Hortz: Are there any best practices or real-world advice from the trenches on how FinTech companies can develop into strategic partners with advisors?

Howell: My recommendation to any advisor looking to partner with FinTech is to understand the technology company’s approach to collaboration. For example, a FinTech provider that develops a solution that they think you need and merely tries to sell it to you is not a true partner. They’re just another company trying to sell you a product. A true partner will take time to understand you and your business. They will have subject matter experts in-house who will ask you to identify your pain points and then work with you to build solutions that satisfy those pain points.

Sometimes that means the technology partner will develop proprietary solutions, but at other times they will identify good solutions that already exist in the marketplace and work with you to integrate those into your infrastructure. A good partner will also identify a short-term improvement that you can implement while the better solution is being developed. In other words, they won’t leave you hanging for months or years while the technology is being built.

Additionally, a true partner will help you solve all problems related to a matter. Often advisors will have problems that can’t be solved by technology alone. A vendor will tell you that they can’t help you and drop the subject. A partner will work with you to find a solution, whether it’s their own products and services or someone else’s solutions. Many technology companies are only interested in building a scalable product to sell you. At best, they may offer some services around that product, but few will endeavor to solve, as in our area, all your regulatory compliance needs.

Hortz: What did you learn from your earliest advisor clients that most helped in the development of your compliance technology offering?

Howell:  Like many FinTech companies, we were focused solely on technology. But as the number and diversity of our clients grew, we were increasingly asked to help in areas where we didn’t have a technology solution. We had a hard choice to make: Did we want to be a technology vendor or something more? After a lot of discussion and soul searching, we realized we had to do more to be a true partner to our clients. So, we started offering compliance support and outsourced CCO services, which complimented our technology. When we didn’t have a proprietary solution, we partnered with other firms to meet the client’s needs. We didn’t realize at the time how much this would benefit our technology.

As we deepened our relationships with our clients, our understanding of their business and pain points grew stronger. We also accelerated the feedback cycle. As a result, we could better understand their perspective and we used that viewpoint to change our product roadmap. Products that we thought we needed to develop in version 2.0 of our platform were pushed back; products we thought we would develop in a year or two were moved forward; and products we were not focused on were added to the roadmap.

We also learned to get our clients involved sooner in the development process. Instead of giving them a prototype or finished product to use, we brought them in to give use feedback on the initial designs and scope of the system. We then used this early feedback to develop products that we knew our clients would use. The best example of this is our Policies & Testing Manager, which we are building right now. For advisors that participate in our beta program, we reviewed initial designs with them and got their feedback before we started building the product. We do this in a way that minimizes the time commitment needed from our clients, but maximizes their collaboration on the technology development. FinTech is not a commodity, and advisors should participate in relationships that offer collaborative development access such as our beta program.

Hortz: Any final suggestions or thoughts you would like to share with advisors?

Howell:  Regulatory changes and other compliance activities are overwhelming advisors adding more to the already high demands of their daily activities. Unfortunately, this makes it hard for many advisors and CCOs to think strategically about compliance. FinTech can become an extension of the advisor and firm. That means the technology must come with collaborative support from the technology partner. They need to be committed to a partnership and not just looking to grow upstream.