Independent Financial Advisors Can Wear Many Hats: Here’s One You May Want to Avoid

Editor’s note: Robb Baldwin, the founder, President and CEO of TradePMR, spoke at the T3 Elite Advisors Symposium in December 2018. This article is an adaptation of that presentation. A corresponding video interview produced by FinTechTV, Practice Management Insights for RIAs, is available here: https://vimeo.com/306529073

While Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) may share a business model, how they function as advisors can vary greatly. Some might focus on investment management or financial planners, while others might choose to position themselves as holistic life planners or tax experts. Many seek to build their reputation as great rainmakers or consummate marketers and others highlight their technical skills.

As an RIA, whatever your focus, your business is closely tied to helping clients achieve their goals. Your business model is not that of a software company. Rather, technology is a tool that you can use to better serve your clients and run a more efficient business. Still, it is critical in my opinion to determine how you will automate to effectively scale your business.

Some advisors may think they need to create custom solutions for their practice. I recently spoke with a firm with about $750 million AUM that was planning to hire a tech team of three or four professionals to develop proprietary software. When I asked this firm to explain their rationale, they told me that they have some niches they want to serve and they decided it would be a good idea to hire these developers, have them create a custom solution, pay off the expense once they were finished, and use the software forever.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe that technology is something you create, put walls around, tell the developers “thank you very much,” and run with for the rest of your life. If you plan to build tech solutions in-house, it’s likely that you are always going to need a developer… then more developers… and more developers. That can be a surprising reality of being in the technology business.

This brings us to what I believe is an important question: what business are you in? If you’re not a software company – and you probably don’t want to be, then what part does technology play in your business? Having been an RIA prior to founding TradePMR twenty years ago, I’d like to offer my advice: Technology is a tool; don’t make the mistake of making it your business.

MAKING STRATEGIC DECISIONS

How will you invest your technology dollars so that you don’t overspend or simply buy the fintech version of the “shiny new object?” Advisors might be tempted to buy software they have no idea how to leverage. In a recent review of TradePMR’s RIAs, we determined that advisors typically use only twenty percent of their software functionality after it’s installed.

I believe that as an RIA, you should avoid taking on a CTO role. You will still need to make tech decisions. You might make them in a similar way as you would make investment decisions, analyzing needs and then finding of various solutions with specific benefits.

The T3 Technology events offer many resources which can help you make better decisions. Whether at the T3 Elite Advisor Symposium held in conjunction with the Market Counsel Summit, the T3 Enterprise Conference, the T3 Advisor Conference, or the T3 Virtual Exhibit Hall, there are scores of companies ready to introduce you to their solutions and walk you through the decision-making process – mine included.

Just walking the exhibit hall at the big T3 Advisor Conference can be a mind-boggling experience. Facial recognition programs and artificial intelligence are being combined with predictive analytics and behavioral science to try to help advisors better understand and serve their clients. All-in-one wealth management platforms and cybersecurity solutions are mixed in with stand-alone CRM, financial planning, billing and rebalance programs.

Imagine the magnitude of the investments that have gone into the development of these fintech products – millions and millions of dollars of capital. You don’t want to ruin your ROI by going down the development path. But it might behoove you to use the conferences to sit down with technology vendors and figure out what’s best for your practice – demos, conversations, tire kicking and more conversations once you return to your office. With an understanding of what you need, patience, and an informed purchase decision, we believe you could increase that 20 percent usage of software capabilities to something much higher.

Expect from technology vendors precisely what you endeavor to provide for your clients: A sit-down meeting where they explain to you what they can do for you, how they intend to help you achieve your goals, how they will communicate with you, how they will be there with you every step of the way, and how they will leverage all your tools – including your technology stack – in an effort to contribute to your success.

ASKING HELPFUL QUESTIONS

As a company that provides custodial services and technology solutions to RIAs, we strive to know as much as we can about the businesses of those we serve. The first thing we do when we go to advisors’ offices is ask questions (That’s probably what you do with your clients, too). It’s a privilege to be able to sit down and learn from the advisors we meet. Our goal is to find out how they practice, determine what software they want and need, and really gain a deep understanding of who they are and how they differentiate themselves from their competition.

Perhaps the most important questions we ask advisors are:

  • Where do you spend your human capital?
  • What are you good at?
  • Whether it’s portfolio management, financial planning, business development, or 401(k) plans, what’s your primary focus?

Of course, the areas on which you’re not focused still need to be addressed. That brings us back to the question, what business are you in? I say again: as an RIA, whatever your focus, you’re in the business of helping clients achieve their goals. So be some version of the CIO, CEO, CMO, COO, and/or CCO of your business, but don’t be the CTO. Don’t try to differentiate yourself by building software – buy it. Take every opportunity to become informed about what’s really right for you, then make the purchase and learn how to make it sing for you.

Your clients most likely choose you because of your expertise and experience, and because they trust that you’re there for them. Prospective clients probably want to know who you are, how you will interact with them, and what makes you different from every other advisor who wants their business. You are the experience; don’t hand that off to your technology.

Disclosure:  This material is not intended to be relied on as investment advice and does not constitute a recommendation of any particular investment or investment strategy or an inducement to buy or sell any securities.  The opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessary reflect the opinion of Trade-PMR, Inc.  Any opinions expressed are as of the date of this letter and are subject to change, without notice.  Any reliance on the information herein is done solely at the discretion of the viewer.
Trade-PMR, member FINRA/SIPC
Robb Baldwin
Robb Baldwin
Robb Baldwin is the founder, President and CEO of TradePMR (www.TradePMR.com). The firm provides technology, support and services to Registered Investment Advisors through its own innovative management platform. TradePMR was born out of Baldwin’s personal experience with a difficult transition in his own RIA firm during the merger of two major custodians. Since 1998 TradePMR has focused on combining exceptional service with a truly innovative, industry leading technology platform. The objective is to improve workflow, increase margins and bring new levels of efficiency to the firm’s advisor clients, allowing them to focus more on their customers and less on back office infrastructure. Baldwin has over thirty years of experience across the brokerage and RIA industries. Over the course of his career, he has helped individuals and institutions in virtually every aspect of the investment advisory business. Today, TradePMR continues to fulfill Baldwin’s original goal of helping advisors find their true independence by providing what he believes is the absolute highest and best technology and service in the industry.

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