ALM | ThinkAdvisor
Shining a Light on Industry Excellence and the Future of Advice
I’m Janet Levaux, editor in chief of ThinkAdvisor, and I am pleased to share the 11th LUMINARIES Briefing of 2023 with you. After receiving an amazing number of fantastic nominations for this year’s awards, we look forward to announcing the 2023 finalists very soon.
Today, we share news about 2022 LUMINARIES Finalist BNY Mellon | Pershing. We also highlight the latest developments at Snappy Kraken, another 2022 finalist, and at Edelman Financial Engines, a 2022 winner.
Please visit our LUMINARIES event hub page for more details on our 2023 program, as well as information about last year’s finalists and winners, And send questions you have about the awards to email@example.com or AwardsInfo@alm.com. Thank you!
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AI’s Huge Potential in Wealth Management
The world of wealth management is undergoing a period of rapid and profound change, according to Jim Crowley, CEO of BNY Mellon|Pershing, and as a result, both advisor firms and service providers like Pershing are having to adapt — and fast. This means carefully but confidently embracing emerging technologies, such as generative artificial intelligence and machine learning, and not being afraid to question longstanding ways of doing business simply because change feels discomforting and difficult.
It also means conserving those elements of the job that cannot and should not change, Crowley says, particularly the need to establish deep personal connections with clients and to ensure a spirit of trust and collaboration — both between advisors and their clients and between advisors and their indispensable service provider partners.
“The demands on the wealth manager coming from clients and from the marketplace have never been bigger,” Crowley suggests. “We know that is the case because the same is true for us at Pershing. We are being pushed to innovate like never before, and we are rising to the challenge.”
Crowley emphasized these twin-linked challenges and opportunities during a keynote address on June 6 before some 2,000 wealth management professionals gathered for the Pershing Insite conference in Orlando, when he was joined on stage by Emily Schlosser, chief operating officer, and Ainslie Simmonds, Pershing X president.
Simply put, 2023 represents a time of change for the wealth management industry, they said, and this should be seen as a positive situation. As the leaders of other major firms have emphasized, tremendous growth is possible for wealth managers who are willing to ask hard questions about their process. On the other hand, firms that fail to innovate are destined to struggle in the years ahead.
Crowley opened his address by arguing that generative AI programs such as ChatGPT have “enormous potential in wealth management.” He noted that the firm has already developed and continues to refine a platform called Eliza, which is named for the wife of Alexander Hamilton, who founded the original Bank of New York in the 1780s. The tool helps the firm navigate AI internally, Crowley said: “We are already using AI to drive next-best action insights and to power our intelligence search function, and we will continue this innovation.”
Schlosser noted that AI is also being deployed to boost the functionality of Pershing’s NetX360 and NetXInvestor solutions, which she called a “major innovation” that will help wealth advisors be more efficient in a variety of ways.
The Pershing leaders spent the rest of the keynote address highlighting the launch of the Wove platform. Simmonds said the platform goes beyond just having integrations of wealth managers’ favorite and most powerful tools. It also delivers a truly “interconnected experience” for advisors, she said, so they can go from planning and portfolio building to account management without having to switch applications or re-enter data.
“The goal is to help [wealth managers] be more productive and efficient with their time so they have the ability to help serve even more clients,” she said. As detailed by Simmonds, Wove will feature the core applications advisors need, from advanced data reporting and analytics to financial plan building and flexible billing. The platform also supports cross-custodian trading and rebalancing. Plus, advisors will have access to increasingly popular direct indexing investment strategies.
Advisors Need Automation, Not ‘Phoniness’
When it comes to digital marketing, financial advisors want four things: “Clarity on where to start, avoiding spending money on the wrong things, the ability to scale, and relief from trying to do it all themselves,” according to Angel Gonzalez, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Snappy Kraken.
The fintech firm — a finalist in ThinkAdvisor’s 2022 LUMINARIES awards in the category of thought leadership and education — says it helps advisors by providing them with easy-to-use automated digital marketing strategies, original content, personalized website design and advertising campaigns.
In Jane Wollman Rusoff’s latest podcast, Gonzalez explains how Snappy Kraken works with a range of advisors at different stages of their business development and growth. The executive notes that advisors who've benefited from working with Snappy Kraken are “brand-new advisors just starting out on their own as independents, advisors who have been a one-person shop and want to add to their practice, and others who have been around quite a few years — if not decades — and want to find ways to really leverage what they’re doing.”
As advisors and their clients demand customization, Snappy Kraken boasts a highly automated offering in which everything can be personalized by the advisor. “That’s really important today because people don’t like phoniness. There’s a real hunger for authenticity and being human,” says Gonzalez.
“Our platform automates all the things that are [time-consuming] but allows advisors to go in and add a little humanity [by] swapping out a word or changing up a turn of phrase that doesn’t feel quite like them," explains the digital marketing professional, who oversees the firm’s brand, voice and content strategy. “We encourage advisors to automate but to [also] absolutely personalize and humanize” where desired, he adds.
Launched in 2016, Snappy Kraken is based in Ormond Beach, Florida. Over the past two years, the firm introduced and then enhanced Convos, a text messaging platform; acquired Advisor Websites; and teamed with Morningstar Wealth to create Snappy Kraken Morningstar Wealth Edition, giving its clients access to Morningstar articles. In May, it unveiled a full digital marketing service that includes personalized websites and branding tailored to advisors’ ideal clients.
“We believe that meaningful connections drive business, and we think about what consumers want to be connected with,” Gonzalez explains. “An advisor’s website, which can be the hub of their marketing strategy, is a place to make meaningful connections as it showcases the advisor’s brand, humanity and individuality.”
What’s on Snappy Kraken’s jam-packed drawing board right now? “Features that will make our offering a lot stronger and more innovative,” says the CMO. “I’ll hold those close to the chest, so stay tuned for the surprises!” explains the marketing expert, who, before starting Snappy Kraken with Robert Sofia and Brad DeLoatche, founded a digital agency that created website redesigns and marketing strategy.
When the three Snappy Kraken founders were working on names for their new company, they wanted the moniker to really stand out from more typical brands. What they came up with is far from typical in financial services: Kraken, which is a huge mythical sea monster.
“We wanted to elicit feelings of good will and to be almost absurd and an anomaly in the industry. So what better way to think of marketing as something a little ambiguous or scary and complex and mystifying than a mythical sea monster?” Gonzalez says. “[But] we made [the logo look] friendly and more inviting to advisors by slapping some shades on it,” he adds.
As for Snappy Kraken’s being honored as a ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES finalist, he connects the word luminaries with his firm’s mission to make digital marketing seem less esoteric. That is “to help enlighten and demystify something that’s been confusing,” he explains.
For more insights into digital marketing and Snappy Kraken’s approach, listen to the full podcast.
Edelman Financial Engines Names New CEO
Edelman Financial Engines said recently that its board of directors has named Jay Shah to become the firm’s new CEO. Shah will assume the role on Aug. 18. Current CEO Larry Raffone will become the firm’s board chairman while “remaining a meaningful shareholder,” the firm explained.
Shah was most recently with the Silicon Valley-based wealth management firm Personal Capital for 13 years and served as its CEO and president from April 2017 through December 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Shah has focused his career on building growth companies at the intersection of financial services and technology, according to Edelman Financial Engines (EFE). Personal Capital serves clients through a model that combines independent advisors with new digital tools. Shah went on to guide that firm’s acquisition by Empower, a retirement plan recordkeeper, EFE noted.
Raffone, who has been with EFE for over two decades, has served as president since November 2012 and as CEO and board member since January 2015. “He helped evolve legacy Financial Engines from a small, venture-backed Silicon Valley startup to the largest independent registered investment advisor in America, with more than $246 billion in assets under management today, approximately 1.3 million clients and key relationships with the largest employers and retirement plan recordkeepers in America,” according to the firm.
Raffone led the firm “through some of its most transformational moments, including the buildout of the Financial Engines retail capability, and the merger with Edelman Financial Services in 2018, resulting in what is now Edelman Financial Engines,” the company said.
“For the past two decades, Larry has been an integral part of the growth and success” of EFE, according to Allen Thorpe, a partner at Hellman & Friedman, majority shareholder in EFE. “Jay is a proven leader who brings an incredible depth of new skills and experiences to build on Larry’s legacy as we accelerate our next phase of growth,” Thorpe said in a statement.
He added: “Jay has been well known for years among our shareholders and board members, and we were united in our selection. He is the ideal candidate to build on our successful foundation, while complementing the capabilities of our strong, existing leadership team.” As CEO, Shah will lead a nationwide workforce with about 1,500 employees, including over 650 planners, client service associates and analysts, EFE said.
The firm was founded by Ric Edelman and his wife, Jean. He stepped down from his role as chairman of financial education and client experience for the firm at the end of 2021 and served as strategic advisor to the firm the following year, while remaining on its board of directors. He also continued to be the firm’s largest individual shareholder.
Edelman, who served as a judge for the 2021 LUMINARIES program, also went on to found the Digital Assets Council of Financial Professionals in 2018 and created the Certificate in Blockchain and Digital Assets.