Well, we could open this week’s Advisor Tech Talk the way we’ve opened most of our columns this year, by declaring “what a week!”
And we really could say what a week, as the usual slow holidays did yield a bit of wealth tech news. But, as we come down to the last week of the year, it’s time to look back and reflect and say “what a year!”
And what a year it was. Crypto made a big comeback. Wealth tech leaders played musical chairs among some of the most influential companies in the wealth management space. Other firms changed names, brands and even identities. Crackdowns continued in what seem to be ever-tightening federal and state regulatory regimes.
So, to close 2023 and ring in the new year, we’re going to give you what we think were 10 of the biggest wealth tech stories for 2023. These stories will range from the very specific—stories about people and companies we’re familiar with—to the general, big, influential trends that may steer the future of the industry.
Don’t worry, we’ll get back to your regularly scheduled timely headlines soon, when we’ll also plumb the news from the end of 2023 to make sure nothing—and no one—important is left out, but for the time being, let’s get to the second half of our top 10 stories for the year.
View Part 1 of our 2023 year end review here:
5. The Orion Reset
Perhaps the biggest seat emptied during the wealth tech industry’s 2023 game of musical chairs belonged to Orion Advisor Services co-founder and CEO Eric Clarke, who retired this year and was replaced by former AssetMark CEO Natalie Wolfsen. Clarke continues to serve on Orion’s board of directors.
Wolfsen is the outgoing CEO of AssetMark, a TAMP and technology solutions provider, and has nearly 30 years of financial services industry experience. Prior to joining AssetMark in 2014, Natalie previously held digital and investment platform development, investment solution management, strategy and marketing roles at First Eagle Investment Management, Pershing, Charles Schwab and American Express.
4. Robo-Advisor Blues
Robo-advisors struggled during 2023 as the wealth management industry largely abandoned the traditional “stand-alone” robo-advisor concept in favor of more hybrid advice using a mix of human advisors and technology, like Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services, or by instilling robo-advisors with more advanced technology like generative AI.
Early in the year, BlackRock anounced that it was winding dwon the retail-facing business of robo-advisor FutureAdvisor, with the remainder of the operation sold to Ritholtz Wealth Management. A few smaller robo-advisors would shutter as the year rolled on, including Smartly and MoneyOwl. In December, J.P. Morgan announced that it would shutter its standalone robo-advisor, JP Morgan Automated Investing.
If robo-advisors have any future in wealth management, they likely won’t be the standalone, retail-facing robo-advisor of the past decade.
3. Goldman Abandons The Mass Affluent
One of the great wealth management experiments of recent years came to a close as Goldman Sachs largely abandoned an attempt to serve the mass affluent investor, a decision which culminated in the sale of legacy United Capital assets to mega-RIA Creative Planning.
In 2019, Goldman Sachs was diving headfirst into consumer finance and serving the mass affluent, having launched Marcus, a technology-driven service for lower asset clients, and having just acquired United Capital, a RIA which at the time had $25 billion in client assets and over 20,000 clients, a much smaller per capita net worth than the legacy Goldman Sachs client.
Those plans to move down market apparently ended in 2023. In August, the sale of legacy United Capital assets was announced, and Goldman’s experiment was over.
2. The Great Crypto Thaw
For a few dreary months, it looked like the herculean effort to give advisors access to cryptocurrencies was all for nothing. Regulators were cracking down, a number of major crypto exchanges were falling victim to poor management or outright criminal fraud, and the promise of the space was burried under an avalanche of bad headlines. Crypto token prices swooned—bitcoin dipped at one point to $8,000 a token. This year saw a reversal of those bad fortunes in digital assets, even as FTX founder Sam Bankman Fried, who had become the face of poorly behaved crypto executives, had his legal comeuppance. Bitcoin is poised to end the year valued at well over $40,000 a token.
But it’s not just the token prices. Advisors, even through the so-called “crypto winter” of 2022 and most of 2023, continued to adopt digital assets in their practices, according several surveys and studies. What’s more, anticipation built throughout the year for a spot bitcoin (and perhaps a spot ether) ETF, which is now widely expected to be approved at some point in 2024. Enthusiasm has built again around cryptocurrencies, to the point where several industry watchdogs anticipate bitcoin prices in excess of $100,000 within the next year or two. What a turnaround!
1. ChatGPT Comes On
How could we talk about wealthtech without talking about the single biggest technology trend of 2023, a trend that broke early in the year and dominated our wealthtech conversations well into December: Generative AI, most notorious in the form of OpenAI’s ChatGPT applications. Nowhere was generative AI more impactful on wealth management than in Salesforce’s launch of Einstein GPT.
In March, Salesforce launched Einstein GPT, the world’s first generative AI CRM technology, which delivers AI-created content across every sales, service, marketing, commerce, and IT interaction, at hyperscale. With Einstein GPT, Salesforce can transform every customer experience with generative AI.
Einstein GPT will infuse Salesforce’s proprietary AI models with generative AI technology from an ecosystem of partners and real-time data from the Salesforce Data Cloud, which ingests, harmonizes, and unifies all of a company’s customer data. With Einstein GPT, customers can then connect that data to OpenAI’s advanced AI models out of the box, or choose their own external model and use natural-language prompts directly within their Salesforce CRM to generate content that continuously adapts to changing customer information and needs in real time.