In theory, the efficient market is supposed to reward the business that create products and services that improve the lives of their customers, while businesses that create harmful or ineffective solutions generate no income and cease to exist. Industries where the marketplace is too inefficient, and/or where bad products and services can result in public harm, receive some type of regulation to ensure the public good. Given the remarkably inefficient nature of marketplace for advisor education, perhaps it’s time for some sort of oversight there, too? :/
Welcome to the October 2018 issue of the Latest News in Financial Advisor #FinTech – where we look at the big news, announcements, and underlying trends and developments that are emerging in the world of technology solutions for financial advisors and wealth management!
This month’s edition kicks off with the big news that private equity firm Warburg Pincus is investing a whopping $33M into Facet Wealth, a new advisory firm upstart that aims not to build “robo” tools to compete with advisory firms, but a tech-savvy advisor platform to service “smaller” mass affluent clientele that they buy from existing advisory firms who may want to sell a portion of their book of clients to free up space (and/or to generate additional capital) to grow further upmarket. At least, if the clients will actually be willing to convert from an in-person advisor to one of Facet’s virtual CFP professionals, and from an industry-standard AUM fee to Facet’s complexity-based monthly retainer fee instead.
From there, the latest highlights also include a number of interesting advisor technology announcements, including:
- Zoe Financial raises a $2M seed round to create a new lead generation platform for (a subset of highly vetted) advisors to reach more affluent clients;
- SmartAsset reinvents the next generation of BrightScope’s controversial Advisor Pages as it aims to scale up interest in its SmartAdvisor lead generation service;
- Mineral Interactive wins the XYPN FinTech competition as one of three finalists all focused on making the holistic data-gathering and onboarding process for financial planners more efficient;
- ScratchWorks announces “Season 2” of its FinTech accelerator program replete with Shark-Tank-style pitch sessions to its founders (and funders).
Read the analysis about these announcements in this month’s column and a discussion of more trends in advisor technology, including the launch of MoneyGuidePro’s new G5 platform (which goes even deeper into retirement income planning but conspicuously skips out on building its own PFM portal to compete with eMoney Advisor), Personal Capital’s launch of its own tax-savvy retirement income planning tool for its advisors and clients, the rise of student loan repayment planning software tools for advisors, and a look at whether Schwab’s recent launch of new Digital Account Opening tools may signal the beginning of the end of independent digital advice platforms as RIA custodians themselves finally upgrade their technology and expand to encompass more and more digital onboarding capabilities themselves.
And be certain to read to the end, where we have provided an update to our popular new “Financial Advisor FinTech Solutions Map” as well!
I hope you’re continuing to find this new column on financial advisor technology to be helpful! Please share your comments at the end and let me know what you think!
*And for #AdvisorTech companies who want to submit their tech announcements for consideration in future issues, please submit to TechNews@kitces.com!
After a nearly 18-month process of working to update its Standards of Professional Conduct, the CFP Board’s Commission on Standards has released newly proposed Conduct Standards for CFP professionals, expanding the breadth of when CFP professionals will be subject to a fiduciary duty, and the depth of the disclosures that must be provided to prospects and clients.
In fact, the new CFP Board Standards of Conduct would require all CFP professionals to provide a written “Introductory Information” document to prospects before becoming clients, and a more in-depth Terms of Engagement written agreement upon becoming a client. In addition, the new rules also refine the compensation definitions for CFP professionals to more clearly define fee-only, limit the use of the term fee-based, and updates the 6-step “EGADIM” financial planning process to a new 7-step process instead.
Overall, the new Standards of Conduct appear to be a positive step to advance financial planning as a profession, more clearly recognizing the importance of a fiduciary duty, the need to manage conflicts of interest, and formalizing how CFP professionals define their scope of engagement with the client.
Ironically, though, the CFP Board’s greatest challenge in issuing its new Standards of Conduct is that the organization still only has limited means to actually enforce them, as the CFP Board can only make public admonishments or choose to suspend or revoke the CFP marks, but cannot actually fine practitioners or limit their ability to practice. And because the CFP Board is not a government-sanctioned regulator, it is still limited in its ability to even gather information to investigate complaints in the first place, especially in instances where the complaint is not from a client but instead comes from a third party (e.g., a fellow CFP professional who identifies an instance of wrong-doing).
In addition, the CFP Board’s new Standards of Conduct rely heavily on evaluating whether the CFP professional’s actions were “reasonable” compared to common practices of other CFP certificants… which is an appropriate peer-based standard for professional conduct, but difficult to assess when the CFP Board’s disciplinary proceedings themselves are private, which means CFP professionals lack access to “case law” and disciplinary precedents that can help guide what is and is not recognized as “acceptable” behavior of professionals. At least until/unless the CFP Board greatly expands the depth and accessibility/indexing of its Anonymous Case Histories database.
Nonetheless, for those who want to see financial planning continue to advance towards becoming a recognized profession, the CFP Board’s refinement of its Standards of Conduct do appear to be a positive step forward. And fortunately, the organization is engaging in a public comment process to gather feedback from CFP certificants to help further refine the proposed rules before becoming final… which means there’s still time, through August 21st, to submit your own public comments for feedback!
Enjoy the current installment of “weekend reading for financial planners” – this week’s edition kicks off with a big AdvisorHub expose on the Barron’s Top 100 Advisors list, finding that a whopping 60% of the advisors on the list over the past 5 years have had at least one disclosed consumer complaint, regulatory action, or criminal conviction (compared to “just” 7.8% of all brokers who have misconduct records, according to another recent controversial study).
From there, we have a number of technical financial planning articles this week, including a discussion of whether or how the CAPE ratio should be adjusted in today’s market environment (and whether reasonable adjustments would show the market isn’t as overvalued as the CAPE 10 implies), a new study finding that how stressful a job is may be one of the biggest predictors of whether people keep working well into their 60s, a look at just how ugly the statistics really are for those who play the lottery, and a good reminder that while the data increasingly shows how expensive actively managed funds lag index funds it’s still worse to sit on the sidelines and not be invested at all.
There are also several practice management articles this week, including: how the internet made it easier to work virtually, but a surprising number of people still go to the office every day, or are seeking out new “co-working” spaces; the growing pressure on advisory firms to move up the “wealth management pyramid” to provide a greater level of value-add; why the key to success with advisor niches is not just niche marketing but actually crafting niche services; and a look at how the 12(b)-1 fee is in steady decline and being replaced by advisor AUM fees paid directly by the client instead, and how the DoL fiduciary rule may just further accelerate the trend.
We wrap up with three interesting articles: the first looks at how direct-to-consumer FinTech (e.g., robo-advisors) has been the hot area for the past several years, but “InsurTech” may be the next big technology trend (but given the challenges of direct-to-consumer insurance, may be even more likely to go through advisors rather than around them); the second is a look at how even Goldman Sachs is getting into FinTech with a new online bank offering, but that the reasoning may be more about old-world bank liquidity ratios than a next generation consumer push; and the last is a fascinating look at how the entire asset management industry is being disrupted from multiple directions all at once.
And be certain to check out Bill Winterberg’s “Bits & Bytes” video on the latest in advisor tech news at the end, which this week includes coverage of Redtail CRM’s announcements of integrations with both Morningstar and Zapier, the new release of MoneyGuidePro’s G4, and highlights of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual trade show with all the latest (easy-to-use and affordable) audio and video equipment that advisors can use to create their own content.
Enjoy the “light” reading!
Enjoy the current installment of “weekend reading for financial planners” – this week’s edition kicks off with recent discussion from Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) who stated he plans to explore introducing legislation that would give FINRA the authority to examine RIAs, as the regulator originally created to oversee securities dealers continues in its efforts to gain oversight of registered investment advisers as well.
From there, we have a few practice management articles this week, including: guidance for advisors on how to be more secure online; tips on guidance that advisors can give to clients about how to protect themselves from identity theft; a look at how DocuSign is making a big push into helping advisors not only with electronic signatures but creating entire digital workflows; tips on how advisors leaving a broker-dealer can avoid or manage an unfavorable Form U5 filing; and a discussion of how large advisory firms can serve Gen Y profitably today (not just as a feeder system for future AUM).
We also have a few investment-related articles this week, from a look at the ongoing rise of Vanguard and the question of whether their growth may soon slow as the company goes into competition with the advisors it serves via its new Personal Advisor Services platform and as regulators scrutinize whether it is a “too big to fail” company, to a discussion of target-date bond ETFs that have a fixed maturity as a means to invest in a rising interest rate environment, and a look at how the “best” diversifier with a consistent negative correlation to stocks is actually the much-unloved long-term government bond.
We wrap up with three interesting articles: the first looks at the rapidly emerging trend of states creating their own state-based retirement plans to provide a means for small businesses to offer payroll deduction contributions to an IRA or other tax-deferred retirement plan; the second discusses the release of the new book “Misbehaving”, a ‘professional memoir’ of behavioral economics pioneer Richard Thaler that tracks both his own career and the rise of the behavioral economics movement; and the last is a discussion of the little “white lies” we tell ourselves about money, like the idea that money will provide us safety and security when ultimately money can only ever go so far to provide those comforts (and relying on money to do so can mask more significant spiritual and internal challenges we may be facing along the way).
Enjoy the reading!
Enjoy the current installment of “weekend reading for financial planners” – this week’s reading kicks off with three articles highly critical of the CFP Board. The first is a warning from FPA Board President Michael Branham that the CFP Board’s consideration of becoming a CE provider and competing against the 1,200 CE education providers it regulates is an untenable conflict of interest that could cause “irreparable damage” to the credibility of the CFP marks. The second article is a discussion of the latest CFP Board debacle when it granted amnesty to hundreds of wirehouse brokers who had violated CFP Board rules in their compensation disclosure on the CFP Board’s own website, even while it publicly and privately disciplined other advisors – including former CFP Board Chair Alan Goldfarb – for similar offenses. The third article is from a CFP certificant who works with clients strictly on a fee-only basis, but because of an unrelated ownership interest is not permitted under CFP Board rules to state that he is “fee only” – and declares that if necessary, he will drop his CFP certification rather than cause client confusion by stating he is “commission and fee” when in reality no clients will ever pay any commissions.
From there, we have several practice management articles this week, including one that provides an overview of the 10 types of online investment startups that may impact financial advisors (some favorable, some complementary, and some competitive), a second that provides some coverage of this week’s T3 Enterprise conference for advisor technology, and a third that provides an interesting process about how to craft a client value proposition statement (without all the data, numbers, and target client demographics typical of so many client value propositions).
There are also a few technical articles, including one looking at potential tax law changes that may be coming as a part of the December 13th Congressional budget negotiations (high on the list for planners: potential changes to the favorable payroll tax treatment of S corporation dividends), a second explaining the recent judicial challenge to the premium assistance tax credits that could have a significant “surprise” impact on the Affordable Care Act, and the third providing some excellent advice from 529 guru Joe Hurley about how to properly handle grandparent-owned 529 plans while preserving favorable financial aid treatment for the grandchild/student.
We wrap up with three interesting articles: the first provides a fascinating analogy that compares low- versus high-cost investing to joining gyms that have donut-eating requirements; the second points out that just as planners recognize that financial planning should be about the clients and their goals and not the numbers, financial planners themselves should focus less on numbers-centric business coaches and more on holistic-goal-centric life coaches; and the last provides a humorous look at the so-called “robo advisors” by putting forth a list of 10 questions that consumers can ask to vet their robo-advisor (a riff on the all-too-common “10 questions to ask to vet your financial advisor” articles). Enjoy the reading!
Determining whether an advisor is any good is a remarkably difficult task for consumers; in fact, just determining whether an advisor has ever committed a regulatory violation could require contact to as many as 102 different agencies – from 50 state insurance departments and 50 state securities regulators, to FINRA and the SEC. While all the information is technically part of the public record, and to that extent is “transparent,” the difficulty to view it in any consolidated manner – much less as an easy resource – renders its value remarkably limited as a consumer protection.
One company trying to tackle this problem is BrightScope, which is drawing all the publicly available information together into a central resource that consumers can use to check out their advisors and determine if there’s a clean regulatory record. Recently, BrightScope announced it is also aiming to draw on fee details disclosed by RIAs in their Form ADVs to make this information readily to consumers, and is looking to add more pertinent information as well, to ultimately provide a one-stop resource for consumers to find out key information about an advisor’s experience, education, costs, and regulatory record.
While shining such a bold light of transparency on the activities of advisors will no doubt draw some criticism, I believe that this kind of transparency is crucial for consumers to develop better trust with financial advisors, and ultimately can help ensure that consumers always know the truth about who they’re working with as “Brightscoping” your advisor becomes a routine form of due diligence check for consumers. At the same time, the reality is that the nature of our industry is complex, and oversimplification of these realities will not help consumers either.
Accordingly, I’m excited to announce that I will be joining the Advisory Board of BrightScope in a consulting capacity, to try to help support their efforts in finding the right balance between fair information about advisors and the transparency that consumers need and deserve.
On April 6 of 2016, the world of professional financial advice took its first step into the future with the issuance of a Department of Labor (DoL) fiduciary rule, declaring that brokers can no longer earn commissions and other forms of conflicted advice compensation from consumers, unless they agree to do so pursuant to a Best Interests Contract (BIC) agreement with the client, which commits the advice-provider to a fiduciary standard of giving advice in the “best interests” of the client, earning “reasonable compensation”, and providing appropriate disclosure and transparency about the products and compensation involved.
Fiduciary advocates have lamented that the Department of Labor conceded several major points in its final DoL fiduciary rule, including shifting a number of key disclosures to be provided “upon request” or via the Financial Institution’s website (but not outright to the client), incorporating the Best Interests Contract into existing advisory and new account agreements (rather than as a separate fiduciary agreement), and not adopting a “restricted asset list” and instead keeping the door open to everything from controversial illiquid products like non-traded REITs, high-commission products like some variable and equity-indexed annuities, and companies that implement their own proprietary products as the “recommendation” at the end of every financial plan.
However, it appears that in reality the DoL fiduciary rule concessions were a brilliantly executed strategy of conceding to the financial services industry the exact parts that didn’t actually matter in the long run (while still reducing the risk of a legal challenge), yet keeping the key components that mattered the most: a requirement for Financial Institutions to adopt policies and procedures to mitigate material conflicts of interest and eliminate incentives that could compromise the objectivity of their advisors (or risk losing their Best Interests Contract Exemption and cause all their advisory compensation to be a Prohibited Transaction), and a second requirement that clients can no longer be forced to waive 100% of their legal rights and accept mandatory arbitration, instead stipulating that while an individual client dispute may be required to go to arbitration, consumers must retain the right to pursue a class action lawsuit against a Financial Institution that fails to honor its aggregate fiduciary obligations.
In essence, then, financial services product companies claimed that they can offer often illiquid and opaque, commission-based, and sometimes even proprietary products to consumers, while also receiving revenue-sharing agreements, and simultaneously still act in the client’s best interests as a fiduciary. And so the Department of Labor’s response became: “Fine. If and when consumers disagree, you’ll have a chance to prove it to the judge when the time comes.” In other words, while the DoL fiduciary rule didn’t outright regulate what Wall Street can and cannot do, it did change the legal standard by which all of Wall Street’s actions will be judged, and ensure that eventually the courts will have the opportunity to rule on these fiduciary conflicts. And in the long run, that will be a world of difference.
In the meantime, though, the clock is ticking for the onset of an incredibly far-reaching new fiduciary rule, and one that will impact not just broker-dealers, but RIAs as well (albeit to a lesser extent), insurance companies and annuity marketing organizations that sell variable and equity-indexed annuities, and more. The key provisions of the rule will take effect on April 10, 2017, with a transition period through January 1, 2018, by which time the last of the detailed disclosure and other policies and procedures must be put in place.
In this article, we provide an in-depth look at the keystone of the new fiduciary rule as it pertains to advisors working with individual retirement accounts: the new “Best Interests Contract Exemption”, which most broker-dealers and insurance companies will rely upon in their future attempts to provide conflicted advice to IRAs for commission compensation, and the creation of the new “Level Fee Fiduciary” safe harbor, that may (and I strongly suspect, will) eventually become the standard by which all retirement advice is delivered.
Of course, the biggest caveat is that all the new fiduciary rules apply only to retirement accounts, and not any form of taxable investment account or other investment purchased with after-tax dollars… which means the new DoL fiduciary rule will likely ultimately drive the SEC to step up on its fiduciary rule as well, as it’s clearly untenable in the long run for advice to retirement accounts to be held to a fiduciary standard, while everything else remains the domain of suitability and caveat emptor!
Economists have long studied the importance of property rights in a wide range of settings. From collectively avoiding circumstances that may lead to an inefficient use of resources (e.g., the “tragedy of the commons”), to simply understanding what conditions best promote the development of a wealthy and prosperous society, property rights are an important economic concept that can be applied in many contexts. Of interest to financial advisors, a recent study by Chris Clifford and William Gerken examined whether and how who “owns” a client relationship in a financial advisory firm – the firm, or the advisor themselves – influences that financial advisor in the future, based on the behavior of financial advisors at firms that joined the Broker Protocol (versus those that did not).
In this guest post, Dr. Derek Tharp – a Kitces.com Researcher, and a recent Ph.D. graduate from the financial planning program at Kansas State University – takes a deep dive into this recent Broker Protocol study, examining how “ownership” of a client relationship in a financial advisory firm impacts not just the success of the firm, but whether and how much the advisor reinvests into themselves, consumer well-being and advisor misconduct rates, and even the development of the advisory industry as a whole!
The development of the Broker Protocol was significant because it, for the first time, formalized exactly what information brokers can (and cannot!) take with them when changing from one firm to another, which not only helped provide a pathway for brokers to change firms without getting sued, but effectively shifted the “ownership rights” of the client relationship from the firm to the advisor (who can now take the information and relationship with them when switching to a new firm). Accordingly, Clifford and Gerkin utilized publicly available data on broker-dealers in conjunction with their timing of joining the Broker Protocol to evaluate how broker behavior changed before and after being given greater ownership over the client relationship. The astounding results: giving a greater level of ownership in the client relationship to the broker resulted in less broker misconduct, more broker investment in their general human capital, and an increase in firm revenue, client assets, and the number of client accounts (even though brokers did invest less into firm-specific human capital along the way).
Notably, the dynamics which led to the creation of Broker Protocol among broker-dealers largely exist within RIAs as well. Restrictive covenants commonly found at RIAs (such as non-solicits, or, less commonly, non-competes), can influence the level of advisor “ownership” over client relationships. Of course, both firms and advisors can have good reasons to accept such agreements (e.g., firms may be hesitant to give inexperienced advisors opportunities to work with clients if they could just “steal” clients without recourse), but it’s important to understand and carefully consider the implications of such arrangements. As ultimately these arrangements impact factors such as the level of advisor talent across the entire industry (as advisors are more inclined to invest in their own human capital when they have greater ownership of cleint relationships), firm success (as a more talented workforce can be a net improvement for firms, even if employee turnover is higher), consumer well-being (as policies which restrict advisor mobility keep talented advisors “trapped” in lower-quality firms, which ultimately leads to lower service for consumers), and even industry regulatory and ethical concerns (as consumers themselves may not be aware that restrictive covenants may influence their abilty to work with their trusted advisor, and consumers may not consent to such arrangements if they were disclosed).
Ultimately, there are steps that firms can take to reduce the harmful elements of restrictive covenants… from adopting an RIA equivalent to Broker Protocol, to regulatory intervention to restrict certain practices, and even pre-arranged terms for buying an advisor’s client base if they wish to a leave a firm… but the key point is to acknowledge that advisor ownership of client relationships does influence advisor behavior in important ways, and that while it may be scary for a firm to vest more ownership in the client relationship to their advisors, the data shows that doing so is on average a benefit to both the advisor and their firm, as well as the consumer, and the industry as a whole!
While advisors working at broker-dealers typically think of the clients they work with as “their” clients, the legal reality is that they are clients of the broker-dealer, not the broker themselves. As long as the broker continues to work at that broker-dealer, this may be a distinction without a difference. But as soon as a broker wishes to change broker-dealers or break away to an independent RIA, significant issues arise, from violating employment contracts by soliciting clients for a new firm while you still work for a new one, to rules protecting client privacy that prevent a moving broker from taking any client information with them.
In the early 2000s, litigation related to broker-dealer recruiting and changing broker-dealers had reached such a fever pitch, the major wirehouses Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, and UBS executed a form of “cease fire” treaty, dubbed the “Protocol for Broker Recruiting”, and stipulating the terms under which a broker could depart a broker-dealer, and take (limited) client information, without spurring the litigation and temporary restraining orders that were common at the time.
Since 2004, the Broker Protocol has expanded from 3 founding firms to nearly 1,500, and is the essential roadmap for how a broker can leave their current broker-dealer in the cleanest and most efficient manner possible. The good news is that in the years since the Broker Protocol agreement was first signed, thousands of brokers have made successful transitions away from their original broker-dealer. However, the broker-dealers have still made it clear that any broker who does not fully and perfectly comply with the Broker Protocol may still be the subject of aggressive lawsuits seeking to limit their actions.
In this article, we look at the details of what the Broker Protocol is, what exactly brokers must do to comply with its terms and requirements, and the best practices and issues to consider when preparing for a transition away from a broker-dealer to another firm, or when going independent altogether.