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This week I am in New York for the opportunity to see the very latest wealth technology innovations and to hear from several of the industry leaders who are transforming the way Americans access financial advice. Now in its third year, the In|Vest conference provides a heady mix of powerful tech demonstrations and exceptional thought leadership. For me the big message on day one of the show was machine learning and artificial intelligence is now part of the emerging landscape. In what follows I will highlight some of the early leaders. The volume of these offerings on display makes me feel the US may again be pulling ahead of the UK in FinTech and especially WealthTech. After a brief opening where Salesforce highlighted that their forthcoming 2017 Connected Investor research will identify that 47% of investors would be happy for artificial intelligence to used by their wealth management firm the day began with a whirlwind of demos of disruptive technologies. The videos of these will be up on the In|Vest website at http://conference.financial-planning.com/conferences/invest/ in a few weeks but in the meantime here are my highlights. First up was Salesforce with their Financial Services Cloud providing great visualisation of relationships, interactions and delivering insight. It is clear from the number of integrations Financial Services has in the US that the American proposition is a long way ahead of their UK offering but this does give an indication of where Salesforce may be in the UK in a couple of years. That said while the system can offer some awesome integration of consumer data I wonder how much of this would be allowed in Europe post the introduction of GDPR next May. This makes me wonder if the European Union and Fintech are on a collision course. I am increasingly worried that the excesses of GDPR and the EU’s inability to produce timely regulation could seriously damage the EU Fintech industry. Robert Stanich of IBM Watson showed how machine learning can identify clients at risk of leaving and how using artificial intelligence can transform client segmentation all beyond recognition. The service can also predict real life events and related product opportunities before your clients realise they have these needs. Watson has the potential to transform lead management so your existing data becomes your primary source of new business opportunities. Oranj showed a great onboarding experience with held-away data and risk profiling but fell foul of the eight-minute rule so ran out of time to show their full services. Comarch showed a very cool voice-controlled interactive artificial intelligence chatbot called Devra. Advicent showed great life protection tools they have built which makes me wonder why the cool omnichannel protection service they built for Scottish Widows never saw the light of day. An opportunity missed. MX then arrived to show why they do aggregation, categorisation and user interfaces for Personal Financial Management better than anyone else in the world. It is a great shame they don’t want to come to the UK as they have so much business in the States. Circle Black, a company that is entirely new to me, showed a stunning client facing tool set with API integration into Redtail, MoneyGuidePro, Riskalyze and many more. Fidelity owned eMoneyAdvisor showed new marketing tools advisers can adopt to transform the way they use and manage social media and then onboard the resulting new clients. I continue to believe there would be huge benefits in Fidelity bringing their offerings to the UK. InvestCloud showed some of the over 200 Apps their adviser clients can use. I love the vast amount of data they are making easily available to their users and the virtually endless look, feel and design features advisers can adapt. They are featured in the next update of F&TRC’s Adviser Software Insights study and have just set up an innovation centre in London so I will probably be looking at them in far more detail soon. Riskalyze describe their role as protecting consumers against their worst decisions. I am a big fan of how they present risk to clients. To me it is so much better than stochastic pods. This is all about talking to clients in ways they understand. Their Autopilot approach with its One-Click Fiduciary makes a great case for the FCA reviewing the UK client money rules as it can offer better consumer outcomes at significantly lower cost. One of the biggest moments of the day for me was Hello Wallet founder Matt Fellowes, the man who transformed financial wellness presenting his United Income business which aims to transform retirement income. This makes it beautifully simple to understand how clients are doing then build and achieve financial life goals. It is great to see United Income building plans taking consumers to +100 years stretching savings to match increased longevity. I was also impressed by DataRobot who are delivering a quick way to benefit from artificial intelligence, something I believe advisers can make huge gains by embracing Onist were one of my favourites from Finovate Spring and it is great to see them at In|Vest with their Family Office for the masses. I would love to see some of the artificial intelligence tools shown here added to Onist. The afternoon session was opened by one of the most compelling speakers in the US advice market, United Capital ‘s Joe Duran. Outlining why advice firms need to be both extremely human and extremely digital, whilst insisting that the planning process can be fully digitized, he argued humans need to do to things machines cannot i.e. provide empathy, understand human behavior and provide expertise and judgment to help with complex decisions. Charles Schwab CTO Timothy Heier pointed out we are no longer in mobile first phase, now it must be artificial intelligence first. This shows the era of AI in financial advice is now upon us. Mark Goines from Personal Capital highlighted that 65% of people who ever linked an account are still connected to them because they give them constant updates of good insights. He was followed by Bill Crager of Envestnet, who own Yodlee, who believes that a key component of building advice relationships with clients in the future is about giving consumers an integrated financial plan updated every day. This will actually provide a very gamified experience and I can see how it would have a similar effect to social media, we all want our regular fix of information and can’t resist looking at it regularly. These will bring together consumers short term and long term financial lives with information they want to access regularly. Crager sees artificial intelligence delivering answers to financial questions based on the data the adviser will have aggregated via these services. These last two issues are very relevant to the challenges that will emerge as banks re-enter the financial advice market which I will be exploring in my Money Marketing column next week. Through an invigorating and exhausting day the consistent message was we now need to start complimenting traditional advice services with unparalleled data and artificial intelligence to deliver a superior customer experience. This has been a quick canter through my highlights of day one of In|Vest I will try and add more detail from my notes over the next week or so, so please revisit this page for an updated view. I will report on the second day of the event soon.
The first day of this year’s Finovate Spring left me thinking I had witnessed a real lesson in how technology can extend financial inclusion to a level many traditional advice firms may consider inconceivable. The west coast Finovate show is always the one where you see the wackiest ideas, but it is also the event that stretches creative thinking the most, making it well worth traveling eight time zones. In one day I witnessed technology that can make profitable lending practical to people who might normally be declined based on all normal credit assessments. Into the bargain I had sight of the sort of service that could replace traditional investment platforms delivering a far more personalised service to consumers at a fraction of the cost in just a few years. To cap it all I saw how services usually reserved for those who can afford to spend $1,000,000 a year or more on their financial advice and private office fees can be accessible to mere high net worth families. Ironically one of the presenters are actually based at Euston Tower on the Euston Road, about two miles from F&TRC’s offices in Islington. AccountScore are a British start-up spun out of Safety Net Credit. Five years ago Safety Net started taking banking data extracted using a Yodlee aggregation feed and enhanced the categorisation of the data to provide detailed insights into the ability of borrowers to meet credit obligations. The service is not intended to replace traditional credit references but to compliment them. It provides a far more personal analysis of the individual’s ability to pay. The new business is now providing this service to other lenders. Their service is designed to enhance underwriting decisions for debt management, high-cost short-term credit, guarantor, and second charge lending as well as traditional first charge mortgage lending. This can include both loans to SMEs as well as private individuals. The key element of Accounts Score’s process is that they take the last 90 days banking data and categorise it in far greater detail than from a standard Yodlee fee. This enables them to clearly identify specific behaviours such as possible loss of income e.g. if the salary has not arrived on a regular date, missed financial transactions and returned direct debits. In addition the company can identify where job seekers allowance or similar benefits are being claimed and even if there is an online gambling habit. This not only enhances new loan underwriting, but can be used as a technique to monitor the financial health of existing customers. It can enable lenders to make offers when they might decline and help them recognise when granting further credit is not in the borrower’s interest. Given the current regulatory focus on forgiveness it can provide crucial insights into borrowers’ on the verge of serious difficulties. AccountScore launched in the UK last September, have opened an office in India and were launching their US operation at Finovate yesterday. Overall their proposition is designed to enhance affordability assessment, improve credit decisions, enable better customer management and account repairment management whilst at the same time identifying vulnerable or distressed consumers where forbearance may be appropriate. It is easy to see how this approach could deliver huge benefits to consumers and lenders as well as addressing an area that the FCA are very focused on currently. Hedg are a really interesting example of what may be the shape of the sort of services that will replace platforms in a few years’ time. Not everyone agrees with me that the UK platform model is terminally broken, but with the real consumer value increasingly being recognised as in financial planning, rather than asset management or product wrappers serious price compression is about to take its toll on each of these elements so it’s the organisations who can help advisors add value to client relationships who will come to the fore. That Hedg provide highly personalised investment solutions for just 25 bps helps demonstrate the further downwards pressure such services will put on platform pricing. Company founder Bob Rutherford is particularly scathing of most robo advisors suggesting they do not provide adequate personalisation and tend to bundle too many clients together by using only a small range of portfolios. The Hedg answer to this has been to build a business which is designed to create opportunities for established financial advisors to identify new, younger clients and deliver ways in which they can interact with those clients at low cost digitally before they are viable for a traditional face to face service. This digital advice service is specifically targeted at traditional advisors who want to reach Generation X and millennials. In their on-boarding process Hedg capture far greater details of personal preferences around investment styles, ethical constraints and other personal tastes designed to support service where advisors can build specific investment structures using the Hedg platform to buy into markets for indices but with specific investment types removed. The advisor firms put content on the Hedg platform outlining their specialist areas of operation and experience giving potential clients the opportunity to select the advisors they feel the greatest affinity for. Advisors pay for putting content on the Hedg platform and a success fee when they attract a client. Hedg are now partnering with US advice software suppliers to reach a wide range of advisors. This a very different approach to the way Unbiased and VouchedFor work in the UK. Not all of the elements of this platform could be easily adapted to the UK regulatory environment nonetheless I find it a very refreshing approach particularly the split economic model where part of the charges are paid by consumers but these are supplemented by payments from advisors looking to attract new clients. Onist Technologies showed how there are still plenty of ways in which the Personal Financial Management concept can be extended demonstrating a multi-disciplinary virtual private office service that can allow a wide range of professional advisors to collaborate to support clients through a virtual private office service where wealth advisors, insurance specialists, tax and legal professionals could all share information and deliver a range of solutions via a single service. Typically this level of integrated advice is usually the preserve of families whose wealth can be measured in many tens of millions. Their service however could be deployed so typical IFA clients might benefit. I could see such an arrangement working really well in towns where a range of local professionals frequently serve the same clients. This provides the client with an enhanced portal service where different members of the family can access information and could be a very effective way for advisors to protect against the loss of assets which so frequently occurs when wealth is transferred across generations. Various studies suggest that between 80% and 95% of children aim too fire their parent’s advisors and there are similar numbers involved when husbands die and wives take over. Onist is available either as a direct to consumer proposition or via professional firms who host the software. To accommodate such firms the company are in the process of building a range of API integrations with more traditional advice software. I see this as a critical success factor. This highlights how APIs can facilitate levels of integration that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The services are also targeted at financial institutions who wish to offer a private office type service to clients for whom it would not normally be economically viable to. Although in the UK Personal Financial Management has not been as widely adopted as in the US it's rare to see true innovation in this space. Onist deserve considerable credit for creating an environment that will enable diverse