"Our big differentiators are what we do with data, and what we enable our users to do with the data." Sean Brown, YCharts
[The Institute for Innovation Development recently had a discussion with Sean Brown, President and CEO of YCharts - a fast, intuitive, cost-effective financial research platform - that is not only transforming advisor research tools like bulky research terminals into easy access web portals and mobile phone apps, but is also focusing his company’s technologists on a wide range of wealth managers’ pain points. Advisors should be aware that these kinds of efforts from FinTech companies are a prime example of not just tactically buying technology out of a box, but an opportunity to strategically partner with a financial technology company.]
Hortz: Why did previous investment research platforms have to be installed on bulky terminals on your desk and what exactly has changed with your technology to be able to bring this institutional level resource to an anytime/anywhere web and phone app environment?
Brown: As is common in the world of technology, first-generation solutions were built on then-current technologies. We are now employing the most current technologies to solve previously existing business challenges in a new, much improved way. And we’ve set out to do this with investment research tools, and more broadly, in financial technology through the advisor’s business. We are also 100% cloud-based, so our application is available to our users in the office, on the train, plane, in the coffee shop, or at home. So as a result, investment research has now been freed up to take place anywhere, at any time.
Hortz: How does the power and functionality compare between the two and what are some new features YCharts has recently added to the platform?
Brown: Some of the Goliaths in our space strive to be all things to all people; offering real-time market data on every global asset class, proprietary news, chat, trading interfaces, etc. They charge an ultra high price, and ask users to become adept at command line codes and user interfaces that take 6-12 months to master.
At YCharts, we keep it simple: We provide all the data and tools that wealth advisors require to select the North American equities, ETFs, and mutual funds that meet their clients’ investment needs. We’ve partnered with the market’s best data vendors and cultivated numerous data sets of our own; however, at the end of the day, data is data and it most often ends up being commoditized.
Our big differentiators are what we do with the data, and what we enable our users to do with the data. We use the data to create proprietary evaluation grades like our Y Rating that enables our customers to benefit from our assessments of securities. Additionally, via easy-to-use functionality like Screening and filtering models, dashboards, Excel Add-ins, charting, etc., we help our users quickly discover and effectively communicate their investment ideas graphically.
Hortz: You have stated in your presentations that your research platform saves advisors an average of 3.6 hours of time per week which equates to a 620% ROI. Can you outline for us how you determined these numbers?
Brown: We conducted a client survey where our customers told us that we saved them an average of 3.6 hours of time per week. This included time spent searching in disparate locations to find data, time spent manually downloading data to Excel, time spent creating visuals, and time spent comparing and deep diving on investment alternatives, etc.
On average, they told us their time has an opportunity cost of $200/hour. When you compare this $720/week ($2880 benefit per month) to our $400/month price for the high end of our platform, you end up with a very compelling ROI of 620%. As investment professionals, our clients recognize great ROIs when they see them.
Additionally, this ROI figure does NOT take into consideration the feedback we received from them on the fact that we help them generate higher investment returns and that our visualization capabilities help them truly impress their paying customers and business partners.
Hortz: Sean, in many of your interviews and articles, you have emphasized how important it is for you and your company to stay close to your advisor clients and keep identifying their key pain points. Can you share some of your best practices in engaging customers and discovering their pain points?
Brown: At YCharts, discovering and solving our customer pain points is a top priority and deliberately and systematically built into everything we do. We invest a lot of time and resources throughout the entire client lifecycle - talking with them on the phone and asking a lot of exploratory questions during the evaluation process, guiding them through on boarding by listening very carefully to their concerns, and staying in close touch by phone, email and chat to continually learn about their needs once they are up and running. Many of our clients who use our Excel Add-in feature call us regularly for assistance in creating or tweaking their models over time and we gladly support these requests. We also leverage our user base in our product advisory board and during day-to-day in-person or virtual meetings and webinars. At YCharts, customer needs always come first which is why we like to illustrate the versatility of the product and its applications with our Use Cases section of our website. We strive to be the right balance of “high tech” and “high touch.”
Hortz: What are some of the pain points to-date that you have uncovered and what specific solutions have you built for them?
Brown: As you mentioned, as a result of our consistent interactions with our clients, we are in a great position to hear their business pain points and find opportunities for us to expand our products to better serve their needs. A few new items we’ve delivered in the last six months, include:
Portfolio Sync - Our wealth advisor customers told us they wanted a single dashboard where they could follow the markets as well as view their client portfolios. They also said they wanted to quickly compare the performance of their client portfolios to model portfolios, or market indices, or to run scenario analyses. We developed Portfolio Sync, through an integration with Morningstar, which pulls in all of their client holdings, and gives our wealth advisor customers tremendous flexibility and time savings.
Screener Alerts - We have a tool that helps advisors custom generate the filtering mechanisms they use to narrow down a universe of investment options into a few compelling candidate suggestions based on user-defined parameters, such as: discount to 3-year trailing P/E, dividend yield, market sector, etc. They create the screens, save them off, and can then use them again and again. Our clients loved this functionality, but told us they wished there was a way, after they saved off their screens, that they could be automatically alerted when a security entered or exited their screening criteria, based on daily, weekly, or monthly market movements. Fast forward two months, and that functionality is now in our product.
Hortz: Can you share with us a little about where your R&D is going? What areas or projects are you working on?
Brown: One of the things we are working on is Charting Improvements. As any company bold enough to have ‘Charts’ in its name, the time is coming for a powerful update to this functionality. Advisors are always using our fundamental charting for analysis and client presentations, so we are currently updating our chart engine and expanding its functionality to trend lines, charting events, customizability, etc.
We’re also heavily investing in Mobile/User Experience Enhancements. As with the rest of the world, mobile and tablet usage is taking over. While most researching still takes place in the office, many advisors are on the go. Between client meetings or general travel, making YCharts more mobile/tablet-friendly is a must. And with updating our user experience, the beginnings of overall design updates will coincide with this.
Furthermore, we’re creating Model Portfolios. In addition to advisors using Portfolio Sync to directly integrate client accounts, they also need to create hypothetical portfolios. We accomplish this already in Excel, but many want to leverage a web-based version to use for allocation testing and/or client document generation. It’s also helpful for Mac users.
Lastly, we’re expanding our Integrations to Custodian Platforms. Our clients appreciate the value of integrated technology infrastructures. We have made significant investments via our Portfolio Sync capabilities, to facilitate the integration of client holding data. We will be taking that investment further by deepening our integrations with several of the leading custody platforms in the market.
Hortz: Can you give advisors some advice on how they can best partner with financial technology companies like yours?
Brown: It all depends on what you’re looking for in a FinTech partner. While YCharts technically is Software as a Service (SaaS) company, I like to think of us as a Software Company as a Partner (SCaaP).
I like to tell advisors that if your business is vanilla and one-size-fits-all technology solutions work just fine for you, then evaluate your technology vendors only on their functionality, reliability and price. But if your business is unique and dynamic, and you need solutions that can morph to meet your unique business needs, find a financial technology company that truly cares to develop a relationship with you and your business: Will you have a dedicated account manager? Will you be given a direct number to call when you run into trouble? Are you going to be charged when you call for help? These are a few of the considerations I like to pass on to advisors who are evaluating FinTech solutions.
The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors - Pershing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines). For more information click here.