Everyone learns the “know your customer (KYC)” maxim on their first day in financial services. And it's an age-old mantra for product, sales and marketing teams in every industry. Today, many toss around cliches like “hyper-personalization” as if saying so makes it happen. But only a few are applying KYC in profound and game-changing ways.

One of them, a newly registered investment advisor (RIA), launched last year in beta as Forme Financial and is rebranding as Earned.

Founded by former Charles Schwab and Blucora (now Avantax) executive John Clendening, Earned knows its customer by what they wear: a white coat. Its clients are physicians, a high-earning group with highly complex financial needs and little time or training to figure those out.

Most financial advisors don’t have the background or technology for the complex financial lives of physicians. From selecting its niche and underserved market, Earned went on to:

• Handpick its technology partners and custom design its tech stack and client experience.

• Embrace the blend of digital and human advice that characterizes the firms that have the potential to become the Amazon of financial services.

• Offer highly personalized financial services and advice that align with physicians' needs: debt management, employment negotiations, insurance services, tax planning, merger-and-acquisition guidance, and more.

“We have every single tool in the toolbox that’s needed to optimize a physician’s financial life,” Clendening said. “We stand alone in that regard. We also leverage deep tech to reliably deliver what we’re optimizing financially.”

Why Doctors?
Physicians’ high incomes—some specialists can earn an average of more than $400,000 annually—place them among the top 10% of U.S. income taxpayers, according to Medscape’s 2022 studies of salaries and taxes.

Yet, according to the Education Data Initiative, physicians often begin their first jobs deeply in debt—an average of more than $250,000 in total student loan debt. Their lengthy educations—as many as 10 years in some specialties—mean a significant delay before they can buy homes, save for children’s college educations and fund retirement accounts.  

Consequently, “one-quarter of physicians find themselves at retirement with less than $1 million in savings,” said Bill Martin, Earned’s chief wealth officer. (You can hear an interview with Martin on my podcast, WealthTech on Deck.)

Martin said that physicians face the confounding business dynamics of health care today, including specialized insurance, reimbursement variations, industry verticalization and private equity investment. They need help.

Buy Vs. Build? The Answer: Buy To Build
Martin said Earned’s founders were committed to developing a practice that crossed digital and human channels to address the financial lives of physicians holistically and make convenience paramount.

When it came to the digital experience and client reports, Earned framed what its clients needed: ease and simplicity, to be sure, plus the detail and rationale for recommendations that its highly educated clients expect of their financial professionals.

They were determined to own the client experience entirely and built their proprietary wealth engine and mobile app. Earned selected technology partners that could seamlessly be integrated into its unique platform, augmenting their financial planning, portfolio management and tax-smart investing capabilities. 

“For us, there is a principle at play. To solve the really complex problems of physicians, we couldn’t create everything ourselves, nor would that have been the smart thing to do,” Martin said.

According to its website, Earned saved its average physician-client household $77,000 in taxes in 2022. To create ease of use, the company said that its platform includes financial task lists for its time-pressed clients, 71% of whom log in (it has a mobile app) weekly.

Hyper-Personalization, You Say?
Earned recently announced a new round of funding, bringing its total to $18 million since it launched last year as Forme Financial.

It also declared its intention to “become a one-stop shop for physicians,” with services to include access to “high-fidelity investments, tax prep, filing, insurance optimization, debt management, lending solutions and career advisory.”

Martin said Earned continues to build its proprietary platform and will use AI and predictive technology to align services to each physician’s situation and goals. (Read more about Earned in this case study.)

At the recent Tiburon CEO Summit, I lost count of the times speakers and panelists invoked the need to “personalize” or, my favorite new bit of jargon, “hyper-personalize” client experiences.

But from what I’ve observed, firms are “personalizing” with new products, like direct or custom indexing or ESG (environmental, social and governance)-oriented investment strategies. Few are going as broad and deep as Earned or moving as quickly.

Jack Sharry co-chairs MMI's Digital Advice Community, is on the Next Chapter Executive Leadership Advisory Board and co-chairs Next Chapter Innovation Leadership. He hosts the WealthTech on Deck podcast and is executive vice president at LifeYield.