Robert “Bobby” Powell is Vice President of wealth management sales at iPipeline, where he leads the wealth management and insurance distribution sales teams. The focus of these two teams is to support wealth managers and insurance distributors with the tools they need to help more families secure their financial futures. 

Russ Alan Prince: How do wealth management firms know if they are building an interactive ecosystem for their clients?

Bobby Powell: A lot of times, wealth management firms supplement functionality with a human touch, which can be appropriate in certain scenarios. But in other scenarios, it can be used as a filler, stop-gap, or replacement for leveraging technology that’s available today. Sometimes what firms are promoting as a white-glove, premier service—involving a lot of handholding—is an attempt to spin it as a client benefit, which may not necessarily be the case. It may be that the technology they have doesn't really support what they're trying to achieve. For example, a firm may not have built out or architected a full ecosystem but instead has adopted a completely manual process that they are trying to shield from the client. They may be able to initially shield the client by having that white-glove service, but that could also be doing a disservice to their clients in certain scenarios as well. 

In some cases, clients need to interact directly with various elements of the technology or data but they won’t be able to. Consider providing technology that enables clients to interact with it directly. That way, the advisor is not a middleman or a bottleneck in providing the data and content the client wants. Over time, we’ve seen the advisor/client relationship evolve a bit.  

Where clients historically depended upon advisors for data, content, and consultation, in today’s world, that has shifted to an environment where clients now want self-service capabilities and access to their own data. This by no means diminishes the value of the advisor. It's critical to understand that some firms tend to rely heavily on that white-glove service, but it is up to the advisor to determine to what degree and extent the client wants support and guidance. 

Prince: What’s a firm’s paper telling clients?

Powell: Paper can set certain expectations and can also impact an advisor’s image. Consider an advisor who focuses on a certain niche market, or a high-tech, futuristic advisor who takes pride in using cutting-edge tools and technology to build out amazing financial plans for their clients.  When meeting with the client, if everything the advisor provides is on paper, that speaks volumes. It really conveys the complete opposite of who the advisor is, and clashes with their image. When considering printing out information, ask yourself: “Do you want to provide your clients with information that is digital, modern, and interactive, and that tells a story and captures their attention, or do you want to hand them a stack of papers, which may get lost, or they may not read?”

Prince: How can technology be a wealth management firm’s differentiating strength or its weakness?  

Powell: Firms can differentiate themselves by establishing their own ecosystems with client-facing technology to provide more client access. Most firms are not really doing this today, or have not achieved this. The majority of firms have technology that takes a more functional approach and delivers back-office efficiency. This does not, however, promote interaction with clients since these systems are just not built for that. There are firms out there—including broker-dealers, larger RIA firms, and TAMPs—that are building and defining an ecosystem, which also greatly differentiates them from other firms. 

These firms bring their clients into their environment and provide them with reasons to stay on their site and interact. A lot of firms don’t do this today and look at technology from purely an efficiency perspective. Technology can make processes more efficient, but by itself, it’s not a game changer. The firms that embark on creating an ecosystem create the opportunity for their clients to engage, try out tools, and easily find information in real-time—at any time, from various devices, and from any location. And that is definitely a differentiator in the eyes of a client.

RUSS ALAN PRINCE is the Executive Director of Private Wealth magazine ( and Chief Content Officer for High-Net-Worth Genius ( He consults with family offices, the wealthy, fast-tracking entrepreneurs, and select professionals.