In mid-April, InvestmentNews hosted its third annual Innovation Summit. I was honored to be the chairman of the event and facilitate a day of sharing, learning and celebrating this year's award winners.
On a lovely spring afternoon in New York City, a room full of industry leaders watched an action-packed lineup of TED-style talks and fireside chats with a galaxy of wealth management's most influential folks.
The summit's format encouraged everyone to share openly how they are adapting their firms to changing times and help each other to build the most competitive firms they can for the future. It was a uniquely collaborative environment.
There were more insights than could be reasonably shared in one article! However, I'm happy to offer three of my big takeaways from listening to all of these brilliant folks shaping our financial world.
1. The largest and most interesting market opportunities are not millennials! Almost all industry research and talk seems to focus on the millennial generation, but there was barely a word mentioned about them at the summit. Instead, there was a consensus about the major opportunities hiding in plain sight:
• Dealing with the impact of people living longer than ever,
• Working with women in a way that is more inclusive and relevant to their concerns, and
• Making wealth management relevant beyond investing and planning.
2. Innovation goes well beyond technology. Even though it was an innovation summit, there was very little talk about fintech. I heard far more of a focus on how successful wealth management firms are adapting: new ways of expanding services to clients; discussions about how pricing will evolve (interesting thoughts about flat fees for planning and Schwab's subscription service that will be the subject of my next post); and a really fascinating discussion about the evolving role of business leaders in shaping innovation within their firms. Some of my favorite points are summarized below:
• Look beyond your four walls and beyond the industry for how clients' needs and habits are evolving.
• Bring in a diverse set of opinions. A broader mix of age, race, gender, religions, backgrounds, skills and even aptitudes and personalities on a team accelerate innovation and keep you competitive.
• Innovation requires some failures, so don't try to avoid them. Embrace them instead. Lots of small failures lead to big successes.
• Create a culture of never-ending improvement, and don't be the only source of it. Empower people to shape their work and improve the firm.
• Question everything, even your sacred cows, because they might be holding you back.
3. Our industry is increasingly being shaped by an ever-expanding set of brilliant women and younger leaders. I was encouraged to see over a third of the leaders on the panels and award recipients were women, and there was also an encouraging slate of younger folks sharing their insights. That's a big improvement from the first summit I attended just a few years ago.
Unfortunately, there is still not yet enough ethnic diversity, but it's encouraging sign that the industry profile is evolving and the new leaders aren't just paying lip service to progress. They believe that diversity is an asset. It is clearly a priority for every participant to have a broader set of perspectives shaping wealth management for years to come, one firm at a time.
If there was one overarching theme shared by all the speakers, it was an optimism about the future and the incredible advantages of evolving and innovating within your firm sooner than later. I felt an overwhelming sense that there has never been a more disruptive time, and so there has also never been a more rewarding time to innovate in almost any aspect of your wealth management practice.
The flip side of the coin is that staying with the status quo has never been more costly. I left feeling invigorated, excited about the future of our industry and already looking forward to next year's summit.
(More: When Envestnet and Apple pivoted)