Advisor Tech Talk (Week of 5/20/24)

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Technology’s proliferation into wealth management is often viewed from a user experience perspective—we think of technology creative a better client or customer experience, or a better experience for financial advisors allowing them to provide more service to clients, or services to more clients. 

This is a reductive viewpoint—given the overwhelming move of private equity money into the wealth management space over the past decade, we should also look at technology from an investor’s perspective. For private equity owners of wealth management firms, technology can an important vehicle for adding value to their deals. In terms of emerging technologies’ ability to improve operational efficiencies for financial advisors, the more technology, the better. 

As emerging technologies like generative artificial intelligence place more demand on digital infrastructure and increases the need for updated wealth management platforms, firms will turn to private equity for the capital needed to totally remake their technology stacks. 

Technology is also a potential growth accelerator, though this doesn’t always play out for every wealth management firm implementing new technology, it makes sense that improved efficiencies should mean that advisors can carry more clients and firms can expand their client base. More efficiencies also potentially means a broader cross section of wealth can be served, opening up the potential for wealth management services to be delivered down market to more of the mass affluent. 

However, technology can also potentially be a headwind for growth. Fintech companies, as they bolt on wealth tech capabilities, are still capable of becoming competitors to traditional wealth management. 

Private equity continues to pour into fintech and specifically wealth tech as well. The latest big examples of this trend would be GTCR’s announcement earlier this month that it will purchase TAMP and technology provider AssetMark in a deal valuing the latter at $2.7 billion and Altruist’s recent massive capital raise. 

The relationships between private equity, wealth tech and wealth management are being altered by the demands of new technology that many investors—and advisors—see as being significant drivers of value creation in the future. This narrative should play out over the course of a decade or more. In the short term, it’s much easier for us to see the immediate, short-term changes to user experience or client experience—so that’s where a lot of the conversation is. 

Underneath the hood, wealth tech and wealth management itself are evolving to more closely resemble the technology sector itself. 

Let’s get to some headlines… 


Alphathena 

Alphathena announced a partnership with MainStreet Advisors, a Chicago-based RIA. This collaboration allows MainStreet’s clients, who are Banks and Trust Companies across the United States, to deliver personalized investing to clients, offering them a significant competitive advantage in the wealth management marketplace. 

Direct indexing allows advisors to shape portfolios according to clients’ values and tax characteristics to create customized solutions tailored to the specific needs of each end investor. It offers many of the cost and diversification benefits associated with passive index investing and tax loss harvesting, once available only to an exclusive set of ultra-high-net-worth individuals. 

Alphathena’s technology enables MainStreet Advisors to offer direct indexing to any client, regardless of net worth. The platform allows users to customize portfolios across 1,000+ ETFs and 50+ factors, including ESG, and to optimize for performance and benchmark tracking. Advisors using its platform are empowered with time-saving tools like an AI-enhanced workflow that can create personalized portfolios at scale. 

AppCrown 

AppCrown, a privately held technology company based in New York, announced the Digital Advisor Messaging Service for asset management firms, solving the critical hurdle of reaching more relationships and investment advisors through secured Enterprise CRM platforms such as Salesforce Financial Services Cloud (“FSC”). AppCrown selected Future Advice as the delivery partner to help deliver the Future of Wealth & Asset Management. 

Wealth & Asset management firms face tremendous hurdles to connect with relationships in this ever-evolving digital era. In the face of AI-led promises and CRM implementation hurdles, wealth & asset management firms must go beyond client portals and asset management website tracking technologies, such as cookies, and beyond manual email-based outreach strategies. For these reasons, AppCrown’s Digital Advisor Messaging Service was launched in Q4’2023, enabling independent RIAs and institutional asset management firms to expand relationship capacity by nearly 200% over three months. Zero Touch unlocks AUM growth capacity. 

By using AppCrown’s Digital Advisor Messaging Service, wealth & asset management firms can securely extend Salesforce Financial Services Cloud beyond lead management capabilities into a pro-active lead/client feedback engine. 

CapIntel 

CapIntel announced an agreement with BMO Private Wealth to leverage CapIntel’s intuitive platform and tools to help support BMO Private Wealth Investment Advisors (BMO Nesbitt Burns Inc.) and Investment Counsellors (BMO Private Investment Counsel Inc.) create compelling proposals, pitchbooks, and reports for clients. CapIntel’s industry-leading technology produces visually appealing and compelling materials in a streamlined, digestible, client-friendly manner that are designed to increase client engagement and strengthen financial advisor-investor relationships. 

The CapIntel platform provides a centralized hub for managing client portfolios, conducting market research, and generating personalized recommendations, eliminating the need for manual data gathering and analysis. This provides investment professionals with more capacity to focus on strategic decision-making and client interactions and increases productivity for professionals in serving clients more effectively. 

Conduent 

Conduent Incorporated (Nasdaq: CNDT), a global technology-led business solutions and services company, announced it has completed the third and final transfer of its BenefitWallet Health Savings Accounts (HSA) portfolio to HealthEquity, Inc. (Nasdaq: HQY). The transaction was announced on September 19, 2023. The aggregate sale price of the three transfers is approximately $425 million. 

As outlined during Conduent’s 2023 investor briefing, Conduent set on a course to rationalize its business portfolio to increase focus on core capabilities and become more nimble. The completion of the BenefitWallet HSA portfolio transfer is part of the company’s planned portfolio rationalization transactions expected in 2024. 

Cornerstone Advisors 

Cornerstone Advisors, a leading management and technology consultancy for banks, credit unions, and fintech firms, announced that Steve Williams, the company’s long-standing president, has been appointed chief executive officer. Williams succeeds Scott Sommer, who co-founded Cornerstone with Williams and others in 2002 and will now serve as Cornerstone’s chairman of the board. 

As CEO, Sommer led the company’s growth from eight to more than 200 professionals and was instrumental in its strategic acquisition of six companies. As board chairman, Sommer will lead the firm’s strategic M&A efforts, oversee strategy, and remain active in Cornerstone’s governance. 

As CEO, Williams will continue to lead the firm’s growth and thought leadership initiatives while remaining actively involved in delivering Cornerstone’s strategy, contract negotiation, performance, transformation, and merger integration services. 

Gregory FCA 

Gregory FCA, one of the nation’s top 40 largest public relations firms, has acquired BackBay Communications, a specialized financial strategic communications agency with offices in Boston and London. Based on O’Dwyer’s 2024 ranking of financial PR firms, the deal creates the country’s sixth largest financially focused strategic communications firm. 

The BackBay acquisition is part of Gregory FCA’s broader growth strategy and its third acquisition with minority investor Copley Equity Partners. The deal adds to Gregory FCA’s deep bench of financial expertise with a stable of public relations and content professionals, including former journalists and analysts from The New York Times, Money, S&P Global, Celent, and American Banker. 

For BackBay, the move provides an expanded suite of offerings through Gregory FCA’s investor relations, creative services, and digital marketing capabilities. In addition, BackBay gains access to Gregory FCA’s portfolio of AI tools designed to add efficiencies to agency workflows and amplify client outcomes. 

Objectway 

Objectway, global FinTech provider of as-a-service software to banks, wealth and asset managers, has been working with Ramsey Crookall to progressively support the firm’s organic business growth and expansion into other areas of the market over recent years. 

Ramsey Crookall is the Isle of Man’s longest established independent stockbroking and award-winning investment firm, providing a full range of bespoke stockbroking and wealth management services to private and institutional clients, trusts and pension funds predominantly in the UK, the Isle of Man and South Africa. 

Its partnership with Objectway has enabled Ramsey Crookall to evolve from a traditional values stockbroker to a progressive, digitally-enabled multi-service investment management firm. This evolution has been supported by Objectway’s modular solution providing the firm with a scalable front-to-back technology platform. 

Pontera 

Pontera, the fintech company helping retirement savers receive professional 401(k) account management from their trusted financial advisor, announced the launch of a partnership with Stifel Financial Corporation, a premier full-service brokerage and investment banking firm operating across the United States and abroad. 

Pontera’s milestone partnership with Stifel was unveiled today by Ron Kruszewski, Chairman and Chief Executive of Stifel, during a mainstage presentation at Blueprint 2024, Stifel’s annual national sales and innovation conference, in Las Vegas. With this collaboration, more than 2,400 Stifel advisors will be able to securely manage 401(k)s for over 200,000 clients through the Pontera platform as part of a personalized, comprehensive wealth management plan. 

Gaining a clear view of their clients’ 401(k)s through Pontera will help Stifel advisors deliver holistic guidance that yields better outcomes and peace of mind for clients. During a walkthrough of Pontera’s functionality, Kruszewski noted the platform will be integrated with Stifel’s advisor-driven tech stack: Addepar, for holistic performance reporting; Salesforce CRM, for streamlined client-account visibility; and Stifel’s WealthTracker solution. 

Principal Financial Group 

Principal Financial Group announced a definitive agreement with Ascensus to acquire its employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) business. At closing, Principal® will add approximately 800 plans and more than 165,000 participants to its workplace savings and retirement solutions business that ranks as the No. 1 ESOP service provider in the U.S.1 

Through this acquisition, Principal will gain full ownership of the ESOP recordkeeping business from Ascensus, along with its ESOP Economics consulting group and Telescope™ software. All products, clients, and employees will transition to Principal at the time of close, which is anticipated around the end of the second quarter of 2024. As Ascensus ESOP clients and participants are transitioned, they will be exposed to enhancements on the Principal recordkeeping platform such as digital access, support, and account management tools as well as audit process improvements to reduce time. 

Sanctuary Wealth 

Sanctuary Wealth (Sanctuary), home to the next generation of the industry’s most elite financial advisors, announced the appointment of Robert Coppola as chief technology officer (CTO). Mr. Coppola will report to CEO Adam Malamed and spearhead the next stage of Sanctuary’s technology strategy.  

Key goals for Mr. Coppola include identifying and prioritizing the development of cutting-edge digital solutions and advancing the build-out of the firm’s innovative technology platform, which is designed to help accelerate the growth of the sophisticated independent wealth management firms within the Sanctuary Wealth and tru Independence networks.  

Mr. Coppola will refine Sanctuary’s digital strategy to fully capture opportunities related to emerging solutions, including artificial intelligence. This will empower Partner Firms’ financial advisors to elevate service for existing client relationships, prospect for new clients and grow their businesses much more effectively and efficiently than ever before. With a proven track record of developing and managing complex initiatives and organizations globally while supporting extraordinary growth and improving efficiencies, Mr. Coppola has worked closely with enterprises across the size and scale spectrum, from large and complex organizations to start-up ventures.  

Schwab 

The Charles Schwab Corporation announced several executive transitions as part of the firm’s long-term succession planning strategy. Peter Crawford, after a distinguished 22-year career with the firm, including serving as Chief Financial Officer since 2017, has decided to retire from Schwab following a planned transition period. Crawford will be succeeded by Mike Verdeschi who will join the firm on May 20 as a Managing Director and Deputy Chief Financial Officer. The firm expects to appoint Verdeschi as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) following the transition period with Crawford. 

Effective June 28, 2024, Joe Martinetto will transition from his role as Chief Operating Officer to assume the role of Executive Chairperson of the Schwab Banks. Martinetto has served the firm, employees, and clients in multiple roles over the past 25-plus years, including roles as CFO and Treasurer. Most recently, he has successfully overseen the integration and conversion of former Ameritrade clients to Schwab – the largest integration in the history of the investment brokerage industry. Martinetto’s role will not be replaced at this time, and his duties will be assumed by other leaders at the firm. 

Also, effective June 28, 2024, Bernie Clark will transition from Head of Advisor Services to an advisory role to the firm. For more than 25 years, Clark has served the firm, employees, and clients in multiple roles, ranging from leading the company’s retail service centers to serving as the head of Advisor Services for most of the past 15 years. Upon Clark’s transition, the company expects to name Jon Beatty, the current Chief Operating Officer of Advisor Services, to assume the role of Head of Advisor Services and join the firm’s Executive Council. Concurrently, Schwab expects to name Tom Bradley as Chief Client Officer for the Advisor Services business, reporting to Beatty. Bradley is currently a Managing Director for Advisor Services. 

Templum 

Templum, Inc. (“Templum”), the operating system for private markets and alternative assets announced that the company is working with SoFi, the all-in-one digital personal finance company, to expand everyday investor access to investment opportunities with its recent launch of Alternative Investments. 

Over the past decade, alternatives have expanded rapidly, becoming an important way to build and protect wealth, with global alternative assets under management expected to reach $24.5tn by 2028, compared with $16.3tn today.1 Despite the growing demand, the landscape remains fragmented and manual, limiting access, innovation, and investor confidence. Together, SoFi and Templum are bringing best-in-class technology and infrastructure capabilities to facilitate access to one of the fastest growing sectors of investments. 

Alternative investments have the potential to provide higher and uncorrelated returns compared to traditional investments and offer opportunities to invest in assets with significant growth potential.2 While alternatives have become increasingly common in institutional portfolios, individual investors have had limited access to these assets. By bringing access to alternatives and private markets, individual investors will have the opportunity to review unique and sought after investments to build portfolios that can have improved returns and diversification. 

Toggle AI 

Toggle AI announced they are acquiring Atom Finance, a financial data and analysis platform. 

Atom Finance is a top provider of frontend infrastructure for banks, brokerages, wealth managers and fintechs. The acquisition will enable Toggle AI to enhance its offering by incorporating Atom Finance’s robust suite of features, expanding its data universe, and providing users with an even more comprehensive investing experience. 

As part of the acquisition, SoftBank and General Catalyst, both prominent players in the venture capital landscape, will join Toggle AI’s cap table. This strategic arrangement underscores the collaborative effort to solidify Toggle AI’s position as a leader in intelligent investing solutions. 

Trade PMR 

TradePMR, a technology and custodial services provider for registered investment advisors, announced the appointment of Jon Patullo as Chief Product Officer. Patullo brings to the TradePMR team a unique combination of custody platform experience and deep knowledge of technology and integration solutions within the independent advisor ecosystem. His background includes executive and leadership roles at Apex Clearing, Charles Schwab & Co. and TD Ameritrade. Patullo joins the leadership team at TradePMR as the firm celebrates its 25th year as a custody solutions provider dedicated to independent advisors. 

Over a career that spans more than two decades, Patullo has been involved in the advisor-technology space since its early days. He was the first vice president of technology development at TD Waterhouse and led the transition of the institutional business’ technology in the wake of the merger between TD Waterhouse and Ameritrade. He went on to senior technology roles within TD Ameritrade where, among other career highlights, he was instrumental in the launch of the firm’s VeoOne and Veo Open Access platforms. Following Schwab’s acquisition of TD Ameritrade, Patullo oversaw all Institutional platforms and integrations for the combined company. 

As TradePMR’s Chief Product Officer, Patullo will oversee the continued growth and enhancement of the Fusion technology platform. Ranked as a top-rated advisor platform in the 2024 T3 survey1, Fusion is a fully integrated purpose-built advisor platform that has evolved over more than a decade based on user experience and feedback from thousands of independent RIAs.