Brokerage firms hunt for fintech in early-stage development

Edward Jones and Wells Fargo invest in tech start-ups to find technology before competitors

May 26, 2017 @ 4:01 pm

By Liz Skinner

While financial advisers find it challenging enough to stay on top of new financial technologies, some firms are dedicating resources to ensure they have a heads-up on the latest fintech innovations coming down the pike.

Edward Jones is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in venture fund SixThirty, which backs early stage tech startups, including about 10 budding fintech firms each year.

Its multi-year investment is aimed at giving the St. Louis, Mo.-based firm an early view of technologies before they see them in use by their competitors, said Vinny Ferrari, chief information officer at Edward Jones.

"We're looking for technologies that we can bring into Edward Jones to really enhance the client-adviser relationship," he said. "We want to make clients' experience outside their adviser offices just as emotive and productive as when they come into a branch."

Many innovative fintech developments in the last couple of years have focused on providing clients with a digital experience dealing with their finances that's comparable to what they're used to from Amazon, Netflix and others.

(More: Meeting clients' high tech expectations)

As part of the deal with SixThirty, an Edward Jones general partner will be part of the committee evaluating which of the more than 325 global companies that seek funds are granted money and business support.

Edward Jones, which says it has about15,000 financial advisers, is focused on giving investors a high touch and high-tech experience, Mr. Ferrari said.

Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, which includes about 1,400 advisers, is also looking for cutting-edge technologies to enhance the experience for advisers' clients.

(More: Why advisers should update at least one tech system every year)

Wells Fargo has an adviser-focused innovation lab that aims to quickly develop prototypes of new services and experiences, including those uncovered through Wells Fargo's startup accelerator program.

That resource selects young companies to receive up to $500,000, as well as mentoring and guidance, to develop their breakthroughs in tech for the financial services industry. Most recently, it has backed firms working on innovative digital identification technology and other cybersecurity efforts.

(More: Financial advisers must adapt quickly to competition from robos to stay in business: CFP Board)

FiNet leaders participate in seminars and trade show-type events where they view demonstrations and presentations from these and other young firms to see what tech can be used for advisers or their clients, said Todd Slawson, the firm's director of financial adviser platform development.

"The world of smart phones has created a culture where we're looking for tech that's easy for the end-user," he said. "We're trying to make complex situations user friendly."

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