For other firms, robo-advisors have been the best way to ramp up new business and are the wave of the future. “We set up a robo-esque subsidiary RIA in 2010 to address smaller accounts,” says Jessica Searcy-Maldonado, vice president of Searcy Financial Services Inc. “As it turns out, that’s where we’re seeing the bulk of our growth these days. We built the firm to be as technology-leveraged and scalable as possible. That firm still utilizes less than one-fourth of one staff person’s time for all operations, investment management and client service/on-boarding.”

The tech revolution is helping smaller advisors in other ways. Justin Harvey launched his own firm in Philadelphia, Quantifi Planning, in 2017, through the XY Planning Network, which has tech discounts he uses as part of his membership. It includes some two dozen different platforms, he says, everything from CRM, calendar to video conferencing, portfolio management, financial planning and compliance. “It’s a pretty deep tech set.”

He’s currently working with 15 clients and about a million in assets, doing flat-fee planning based on income and net worth, for young physicians in their 30s. They often make a lot of money, but don’t have a lot of assets to manage yet. Student loan planning is one of his niche areas of expertise. He serves clients nationally, so he uses Zoom as a video conferencing and screen sharing platform in order to collaborate with clients he hasn’t met. He’s also prospecting for clients on LinkedIn and Facebook with a consultant. Facebook prospecting is complex, he says, but he’s thinking of offering student loan analysis services locally and using that as a gateway market to financial planning for young physicians. 

He used Salesforce at his old firm but currently uses Wealthbox as his CRM, which he says is easy for young firms like his—fewer bells and whistles, but it’s easier to ramp up. He calls Salesforce “a heavy lift on the front end.”

The 35-year-old firm Plancorp, notable for ministering to high-net-worth clients, decided to attack the tech issue head on when it struck a partnership with advice technology platform BrightPlan. The firms hoped to serve younger, mass affluent clients with $100,000 to $400,000 to invest, people who are more likely to use a digital advice solution, says BrightPlan’s CEO Marthin De Beer. “BrightPlan is attracting lots and lots of those clients.” The solution can put them in touch with Plancorp advisors. Existing Plancorp clients, meanwhile, can use the platform to come in and check their goals and progress.

“From a traditional RIA standpoint,” says Plancorp’s CEO Chris Kerckhoff, “the role that technology has largely played to date has been to help firms grow and achieve scale at an earlier stage of growth or lower AUM point. So most of that technology implementation has been around the issue of scale, and the investment side of that is the easiest place to see it, whether you look at Tamarac rebalancer or iRebal or other rebalancing tools in the marketplace today. It’s allowed firms to handle or completely outsource to some of the robo-platforms. They’ve been able to grow the business with fewer staff to make things more efficient and leaner in terms of head count at the firms. But that’s really been very focused on the investment side of the business. … We wanted something that went a step further and focused on the user experience. And the client engagement. Our belief and our experience is that what clients truly value is the comprehensive financial planning aspect of what we do. And that’s what’s been sorely missing in the digital landscape.”       


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