"We brought youth, a fresh perspective, and a “can do” attitude to a process that others before us had just ‘accepted’." Ariana Amplo, InHub
[The Institute for Innovation Development interview series invites innovation experts, innovative business leaders and emerging fintech companies to talk to our readers about their latest innovation activities. The series seeks to learn from innovative business creators, uncover innovation best practices, and discover how to apply these insights into a financial services business model.
We recently sat down with co-Founder Ariana Amplo of InHub – an innovative, Chicago based, fintech company that is pioneering a modern RFP process for the institutional investment community. Ariana, age 29, was a former advisor with Morgan Stanley’s institutional arm, Graystone Consulting, working with retirement plans, foundations/endowments and other institutional investors.]
Hortz: The challenges and problems around the RFP process are well known and widely experienced by thousands that work in the space. What was the difference in your case? What got you on the road to finding a new solution and becoming an innovator?
Amplo: My co-founder and I were in utter disbelief when we, as young investment consultants, competed in our first Request for Proposals (RFP). It was so archaic. We received the RFPs in the mail or email, spent countless hours filling them out (after reading through mountains of internal, unorganized content), then had to get it compliance approved, printed 5-13 copies ourselves, mailed them out, followed up a lot and waited. It was truly shocking how inefficient the process was for the RFP respondent. Then, I issued my first RFP on behalf of a client, and saw it from that side – yikes! It was all like a bad joke.
We found ourselves questioning the whole system, every single time… “Can you believe this is…”, “Isn’t there a tool that…”, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…”, “It will save us 100s of hours when…”, and eventually realized we had the vision for a better RFP solution, and no one else had or was fixing the issue.
We brought youth, a fresh perspective, and a “can do” attitude to a process that others before us had just ‘accepted’. We thought the status quo needed an update, and after years of dealing with the issues, decided to build the solution ourselves.
Hortz: What are the key benefits or solutions that InHub provides?
Amplo: InHub’s eRFP tool offers the ability for an RFP Issuer to create and issue an RFP – online; centralize all responses – online; invite others to review the proposals – online; take notes, collaborate and vote – online; and communicate with and update respondents easily - online. eRFP offers a centralized, modern, and flexible tool for any search - whether you have a 3-person committee reviewing responses or 20, or whether you have 5 or 50 respondents. Upgrading the process allows our users to get to the important parts of evaluating the content and making important hiring decisions, not ‘administering’ the process.
On the other side of the table, a streamlined process benefits the RFP respondents, allowing them to respond online versus physical mail and providing them features such as an auto-recall button which pre-fills their answer based on their last RFP – a huge time saver. Ultimately, because our tool streamlines the process for the Issuer, the respondents also see fewer delays throughout and it can truly accelerate their sales process.
For investment consultant RFPs run directly by an investment committee, we added an extra layer of assistance. We offer sample RFP questions, a network of potential candidates, and a guided RFP service to help them get started off on the right foot with arguably one of their most important hires. Too many times we saw the wrong RFP questions go out and completely unqualified advisors being invited to participate. We knew we had to offer more than just technology for this space.
Hortz: How did you design and develop your solution?
Amplo: The site follows a very intuitive, step-by-step process which makes running an RFP very straightforward even for those with little experience but also allows for complete customization for RFP pros.
We designed InHub for the institutional investment industry, making the technology flexible enough to accommodate various types of RFPs including: investment consultants, investment managers, recordkeepers, plan auditors, actuaries and more, with extra levels of assistance for certain RFPs. All with a focus on streamlining and documenting a prudent evaluation process.
Lastly, we designed the eRFP tool so investment advisors and RFP consultants can manage RFPs for and with their clients more easily. Clients appreciate when the firm running RFPs on their behalf uses innovative technology – saving time and costs, and increasing transparency and collaboration.
Hortz: Can you share some of your key experiences or learning on the road of developing InHub that can help other would-be innovators developing new solutions?
Amplo: You can’t be everything to everyone. Part of our vision is a simple RFP tool so we have to be careful not to implement every idea that every user has. It’s hard to say ‘no’, but you have to – for the sake of your vision, and because of limitations on your time and resources. It’s particularly hard for me because I love new ideas for improvement! To help me balance, I keep every single idea in an Ariana list called “Web Dev Ice Box”. That way we can still consider them in the future, but just not right now.
I’ve also had to stretch myself to accept that developing a software tool takes longer - and costs more money - than you anticipate. Even for a nimble startup, like us! When we started, people would jokingly tell me to quadruple the timeline and budget – and the not funny thing was, they weren’t wrong!
Hortz: So, how do you like the moniker of being an innovator, having created InHub as a new solution to an age old problem?
Amplo: To me, I’m just doing something that interests me. Last year, 401kwire named me as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the Defined Contribution Industry, and I was shocked. It’s flattering to hear you’re you are ‘influential’ or an ‘innovator’, but more importantly it confirms that what we are doing is valuable and being noticed. I am happy to share that in the last 18 months we’ve issued RFPs for almost $18 billion in assets. We’ll issue another $15 billion in the next 45 days. It’s almost hard to image our very first RFP Issue, which was a $1 million 401(k) Plan.
Hortz: What are your plans...goals...for InHub?
Amplo: To become the one-stop-shop technology for all RFPs in the institutional investment community…and beyond. To eliminate the length of an RFP questionnaire because we already have that data on-demand. To share reviewer scores and feedback to help respondents improve their pitches. To share intelligence and trends on the RFP process that no one has had access to before. (infographic provided: 10 RFP Insights Institutional Investors Should Know by InHub). To issue $1 Trillion in Investment Related RFPs.
Essentially, we are on a mission to reinvent the institutional search, hire and documented due diligence process. To enable not only faster but better hiring decisions. Bringing the RFP process online is only the first step.
Hortz: What other advice can you share with other advisors about innovation?
Amplo: I think you have to remember that ‘innovation’ needs to be coupled with ‘adoption’. We innovated the RFP process the moment we finished development, but no one knew it yet! You definitely can’t by shy about announcing your innovation, and you certainly can’t underestimate the difficulty in gaining mass adoption. ‘Build it and they will come’ is wishful thinking for most. It’s hard work, but if you believe in what you are doing, work extremely hard to promote it and you love what you are doing - yes, I’m ridiculously passionate about improving the RFP process – innovation and change will occur.
Previously posted on Financial Advisor Magazine Online.
The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms. 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, MeridianIQ/AdviceIQ, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines). For more information click here.