implementation with significant business development or expansion potential for most RIAs. FP Alpha, which won the 2022 Technology Innovation Award at WealthManagement.com’s annual Wealthies event, made a three-part announcement at the show that included differentiating its estate planning module from the rest of the platform.
This allows advisors who may already have tax and financial planning applications they like to reduce their spending on duplicate or redundant software while still benefiting from FP Alpha’s real estate technology.
Within this technology is the release of Estate Lab 2.0 and its many enhancements, including the fact that the app can now automatically transfer key data points from wills and trusts directly into the Estate Planning Lab.
It allows advisors to more easily compare alternative estate planning scenarios to the current one—which may be years out of date—by taking assets to illustrate how those assets would transfer upon death today—yes, an uncomfortable but necessary conversation—and the other spouse’s death (if any).
In a conference session, Baird wealth planning expert Wood Boone discussed the benefits of the platform.
“We have six or seven estate planning specialists (at Baird), but we have 1,400 advisers and just capacity – it’s hard to reach everyone,” he said.
“A complex estate plan can take four or five hours to create a diagram that we can share with an advisor,” Boone said.
Domestic machine learning and natural language processing technology and algorithms built into FP Alpha’s software can read and extract data from up to a 100-page estate plan and build such a chart in minutes.
In other words, it can allow advisors to stay much more involved in the process, even if it’s just looking at key financial aspects of an estate plan that many advisors would have previously turned over entirely to someone else.
In the 2023 T3/Inside Information Advisor Software Survey, just under 16% of advisors use estate planning tools, up from just under 11% in 2022.
And as noted during the session, younger clients are asking about estate plans and looking to the future, expecting their advisor, if they have one, to be the “financial back end” of the process.
The third part of the announcement is an introduction to FP Alpha’s new P&C Snapshot, a tool that uploads home and auto insurance documents that can prove to be a big time saver for advisors, helping to spot red flags and improve clients’ current situation.
“I would argue with Joel (Bruckenstein) and Bob (Veres) that there is one category missing (from their annual technology survey) and that’s insurance,” said Andrew Altfest (see my colleague Ali Hibb’s recent RIA Edge 100 profile on Altfest Personal. Wealth Management).
“About 70% of customers want their advisers to help them with insurance, and currently only about 3% of advisers do.”
I have to give Joel credit, he bangs the digital security advisor drum at every conference, something I’ve applauded for a long time. A technology supplier realized his approach, which some might consider fearmongering on Twitter. I would agree if counselors as a whole weren’t so woefully unprepared.
Brian Edelman, founder and CEO of FCI, provided a simple and straightforward presentation of the 13 questions regulators ask advisors, starting with, “Are you sure your company has an active cyber program?” and ends with “Does your cybersecurity team have a dashboard where you can see all the devices and events?” It provided a good wake-up call for unprepared businesses and a good review for the few that are.
Edelman noted that even smaller RIA shops have as many as 25 relationships with third-party technology providers, and at a minimum, advisors must have a contact list ready in the event of a security breach.
Another cyber security speaker, Mark P. Hurley, CEO of Digital Privacy & Protection, discussed how advisors are expected to play a “key role” in managing their clients’ cyber risk well into the future. I plan to cover this in more detail in a future column.
I first met Martin Tarlie, Chief Product Officer of Nebon by GMO, at our own WealthStack conference in 2022. He has spent the last 10 years working on the ideas behind the platform, which he describes as “a startup inside a mature wealth management company.”
If I’m being honest, I’m still digesting this show, which Tarlie said was new but thought-provoking and obviously caught the audience’s attention.
Tarlie presents the case that building portfolios today is both a people problem and a problem with the shortcomings of modern portfolio theory.
“Nebo is at the center of a multi-dimensional goal-based process … (acting) … as the ‘engine’ that connects the plan to the portfolio, testing risk during portfolio construction.
If for no other reason, advisors building their own portfolios or those interested in following the latest philosophical and methodological foundations that bring behavioral finance to the process should check out the resources Tarlie has created.
AdvizorPro and PlanPro
I also met several new technology providers at the conference. The most interesting were Michael Magnan and Hesom Parhizkar, founders of AdvizorPro and PlanPro.
Of greatest interest to financial advisors is PlanPro, which provides data, tools and a set of filters to help effectively engage plan sponsors. Dozens of filters, including red flags, plan details, geography and more, can help advisors find plans in their area and view in-depth plan profiles. The information they gather can be used to find plans with high payouts and savings opportunities, as well as weaknesses or diversification issues in plan funds.
Magnan, who has more than six years of experience in the financial services industry as a data scientist and product manager before building his own startup, said personal experience led him to found PlanPro.
While the application starts with Form 5500 information, it includes investment information for plans with more than 100 employees and allows plan advisers to access plans with at least $10 million in assets.
“We offer all kinds of ways and filters to find companies that need your help,” Magnan said, easily reflecting on plans whose fees were unnecessarily high during the product launch.
“The two things we really specialize in are reports that are rich in information about plans and performance and our lead lists,” he added.
More to say
T3 became a lot more this year, which I’ll unpack in future columns and stories.