From the moment I set foot in the San Diego Convention Center, the site of the recently concluded LPL Focus Conference, the technology focus was evident. In the day’s opening session, both CEO Dan Arnold and Managing Director Andy Kalbaugh spent a good deal of their time talking about the firm’s investment in technology, as did the ever popular Managing Director Burt White. They discussed how technology would improve both LPL’s service to advisors and advisor’s ability to better serve their clients, but the change in attitude I perceived went way beyond the executive suite. The rank and file tech people at LPL were more engaged and optimistic. Almost unanimously, they attributed the improvement to a change in culture from a project-oriented approach to a product one. This means technologists assigned to ClientWorks, the core platform, stay with the product and are focused on the long-term roadmap for improving it. They have an ownership stake in its success, which is a major shift from the way LPL traditionally approached technology.
In the interest of full disclosure, I entered the conference with a hefty degree of skepticism regarding LPL’s technology. Based upon my past experiences, their technology performance has been less than stellar. They have been late to the game on a number of features and services that most advisors I deal with take for granted. When they launched the ClientWorks platform in 2016, the long awaited successor to BranchNet, it was not ready for prime time. There have been other disappointments along the way. That said, I walked away from this year’s event feeling much more optimistic about the outlook for LPL technology moving forward.
One area that LPL has taken a lot of criticism for in the past is the service they provide to advisors. Things are definitely taking a turn for the better. LPL’s Net Promoter Score, an index that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a company’s products or services to others, is up 30 points. Much of that is attributable to their new client care model, which has a technology component to it: LPL now uses speech recognition technology to route calls quickly to the appropriate representative. There is “click to call me” functionality built into ClientWorks, and the ability to open a chat within ClientWorks, in context, is coming soon. LPL is also working on upgrading their search capabilities while at the same time removing content that is obsolete. They have added new case management capabilities to track cases at initiation through completion. The firm is also piloting advanced voice and chat capabilities that will launch early in early 2020. All of this suggests that service to advisors will continue to improve over the next 12 months.
Of all the exciting advisor facing technology on view at Focus, one of the more innovative projects is Meeting Manager, which is still under development with release scheduled for next year. A lot of technology that broker/dealers provide to advisors is operations focused “back office technology”. Some broker-dealers also provide front office technologies to advisors. Few applications provide efficiencies to both the front and the back office as Meeting Manager does. According to one LPL spokesperson, advisors spend almost as much time preparing for client meetings as they do meeting with clients. My experience indicates they may be understating the problem. When you add up all the support staff hours, I think even more time is spent on meeting preparation at many firms.
One of the reasons meeting preparation takes so long is that advisors typically need to access between 6-10 systems to prepare for meetings. For example, for an annual meeting, you might need to pull various reports from financial planning software, performance software, research software, CRM software, risk software and other applications. You then need to collate the pages and either print them or prepare digital copies for the meeting. For other meeting types, you will want a different set of reports.
Meeting Manager is designed to automate much of the meeting preparation process. Advisors can create a number of templates for various types of meetings. You can create as many templates as you want for different meeting types of client types and store them in Meeting Manager. When you want to prepare for a meeting, you select a client, assign the appropriate template, and the software does the rest. That’s the back office portion of the process, but Meeting Manager does more. It can schedule meetings with clients for you. It has a presentation overlay module that can convert the data in the report template to a presentation for use with clients during a meeting. Leveraging artificial intelligence, the Meeting Manager can create talking points for the advisor to use in a client meeting. Advisors who saw demonstrations of Meeting Manager in the exhibit hall could not wait to get their hands on it.
Advisor Sleeve, a new addition to LPL’s Model Wealth Portfolios (MWP) platform, also impressed me. The innovative solution is designed to help advisors gain scale and efficiency in their advisory practices, while also expanding upon the functionality LPL can deliver as it enhances its wealth management platform for the future. With Advisor Sleeve, advisors can run their own custom models in MWP. It allows them to create their own custom models, and then outsource the trading and rebalancing of those models to LPL.
Leveraging the risk scoring methodology from AdvisoryWorld, a fintech firm acquired by LPL Financial in December, Advisor Sleeve allows advisors to easily build models that align to a specific investment objective, which can help them scale the investment process and more efficiently serve their clients. With costs included in the platform fee, advisors can deliver solutions best suited to their clients’ needs.
“Advisor Sleeve was designed as a solution to help make managing money easier,” said Rob Pettman, executive vice president, Products and Platforms. “The result is an easy-to-use interface that allows advisors to efficiently build their models and communicate their strategies to LPL’s institutional trading team to be implemented.”
One attractive aspect of Advisor Sleeve is the speed in which changes to models can be made and implemented. The interface allows advisors to modify models quickly, and if the change is made before the trading cut-off, the trades are made the same day.
While Advisor Sleeve looks good today, I expect it to get even better. Currently, rebalancing is done on a calendar basis quarterly, semiannually and annually. It does not provide daily monitoring that rebalances once an asset class tolerance level is crossed, nor does it offer household rebalancing yet, but I expect those enhancements soon. Currently the program is limited to mutual funds and ETFs, but more investment types including individual securities and alternative investments will be added. Advisor Sleeve currently makes use of the AdvisoryWorld risk scoring functionality, but not the portfolio analytics. Look for a full suite of analytics tools to be added. I expect Advisor Sleeve to be really popular with LPL advisors once they fully appreciate the timesaving and scalability that this product offers.
Speaking of AdvisoryWorld, it is now available to LPL advisors at no additional charge, and the new user interface looks wonderful. The application retains all the functionality, but the screens are less cluttered, and navigation and the whole user experience are improved. I expect much more of the AdvisoryWorld functionality to be embedded in other applications like ClientWorks and Advisor Sleeve so that advisors can access the functionality without having to switch applications.
LPL recently redesigned their digital account opening process, and the results are apparent. On average, opening a new account now requires 30% less data entry fields, and many fields can be auto-populated if the information is already housed on an LPL system. In fact, for an existing LPL client, up to 90% of the fields can be pre-populated. On average, the result will be a 60% decrease in the time it takes to open an account. It is estimated that across LPL, the new process will save 4.4 million minutes annually. I believe there is room to further optimize the account opening process, but this is a big step in the right direction.
A few years ago, LPL built a basic goal-planning tool for advisors called Client Goals. They have now built a basic CRM system for their advisors. Both are part of LPL’s core offering available at no extra charge. Neither of these tools has anywhere near the capabilities of the popular third party financial planning and CRM applications that advisors use. So why did LPL build them? Simple: they are a starting point. By supplying the advisor who does not do any planning a free, easy to use tool, it will hopefully demonstrate to the advisor the value of goals based planning. Similarly, by providing basic CRM functionality, LPL hopes to make users more efficient and, where applicable, encourage them to graduate to a more robust system to enjoy additional productivity enhancements.
The core ClientWorks platform has made significant progress since I last viewed it. I hear a lot of well justified complaints about ClientWorks 1.0, but this new version 2.0 should be much more satisfactory. It is modern, efficient and capable, and it is a solid foundation for future enhancements. LPL has started to open up ClientWorks to a select number of third party providers. This initiative is called ClientWorks Connected.
ClientWorks Connected addresses the seven key workflows an advisor needs to service an investor from prospect through the life of their relationship. They have partnered with a curated group of technology providers across the wealth management space to integrate their tools onto their advisor workstation. Previously, the LPL system was closed off to outside providers because they didn’t have the capabilities needed to integrate. With ClientWorks Connected, they are allowing advisors to use the providers and services they prefer, while simultaneously building some in-house tools that will also connect seamlessly. LPL’s belief is that by offering a limited number of deep integrations, they can create levels of efficiency and unique experiences that advisors cannot create by themselves.
One gap in the LPL integration strategy has been a failure to integrate with MoneyGuidePro, the market share leader in the financial planning software category according to the 2019 T3/Inside Information software survey. During a general session, LPL announced that Envestnet MoneyGuide will be part of the ClientWorks Connected program soon. This elicited a loud round of applause from the audience.
ClientWorks 3.0 is already in the planning stages. LPL intends to use artificial intelligence to anticipate which workflows need to happen next as an advisor or staff member is working in ClientWorks. They are working to make all workflows seamless, even if they include third party providers through ClientWorks Connected. They are striving to eliminate all re-keying of data, and to make the platform so intuitive that no training is necessary. The overriding goal is to minimize the amount of time users spend doing administrative tasks so they can spend more time with clients – a noble undertaking.
While the progress LPL has made is impressive, there is still some work to be done. As mentioned earlier, Meeting Manager is not available yet. Advisor Sleeve has a great deal of potential, and it is already desirable, but there are further enhancements needed for it to reach its full potential. The AdvisoryWorld platform needs to be fully integrated into the LPL system. However, I’m generally optimistic that most of these enhancements will be forthcoming soon.
One item that I consider to be a high priority and one that LPL has been slow to address is householding. Until recently, everything in the LPL world was account based, but advisors do not deal in an account centric world – they deal with clients and households. You can’t truly plan holistically for clients without householding. To LPL’s credit, they now have client centric views available in the software, and the architecture now supports householding, but they have yet to move the project over the finish line. I’m hoping it happens before next year’s Focus Conference, but I don’t have any certainty about a completion date.
Overall, LPL has made a lot of technology progress, and given the change in approach to technology, I’m rather optimistic that we will see more of the same next year. The future, from an LPL advisor perspective, is looking brighter.