On Technology

Advisers: Meet our new tech columnist

Ryan W. Neal offers his analysis on the latest products and biggest stories in fintech

Jan 3, 2019 @ 1:54 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Is the financial advice industry aware that the services we pay for are rarely pleasant experiences?

Everything from finding an adviser and opening an account to moving money and getting questions answered are, more often than not, awful encounters. I was shocked recently at how much snail mail was involved in my own 401(k) rollover. I'm currently involved in a week-long engagement to transfer $200 from PayPal to my bank. Don't even get me started on insurance.

This is not a diss on financial advisers, but on woefully antiquated technology used by a vast majority of the industry. Startup fintech companies have shown us there is a better way to manage personal finances, and they are eager to do to Wall Street what Netflix did to Blockbuster.

It is not too late to compete. Alongside the rise of consumer-facing fintech has been an explosion of vendors looking to help advisers improve their client experience, run more efficient practices and keep pace with startups. Wirehouses, custodians and B-Ds are all heavily invested in a technology arms race to be the most attractive destination for advisers and their clients.

With this column, I'll bring you analysis on the latest products and the biggest stories hitting the adviser technology world. I'll let you know what actually works with clients and what needs improvement.

So why should you listen to me, other than my more than four years of experience covering the daily ins-and-outs of adviser technology?

(More:8 adviser fears for 2019)

Because in many ways, I represent exactly the kind of client that firms are trying to reach with new technology: I'm your average 31-year-old millennial, albeit on the nerdier end of the spectrum. I haven't purchased physical music since 2004; I haven't had cable TV since 2009; and two years ago, I left all traditional financial services institutions in favor of digital alternatives.

My checking and savings accounts? Online banks. Paying rent and splitting bar tabs? There's an app for that. Student loans? A digital startup. Retirement and investing accounts? One-hundred percent electronic, baby.

My financial adviser is Google, and my phone assumes the role of both bank and broker. And I know it's the same for most of my peers. Since older generations aren't far behind in their digital dependency, advisers can't afford to hide from it any longer. As Bob Dylan once sang, "Better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin'."

(More:Survey finds financial planning most adopted technology, digital trading least)

I'll fill an entire column with 2019 predictions on Jan. 21, but here's a few of the changes I believe are coming next year.

• Financial planning will go mainstream — a blessing — as the equity markets stress out investors.

• The Securities and Exchange Commission will be taking off its gloves on cybersecurity, so advisers better put up their dukes.

• Think crypto-ETFs are just the stuff of dreams? Bitcoin and its peers may be looking up.

• Finally, robo-advisers will find capital markets not so willing to back startups, however, one fintech youngin' worth taking a look at is right out of Sherwood Forest.

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