By Christopher Robbins/FA-mag.com
Developing better financial technology might be as easy as bringing advisors to where the ideas are being incubated.
In the case of Miami-based Ladenburg Thalmann, that meant a sojourn from the financial centers of the East Coast to the California tech mecca in Silicon Valley for an “Innovation Symposium” earlier this month organized by the advisory and broker network’s research arm, the Ladenburg Innovation Lab.
The symposium is intended as a kick-off for a long-term fintech initiative, said Dan Sachar, vice president for enterprise innovation at Ladenburg Thalmann.
“I’m focused on enterprise innovation, so I need to be able to quickly and nimbly move into and test new areas of opportunity that may represent growth opportunities for all of our advisors,” said Sachar. “Philosophically, I believe that start-ups represent a great opportunity to do just that.”
Held in Runway, a co-working hub in San Francsico, the symposium was a meeting of Silicon Valley start-ups, financial advisors and venture capitalists to discuss how fintech developers could create better experiences for advisors with technology, and how advisors could embrace the cutting edge of technology to create better client experiences.
For Ladenburg advisors, it was an opportunity to influence financial technology while it was still in the cradle.
“From the presentations and discussions we have had so far, it’s clear that the Ladenburg Innovation Symposium represents a completely new opportunity for us to not only see what new fintech solutions are being developed in Silicon Valley, but to provide real-world feedback to steer those solutions in ways that address our clients’ needs and improve ease-of-use and efficiency for our entire business,” said Nina O’Neal, partner and investment advisor with Archer Investment Management, a Raleigh, N.C. affliliate of Ladenburg Thalmann subsidiary Triad Advisors, in a released comment.
Ladenburg intends the symposium to be a jumping-off point for a continuous process that will lead to partnerships or direct investments in fintech staretups whose technologies might be test driven by the advisors who attended the event. After test-driving the technology, advisors would then report back whether the new technologies helped to improve their businesses.
The symposium started with 20 venture-backed early stage fintech firms presenting to 36 Ladenburg-affiliated advisors on technology trends and ideas. Among them was Track Technologies, Inc,, a firm seeking to create digital tax solutions for the self-employed.
“As we know, the ‘gig economy’ – made up of ever-growing numbers of self-employed professionals – has come to include a large portion of the overall US workforce,” said Trent Bigelow, CEO of Track, in a released comment. “The Ladenburg Innovation Symposium has given me a refreshing opportunity to brainstorm with forward-thinking financial advisors first-hand about the ways we can work together to serve this burgeoning community – both in terms of improvements we can make and how we can collaborate effectively with advisors and the firms that support them.”
Concepts discussed included AI in financial planning and retirement savings, automated tax solutions and next generation client communications technology.
Sachar said that many of the trends discussed pertained to “gig” employees and freelancers. Others addressed the persistent retirement “crisis” presented by the low levels of saving among U.S. workers.
“One idea focused on maximizing retirement contributions for people who needed assistance to realize what increasing their contributions could mean for their long-term goals, and it tapped into unconventional ways to generate additional contributions,” said Sachar. “One method was harnessing retail affiliate networks, rather than getting cash back referrals, participants would instead get a contribution to their 401(k).”
The conversations also included engaging millennials with new technology
Advisors and fintech developers then discussed the ideas presented to them and engaged in collaborative brainstorming sessions.
The collaboration is something that Ladenburg hopes to extend into the future, so that advisors grow their practices around new technologies, and new technologies are developed to specifically suit the needs of advisors.
“It was really open-ended, but certainly the start-ups were learning from us,” said Sachar. “We were bringing up topics like compliance, the ideas sounded amazing, but were they thinking about all these issues that advisors have to think about every day. In most cases, they’ve worked out the kinks, but we still like to have startups aware of these issues.”