A little over five years ago, I was delighted to be invited by Eric Clarke, the CEO of Orion Advisor Services, to serve as a judge at their initial FUSE hackathon in Park City, Utah. I did not know what to expect at that event, nor do I think did anyone else, but it was a transformative experience. Developers from numerous fintech partners of Orion brought their computers to “the FUSE House,” sat down, and started coding – some for 48 hours or more of uninterrupted time at the keyboard. The catering was rudimentary. Brad Burgess, the Chief Technology Officer of Orion cooked massive amounts of bacon and eggs for approximately 50 guests for breakfast, and he cooked steaks on the grill for dinner. There was pizza for lunch, lots of home-made guacamole and chips in the afternoon and into the night, and plenty of beer to keep the creative juices flowing.
Several good things emerged from that early experience. One was a real sense of camaraderie among the attendees. A deeper bonding took place between the Orion technology people in attendance and their technology partners, which carries on to this day, and of course, there were some new prototype apps and ideas that emerged from the event. Finally, it created more buzz around the event, which fuels FUSE development to this day.
If there was any criticism to be made of the first FUSE event, and the few that followed in Park City, it was that too few of the ideas that emerged at FUSE made it into production, and of those that did, most were of more than a supplemental nature that a core functionality that would really impact the advisor or the end client experience when interacting with the Orion platform.
2018 FUSE = BEST POOL OF CONTESTANTS EVER
This year’s FUSE event clearly addressed the shortcomings of the past. All FUSE contenders were given clear instructions that in order to qualify for admission to the competition, their proposed project had to me be a meaningful integration, and it had to work. The judges would be on the lookout primarily for innovations that added real value to the Orion platform. In order to gain admission to the competition this year, applications were pre-screened for relevance, and those proposals that did not meet the standards set forth above were not invited to participate. The result of the pre-screening was that every invitee to the competition this year was already of a high caliber. On average, this was by far the best pool of contestants that ever presented at FUSE.
NEW, IMPROVED JUDGING PROCESS
Another new twist Orion added this year was to the judging process. In the past, FUSE was a separate event and the judges awarded all of the prizes. Since this year’s competition was held in conjunction with Ascent, the Orion annual event for their advisors, the audience at Ascent participated in selecting the Best in Show and Best Newcomer awards. While there was initially some concern that the opinion of the advisors might diverge significantly from that of the judges, it turned out that both parties were in total agreement as to which contestants should get those prestigious awards.
The Best in Show Award went to SaleMove; it also won the People’s Choice Award. This innovative platform, which Orion has been using for some time to communicate with advisors, is a comprehensive digital communications platform. It allows advisors to co-browse with their clients. So, for example, if a client calls up with a question about their client portal in Orion, the advisor can hop right on the call and see what the client sees. It also allows for omni-channel communications. For example, if a client or prospect initially engages with your firm through a chat bot on your website, you can seamlessly shift to an audio or a video communication mid-stream if necessary. The user experience is outstanding, and the base package of SaleMove tools is included with your Orion license. For an added fee, SaleMove offers enhanced features such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). You can program your chat bot to answer simple or typical questions automatically. For example, if a client texts, “What is my account balance today?” the bot can access their account and provide an accurate answer. Or, if a client wants to know, “What is the current rate on a 15-year fixed mortgage?” the bot could return the average rate. I expect SaleMove to be very popular with Orion advisors.
MoneyGuidePro won the Judge’s Choice Award. This deep integration between the Orion platform and this industry leading financial planning application allows advisors to access much of the key information that resides in MoneyGuidePro from right within the Orion platform. You can access a client’s probability of success, you can access their net worth statement, you can even access their current and recommended planning scenarios from right within Orion. The integration is well designed and seamless. It addresses specific request from advisors who are users of both systems. It is sure to be well received.
The Best Newcomer Award went to InterGen Data. This firm is not widely known today, but I’m sure they soon will be. Using statistical data on life events, imported demographic and personal details from sources, and AI machine learning, InterGen can predict the likelihood of events, the costs involved, and the impact of those events on a financial plan. InterGen has integrated this development as an Amazon Alexa skill so it’s easily accessible and simple to use. As shown by IBD United Planners at FUSE 2018, it can be used to give a client a quick analysis and then connect them to an advisor. The integration with Orion allows InterGen to share information about the client gathered from the InterGen process and push it into the note section of Orion. While this is not the most robust integration featured at FUSE, the innovation and the future potential of the platform are such that it was chosen by both the vote of the judges and the vote of the advisors as the innovation winner.
Redtail CRM took the Hackathon Award. It is not every day that the CEO of a FinTech company sits down at the FUSE house and codes overnight to come up with a hack – one that is coded from start to finish at FUSE. Furthermore, the hack he created had no benefit to his firm; it was exclusively for the benefit of Orion. The judges thought that Brian McLaughlin, the CEO of Redtail, deserved this award not only for the app that he created, but for demonstrating the true FUSE hackathon spirit.
There were a number of notable entrants that did not win an award, but that deserve mention. CLS Investments, a sister company to Orion, debuted Investor Blueprint, a behavioral tool built specifically for the financial services industry. It matches personality type with practical guidance to help advisors build relationships with clients and prospects. By identifying behaviors and likely responses to market conditions, Investor Blueprint can help advisors prepare to best communicate and work with various client types. It can also assist in creating different versions of Orion reports based on a personality type and market conditions. For example, advisors can group clients by the four personality types identified with the Investor Blueprint. They can then, with the help of Blueprint, create a separate Orion report package for each personality type. Actually, it can create one of three reports for each personality type based on the market performance of the period under review (as expected, below expectations, or above expectations). The various reports will each contain language geared towards the targeted personality type. This may represent a real advancement in client reporting moving forward.
Three firms, BlackRock, DFA, and FinMason, all demonstrated robust analytics engines that can be applied to portfolios in Orion. The range of analytics that FinMason can perform is impressive, with over 700 analytics that advisors can screen for. DFA’s approach is to allow advisors to collaborate with a DFA specialist over a video call in real tome to help construct models and portfolios using DFA analytics. The Blackrock integration leverages Blackrock’s powerful Aladdin analytical engine, the same one used by institutional investors, to deliver sophisticated tools to advisors.
Both TD Ameritrade and Schwab demonstrated a straight through digital onboarding process from within Orion. Although both were well received by judges and advisors, the Schwab workflow appeared to be the more elegant and easier one of the two.
OTHER ORION DEVELOPMENTS
Several Orion developments that were highlighted during the Ascent Conference did not make it into the FUSE competition, but they were noteworthy. Orion will be releasing version 3.0 of their Report Builder in November. I sat in on a session demonstrating its abilities, and I was impressed. It includes much faster report generation, enhanced report building flexibility, enhanced branding flexibility, and multiple usability enhancements.
Orion is also making available Mindflash, another tool they use internally to create training materials to advisors. This will allow advisors to create training materials to onboard new employees, train them on new software and hardware, etc. Advisory firms can create training groups and assign groups of courses to different employee groups. The firm can then monitor usage to ensure that everyone takes the necessary training, and they can even produce quizzes to ensure that the learning objectives were met. It will also allow advisors to create training material for employees and prospects. For example, advisors can create training videos to show clients how to use their portal and other tools the advisor makes available to clients.
There was much more positive news coming out of FUSE and Ascent, but hopefully this summary of the highlights has provided a sense of just how impressive and how successful the Orion event was this year. As is the case with TD Ameritrade’s VEO Open Access, Orion’s approach to open systems and collaboration has fostered a collaborative environment that benefits Orion, their partners, and their clients (if they are a current client of Orion). You have much to be excited about.