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18 Innovative Fintech Products that You Need to Know About

18 Innovative Fintech Products that You Need to Know About

“A picture is worth a thousand words. An interface is worth a thousand pictures.”

Ben Shneiderman, American Scientist

If an interface is worth 1,000 pictures, then the eighteen product demos we were treated to at the InVest 2019 Conference, which was held at the New York Marriot Marquis, were worth 18,000 pictures, which would be worth a total of 18,000,000 words!

But you don’t have to read 18,000,000 words to catch up on all of the demos.  We got a quick review right here!

I really like the demo format that Invest uses with their illustrious panel of industry veterans acting as judges.  After each demo, the judges provide feedback on what they saw, what they liked and even what they didn’t like.  This information is valuable to the audience since it gives them an instant analysis of what was just presented. (See 16 Knockout Concepts from the InVest Conference 2019)

Take it from me, it’s not easy to watch so many demos and remember what you saw.  Especially since not everyone in the audience has experience with the wide range of product categories, so they don’t always have a point of comparison.  The judges provided this.  They are all experts and their immediate feedback helps puts each software product into context.

The list of all companies that gave demos (in alphabetic order):

  1. Advicent Solutions
  2. Appway
  3. BondIT global
  4. ClincAI
  5. CogniCor
  6. Copytalk
  7. Drive Weath
  8. Getvymo
  9. Horizn Platform
  10. IFS Automation
  11. Jane.ai (since renamed as Capacity)
  12. Envestnet MoneyGuide
  13. Orion Advisor
  14. Powered by 55ip
  15. Practifi
  16. Refinitiv
  17. Smartleaf Inc
  18. trendrating

Jane.ai

Dani Fava took the representative of Jane.ai to task about the company name being female. She asked, “Why do all chatbots and virtual assistants have female names? It’s perpetuating a negative stereotype.” Maybe they took Fava’s criticism seriously since they have since rebranded as Capacity, and also raised $13.2 million. (See Ep 21: Zen and the Art of Artificial Intelligence with Davyde Wachell from Responsive)

Chatbots were a popular choice at Invest Demos this year, with three vendors among the 18 total presenters.

I was blown away by the functionality Jane.ai (now Capacity) has built that allows you to give English language commands inside of other applications such as Slack. For example, while inside a Slack channel, you can call up the chatbot and ask it complex questions such as, “What is the email address for our primary contact at <client X>?” The software will parse your request, go out to the CRM find the client grab the primary contact’s email and return it to you in Slack.

The judges all felt the same way, as you can see from the scores above, and Jane.ai (Capacity) were declared the winners!

Cognicor

Cognicor uses cognitive knowledge graphs to encode a model of expert knowledge of every domain within a context to create chatbots with a semantic understanding of the context and the ability to respond to complex queries.  (See A Consultant’s View on the Leading Vendors in AI for Wealth Management)

The second chatbot on stage but they didn’t demo as well as the others.  The judges dinged them and told them to come up with a different advisor scenario for their next demo. When the judges have to suggest better use cases for your demo, you need to rethink your approach.

 

https://twitter.com/ianmckennaftrc/status/1151523483362484225tbd

Compliance is always an issue with new technology, but there should be methods for these firms to demonstrate that their external-facing AI can improve the client experience while staying within the regulatory framework. In fact, it should be very possible to show that an AI-powered client service module actually be *more* compliant than a human since the compliance rules should be clearly defined in the code that the algorithm has to follow. The computer will always follow its programming while a person could wander off into non-compliant scripts if they had some kind of breakdown or other issue.

Clinc

ClincAI’s voice recognition, virtual assistant technology deconstructs human speech using neural networks, natural language processing, and machine learning. Clinc initially has developed its AI with a focus on the banking industry, with many of its largest clients in that sector.

Clinc, which was spun out in 2015 from the University of Michigan AI Research, showed an impressive combination of natural language processing (NLP) and portfolio analytics.  The presenter asked the voice assistant to display a list of companies that met certain fundamental requirements.

Clinc seems to have the most success so far in the chatbot space, reporting the top three US money center banks and top two financial institutions in the UK using their software.  They support interactions in 80 different languages and recently raised $52 Million in a Series B round.  (See 9 Questions on Artificial Intelligence for Wealth Management)

Vymo

Vymo is an AI-enabled Personal Sales Assistant; it captures contextual data automatically and predicts next best actions intelligently. It helps sales reps focus on high-ROI activities, managers gain insight into their team’s activities, and sales leaders to predict business outcomes more accurately.

I’ve never been much of a fan of these marketing terms that try to give a fancy new name to something we’ve always had.  Technology has always been around to assist advisors with their work, it was just always mostly in the background. I don’t see advisors as being any more “bionic” now that they were previously.

But that doesn’t take anything away from the Vymo software that sits on top of your CRM to better integrate it into the advisor’s daily workflow.

Again the judges were disappointed with the example scenarios that the vendor prepared for their demo. What they were lacking was the awareness of how quickly technology is moving and how it is changing the audiences’ perception of their demo features.  As I noted above, automated call logging and using GPS to identify when an advisor might be physically near a client seem like good ideas, but everyone has these tools available to them now.

IFS Automation

Impact Financial Services Automation Platform is a practical solution for business process automation that is economical, agile and designed for those closest to the business processes. It enables firms to automate critical processes around onboarding, account maintenance and asset movement through powerful workflow capabilities. It is a low-code platform, allowing those closest to the business processes without IT backgrounds to develop complex workflow and automation solutions.

The judges gushed over the robust workflow that is available from the IFS platform and rightly pointed out that every wealth management firm needs this kind of software, especially one that is as configurable and scalable.  But, unfortunately, their scores didn’t reflect their high praise.  Hopefully, prospective clients in the audience made a beeline for their booth afterwards.

Advisor Transitions is a new product from IFS that should be wildly popular with independent broker dealers, who are constantly trading what seems like the same group of hybrid advisors back and forth amongst them. This tool can bulk upload hundreds of advisors and their books of business for importing into their new broker dealer’s systems.

NIGOs can be a tremendous problem for every wealth management firms that doesn’t have a totally electronic new account opening (NAO) process with a product like IFS at the core.  (See Advisor Group’s eQuipt is a Quantum Leap in Onboarding Technology)

Appway

Headquartered in Switzerland, Appway builds collaborative, compliant software and digital solutions for financial organizations worldwide, specializing in client onboarding for the financial services industry.  This was another example of workflow solutions demoing at Invest.  I didn’t expect to see many of these firms since most of their core functionality is behind the scenes and difficult to show to an audience.

 

While the judges liked some of the added functionality Appway offered, which appeared to have a lot of overlap to what every advisor already has in their CRM, I wasn’t as impressed with their screens. I thought they looked like something out of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s Microsoft Access user interfaces.  The judges were right that this product is targeting more sophisticated firms that would probably integrated their technology into a larger infrastructure, so no user would ever see these screens. But this was a demo and it’s important to put your best foot forward. How hard would it have been to hire a consultant to come in and design a few nice looking pages?

Appway has not had much success in wealth management, but has recently made some key hires to try and revitalize this channel.

Smartleaf

Smartleaf has reconfigured the way portfolios are managed, enabling wealth advisory firms to deliver ultra-high levels of customization and optimized tax management at an unprecedented scale. They have created a single system which allows firms to move up-market with transition, customization, and tax optimization with efficient delivery models.  (See Who Can You Trust When Buying Portfolio Rebalancing Software?)

Smartleaf, based in Boston, MA, has always had a strong portfolio rebalancing offering. However, their UI left much to be desired.  They have greatly improved this to the point where they now have one of the best user experiences for standalone rebalancing tools.

I like that their offering is scalable and displays additional information about why the results matter and show whether the account is on the right track.  The portion of their screen that shows the tax savings generated is well designed.  Smartleaf has built their tax savings analysis into a big part of their marketing message.

Refinitiv

Refinitiv is a global provider of financial markets data and infrastructure founded in 2018. Refinitiv runs more than 130 fintech data, analytics, trading, and risk assessment tools, the World-Check Risk Intelligence database to tackle money laundering and also maintains a database featuring more than a million mergers and acquisitions deals spanning over 40 years.

Refinitiv has been in the news a lot recently, first when it was announced that they were being acquired by the London Stock Exchange (LSE) for $27 billion and again when the Hong Kong Stock Exchange offered to buy the LSE, but only if they canned the Refinitiv deal!

Customizable advisor dashboards are turning into a table stakes feature for wealth management platforms.  You know that you’ve built a powerful system when the judges complain that you have too much functionality!

Seriously, this is not a bad thing except for the UX. A vendor should be packing in functionality in every nook and cranny. But the trick is not to make the user feel overwhelmed by it, which is what happened to the judges here.  I look at screens during a demo from more of a technology perspective (how difficult was it to build? How elegant is the solution?) and a UX design perspective (are the screens clean looking and well-laid out? Is it a pleasing color scheme?). This is different than how an advisor would see it if they have to interact with it on a daily basis for any of their workflows.

Trendrating

Founded in 2013, Trendrating provides a range of tools designed to maximize investment performance and improve risk control.  Trendrating helps institutional fund managers across Europe, the U.S. and Asia to improve their investment decisions.

Having there are LOTS of stock jockeys around!  Rep-as-Portfolio-Manager assets have increased almost every year since they started being tracked. According to Cerulli, over the past 18 years, the only year RPM assets went down was 2008. Total RPM AUM is will north of $2 trillion and rising.  Advisors still need tools like trendrating that can help identify momentum ideas, perform backtesting, build Alpha and Beta strategies and create tactical and strategic allocations.

Money Guide Pro

Financial planning tools are used by 82% of all advisors, according to Financial Planning’s 2019 Tech Survey. MoneyGuidePro has the most market share of any product on the market, with 31% of advisors using the tool. Envestnet, the provider of unified wealth management technology and products to financial advisors and institutions recently purchased PIEtech. (See The Day Envestnet Became the King of Financial Planning Software)

MoneyGuide came out with this Netflix UI back in January and I loved it then and I still love it now. It’s rare for a new UX to be rolled out in wealth management since advisors are generally a pretty conservative group. More technology vendors should be looking outside the industry for ideas to make the advisor and client experiences more intuitive.

DriveWealth

DriveWealth, which launched its fractional share trading capabilities in 2016, enables investors of any size to gain affordable access to the U.S. stock market. It has recently partnered with online bank Revolut, allowing 6 million European customers access to US equity through a major new commission-free stock trading service.

DriveWealth has focused their product strategy on servicing self-directed investors. Back in 2015, they launched software for sophisticated equity trading. In 2017, they enabled dollar cost averaging and fractional shares for smaller investors.  Last year they landed $21 million in new funding to fuel their global expansion, which has included partnerships with firms in India and other parts of Asia.

A very user-friendly and intuitive user experience was demonstrated by DriveWealth.  Unusually high scores from the judges for a B2C product when most of this conference is catering to financial advisors.  But I’m not sure that this type of product is right for unsophisticated investors who should not be investing directly into large cap stocks, which have the highest correlation to the overall market and they’re probably over invested in when considering their 401k and other retirement accounts.

Advicent

Advicent Solutions is a financial technology provider, with scalable financial planning software; compliance workflow management solutions; APIs; and superior cash flow and goal-based calculations. NaviPlan is a cash-flow-based program, and includes retirement analysis of accumulations and distributions and comprehensive analysis of assets and liabilities, including debt. (See 4 Top Financial Planning Software Apps for Advisors)

I love the overhaul Advicent did to their UI this year. Totally fresh and right up their with the best in the category. The judges apparently hadn’t seen this before and were surprised, as shown in the comments above.  The financial planning industry is quickly moving away from static reports and to dynamic on-screen displays that can be adjusted by the advisor in real-time. This spells doom for all school products like MoneyTree that are slow to adapt.

Orion Advisor

Orion Advisor Services is leading portfolio accounting service provider for advisors and provides an integrated and fully customizable technology solutions for advisors to help their businesses grow.  They have been on an acquisition tear the past year, picking up TAMP FTJ Fundchoice and financial planning and corporate wellness software firm, Advizr.  Ostensibly, these purchases are an attempt to keep pace with industry leader, Envestnet, but Orion’s CEO Eric Clark would say they are just shrewd investments made to keep improving their ability to service advisors.  Both would seem to be true. (See Diamond in the Rough: Orion Finds a Financial Planning Gem in Advizr)

Astro is an incredibly complex piece of software that puts power into the hands of advisors that was once reserved only for wirehouse portfolio managers.  The ability to perform mean variance optimization enables advisors to build diverse and highly customized portfolios for clients that precisely meet their needs.

As one judge commented, “your objective is the holy grail of portfolio management.”

I was impressed with how Orion beefed up the demo from the last time I saw it at their conference, when I wasn’t as impressed. The UI is much better and the presentation was smoother and they did a much better job explaining the benefits and key features that advisors can take advantage of, for what I’ve been told is a very reasonable price.

Astro delivers a number of high-end portfolio functions such as analyzing for the best  tax advantage, identifying high impact trades, and restricting client holdings versus legacy positions as well as focusing on ESG interests. Orion doesn’t do a lot of marketing on Astro outside of conferences (at least that I’ve seen) but it would behoove more advisors to look into its capabilities.

55ip

55ip is an investment strategy engine that enables advisors to automate and custom-build investment strategies using sophisticated quantitative capabilities. 55ip helps advisors win new business with real-time investment analytics and prospect-level proposals that illustrate the potential impact of lowering fees, taxes and risk of extreme losses.

55ip is a TAMP and their business model centers around convincing advisors to outsource their investment management to them.  But 55ip is much more technology-focused than other TAMPs that tend to push their proprietary products or supermarket of asset managers strategies.

The value statement revolves a lot around ongoing tax management, risk management and trading.

Getting advisors out of the weeds is a common message from every TAMP or other outsourcers.  55ip is attempting to differentiate themselves by offering features such as custom trading algorithms such as factor tilts and gaining international exposure.

Their service overlaps with some of what is offered by Orion’s Astro product, especially the ability to generate customize strategies based on a wide range of input parameters.  Both products can start with an off-the-shelf model and then enable advisors to tweak it at scale by turning risk on and off or tax optimization on and off.

A major difference is that Orion Advisor Astro is integrated into the rest of their end-to-end platform but 55ip only provides portfolio rebalancing and trading for advisors as an outsource service.  Both are quite capable, but for different advisors.

Copytalk

Copytalk is a transcription service specially-managed and engineered for the financial-service industry. All transcriptions are prepared by live, U.S. facilities-based transcriptionists working at locked-down workstations within one of Copytalk’s securely managed facilities.

Copytalk is like a virtual assistant that takes dictation anytime 24/7.  They were a decade or so ahead on the curve on virtual assistants, except they keep all of the recordings in a completely secure location rather than just pushing it all into the cloud.

Copytalk has a lot of big industry clients including Ron Carson’s RIA, Carson Wealth.  The demo showed how easy it is for an advisor to dictate their notes from a client meeting and have a human being (not a machine) transcribe it and send it right into their CRM.  For people who hate typing, CopyTalk is a dream app.

BondIT Global

BondIT utilizes machine learning and big data analytics developed by its R&D experts to revolutionize the fixed income world. The company develops an automated, user-friendly, cloud-based platform using sophisticated algorithms which analyze huge amounts of data from various sources. BondIT uses ML and AI for the optimization of portfolios and was named one of the Top 10 Portfolio Analytics Solution Providers for 2016 by Capital Markets CIO Outlook magazine. They also recently won the Asian Private Banker’s recognition as the Most Innovative Solution.

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the judges scores for this demo, but I trust that they were very high. Just not high enough to beat out Jane.ai for the winning demo.

Horizn Platform

Horizn Platform helps financial institutions prepare for the digital customer, focusing directly on equipping both frontline employees and customers with the knowledge needed to improve the customer experience and dramatically increase digital adoption across all channels.  (Mission: Impossible – Choosing the Right Digital Advice Vendor)

There seems to be no shortage of vendors offering digital advice solutions for banks. Their demo was a hit with the judges, but there were still some areas that need improvement.  While the UI looked great, it didn’t seem to allow much interaction with the user.  I thought the judges comments implied that the screens were too static, especially for a demo.

They do have an impressive client list. But I’d like to know what software each client is using. I’m guessing that not all of them have bought the digital advice platform, but are using some other software.  Also, while the vast majority of their clients are in Canada, they claim to have a few US clients including US Bank and Key Bank. Although, I’m suspicious about the latter, since I have seen two presentations by the head of Key Bank’s broker-dealer touting the benefits of their partnership with Jemstep for digital advice.

This is a great reason why banks, broker-dealers, asset-managers and RIA aggregators hire my firm, Ezra Group, to assist them with platform improvements, technology strategy and vendor evaluation and selection.  You need to understand the industry and players to cut through the marketing fog and find the right vendors and products for your firm.

Practifi

PractiFI is a business management platform for financial advisors. It is an alternative to traditional CRM systems and offers an end-to-end solution that revolutionizes financial services businesses by enabling them to reach their full growth potential. PractiFI helps to run businesses on the cloud, automate processes, integrate point solutions and engage more meaningfully with customers.

Talk about hitting your demo out of the park! The Practifi team did just that, totally flooring both the crowd and judges with their UI/UX, tightly integrated functionality and well-designed workflows.  The firm launched first in Australia and had success there before finding a foothold in the US through New York-based Focus Financial. Focus has pushed the uber-CRM out to many of its partner RIA firms. This has enabled Practifi to customize its UI and feature set to appeal more to the US market.

I see them competing more with Redtail than Salesforce at this point. At least until they build out more features required by enterprise customers. Practice still has a terrific mix of functionality and a beautiful front-end and dashboard that advisors can use to manage their daily work. I plan to include them in my next CRM product review.

Invest Conference 2019

Wow! I can’t believe we’re already done reviewing all of the demos from Invest Conference 2019. A few suggestions I made to the conference organizers:

  • Add a live voting/polling option to their mobile app and get the audience to vote live and show the score after the judges give their scores.
  • Create a separate demo group for startups, it’s not necessarily a fair comparison to judge them against established products. This would allow more risk taking and demos of less complete software.
  • Give the audience tomatoes and rotten fruit to throw at presenters they don’t like.

18 Innovative Fintech Products that You Need to Know About

by Craig Iskowitz