eMoney's CEO choice of Fidelity veteran Ed O'Brien was a bold, but expected, move

The hire gets a thumbs up from advisers, based solely on his technology background

Mar 18, 2016 @ 12:57 pm

By Alessandra Malito

eMoney made a bold move by choosing Fidelity financial technology veteran Ed O'Brien as chief executive officer of the financial planning software company, replacing interim CEO Mike Durbin, president of Fidelity Wealth Technologies immediately.

Considering the mix of emotions that came as a result of Fidelity acquiring eMoney early last year, and then founding and former eMoney chief executive Edmond Walters stepping down last fall, picking a Fidelity executive to lead the company was a choice that was sure to get advisers and others in the industry buzzing, particularly about the separation between the platform provider and its parent company.

Even Mr. Durbin noted in his open letter about the new hire that this appointment would have some in the industry talking.

“This choice is sure to raise a few eyebrows, simply because even a cursory inspection of Ed's resume indicates that he is a 30-year Fidelity executive,” Mr. Durbin wrote. “Yet the fact of the matter is that Ed was selected from a pool of extremely qualified candidates — and we were unwilling to exclude a leader of his caliber simply because he has worn Fidelity green for a long time.”

Mr. Durbin said in a follow up interview that eMoney has proven to remain "vibrant and innovative," and Mr. O'Brien's background aligns with eMoney's mission.

“Pierce through what his roles were and they were the depth and breadth of the channels that are eMoney,” he said. “His experience trumps the name on his paycheck.”

Most recently, Mr. O'Brien's title was senior vice president and head of platform technology for Fidelity Institutional. During his time at the Boston-based custodian, however, he was granted a patent for the technology behind Fidelity's registered investment advisor platform, WealthCentral, as well as launched AdvisorTech, a platform for advisers in Japan, South Korea and Germany. Mr. Durbin also noted his familiarity and existing relationships with eMoney's partners will help him get started right way as the new boss.

“My role has always been close to advisers we serve and their clients, and giving them technology to run their business more effectively,” Mr. O'Brien said. “That certainly translates over to what eMoney is doing and eMoney has a way of doing it probably a little faster to bring better tools to advisers.”

Advisers said they expected the new executive to be from Fidelity, but approve of his experience.

“I'm not surprised they hired someone from inside Fidelity but he seems to have a good background in platforms and understanding adviser needs, so I think he can be a good fit,” said Peter Huminski, founder of Thorium Wealth Management, an advisory firm in Kernersville, N.C.

Vincent Barbera, a managing partner at Newbridge Wealth Management in Berwyn, Penn., said he still has lingering concerns about the company's independence since the acquisition, and wonders how the two companies will remain separate from each other.

“I would have loved it to be someone from the outside so at least eMoney could maintain a little bit of that independence,” Mr. Barbera said. “Each step they take it gets closer and closer to being a Fidelity product.”

Still, Mr. Barbera said eMoney's product has continued to be strong and he is looking forward to projects they are working on, like the new client portal.

Bill Simonet, a financial adviser at an eponymous wealth management firm in Kyle, Texas, said he's content with Mr. O'Brien's expertise.

“He comes from the technology side and not from the custodial side, that is a plus for me,” Mr. Simonet said. “He isn't coming from asset gathering and bringing advisers onto the Fidelity platform … he is coming from, 'here is how we can integrate tools.'”

Mr. Simonet has been using eMoney for three years, and said his concerns when Fidelity acquired the company and seven months later Mr. Walters had stepped down revolved around the fact that it was a custodian who bought the company, one he did not work with, and that there would be specialized access and pricing for those advisers.

Since then, however, his concerns have subsided.

“I think eMoney has proven it is going to stay independent and continue to protect advisers, regardless who they work with,” Mr. Simonet said. “Since I have come on board they have been great at communicating what they are doing and how they are doing it.”

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