Whether he is speaking at a conference or running a more intimate demonstration of his product for members of the press, eMoney Advisor LLC's founder and chief executive, Edmond Walters, leaves little doubt that he is a character — one who freely speaks his mind.
He stopped by two weeks ago to demonstrate eMoney's latest significant update to its Advisor platform, version 7.8.
For that rare adviser totally unfamiliar with it, the Advisor platform combines many tools — such as a client portal that can provide initial prospect and client questionnaires, account aggregation, a secure document repository, a report generator and financial planning components.
While it does not defy categorization, with all of these pieces and more, it cannot be neatly pigeon-holed as financial planning or account aggregation software.
At the same time though, it is not a soup-to-nuts platform like those of the four major custodians of registered investment adviser assets with a CRM system squarely in the middle.
So eMoney is usually bolted to other such offerings by the broker-dealers or advisers using the system.
That said, this latest version attempts to provide a more comprehensive and intuitive tool set that allows users to better aggregate and create views of their accounts, and manage the data behind them. As Mr. Walters noted in our meeting, much of the reasoning behind this reorganization of the interface follows studies documenting online user behavior — that of advisers as well as end clients.
“[Other providers] have what they call a client portal, but it is really an adviser portal where they share things with the client,” Mr. Walters said.
“This is not that; this is for the client,” he said, referring to the two-page client dashboard in its latest iteration, with its slick look and clean layout design that includes sliders and intuitive buttons.
No matter how you slice it, eMoney Advisor, first rolled out in 2000, is a ubiquitous advisory industry tool. The current user statistics reported by the firm are impressive: 600,000 clients whose assets are managed by close to 25,000 advisers. Those advisers include 15,000 registered representatives at numerous independent broker-dealers, several thousand more advisers whose B-D pays for them, and around 2,500 RIAs.
“This is the year of the adviser for us. Everyone is abusing the hell out of the adviser, [with ads showing] a baby can do it or anyone can simply follow a little green path and happily retire,” he said, indicating two well-known discount brokerages I will refrain from naming.
He showed how the improved design and behind-the-scenes features of the software facilitate meetings and conversations between clients and advisers — especially around areas a lot of fee-based advisers' RIA tools do not account for, such as insurance.
One thing I did get a kick out of is the marketing campaign for the Advisor platform enhancements, which includes a stylized pencil animation that provides humorous and obvious allusions to the two big firms referenced above (youtube.com/user/ emoneyadvisor
emoneyadvisor). Other videos are narrated by the actor Tom Selleck.
“Being the gatekeeper of investor data … is going to be increasingly important. That's why Personal Capital [Corp.] and Mint[.com] are the best thing ever — but they lack the guy with experience,” Mr. Walters said, referring to an adviser. “We've got to give [the adviser] a stage to show off.”
He wants the redesigned Advisor application, with its improved transparency of client holdings, to provide that entrée.
eMoney has provided educational materials directly from the “secure personal financial website” — much of which can be configured to notify advisers of where the client looks.
A virtual financial library can be stocked with adviser-branded videos, articles and other resources on topics ranging from common personal finance questions to understanding alternative investments.
An interactive financial workshop provides clients with a real-time view of their assets and accounts — meshed with their financial goals.
This version also includes planning improvements to the adviser site, with additional control over deductions and tax credits, more-flexible required-minimum-distribution handling and 529 plan rollovers, and better insight and data on global growth rates and mutual funds.
Even with these latter improvements, Mr. Walters said he remains unsatisfied with the planning features.
“You probably saw Michael Kitces' tweet from yesterday?” he asked during our meeting, referring to the expert, frequent speaker and writer on the topic of financial planning who shares a lot of his opinions on Twitter (@MichaelKitces).
Mr. Kitces, partner and director of research at Pinnacle Advisory Group Inc., had received his own demonstration of the application prior to tweeting: “The eMoney Advisor planning software is not wowing, but is fine. The client portal, however, is 'wow'-worthy for client visual appeal.”
“He's right, you know,” said Mr. Walters. Until recently, he has been unable to devote resources to develop its financial planning tools to the extent he wants. That level of tools will start to roll out later this year. I cannot share specifics at this point, but what I saw intrigues me.