"What we need to do in “FinTech” is to find a way to apply a different kind of AI - Advisor Intelligence." - Adam Holt, Asset-Map
[The Institute for Innovation Development believes that the Holy Grail for innovation resides in creating a client experience that both engages and delights. Accomplishing that feat does not come easily. It has to be carefully crafted. To explore this further, we sat down with Adam Holt, CEO & Founder of FinTech company Asset-Map – a cloud-based software & service platform designed to help financial professionals visually facilitate more meaningful financial conversations with their clients and deliver advice faster and simpler in an engaging experience.]
Hortz: Reading testimonials from your advisor clients about Asset-Map, you get comments like: “everything I wanted in a process with my clients”, “brought back a passion for me”, “the client experience with Asset-Map is fantastic”. What specifically in your service is inspiring these kinds of accolades?
Holt: I think that most financial software that advisors and professionals use are built around solving a specific technical challenge like retirement funding or portfolio allocation. These calculators and planning tools are designed to communicate a problem and illustrate a potential course of action. However, they are geared for the Advisor as an expert tool and so the audience is not the end consumer who has to digest these reports and experiences with often no knowledge or skill in the field. Ironically, many of the advisors we work with shared that they were creating executive summaries and handwritten diagrams of what their own software was trying to convey in order to help their customers. So when we designed Asset-Map, we started with the drawings and executive summary. The goal was to compress complexity and force it to one page or screen. That required an enormous amount of design thinking and testing. The outcome was an expert system that was consumable by everyone.
Hortz: How did you go about proactively designing this client-advisor experience? What kind of steps did you take to build a product and service around this deeper type of user engagement?
Holt: I think like most innovations, sometimes it's born out of necessity, and sometimes it's born out of an accident. My background is in art and architecture, and although I got into financial services because I had done an undergraduate degree in economics, I always thought visually and tried to communicate problems and the way relationships work visually. I would draw on a screen, on a blackboard, a piece of paper, or anything I could get my hands on, to help people understand what was going on in their life and how certain financial concepts worked. I would draw the relationships of the facts that clients were sharing with me in the early stages of providing advice, instead of writing them down on a tablet, or a yellow pad, or a fact-finding form.
When I would draw them, I would draw them in a way that was readable by my staff and my colleagues so that we could all get acclimated very quickly on a case. I used it as an education and recall tool and the visual catalogue was the way that our staff started to understand the household dynamics that they were helping to service. We honed this process for the better part of 10 years and it kept evolving as households became more complex and their needs changed over time.
What then happened is a client actually saw the drawing in my file and said, "I don't want your 80-page financial planning report. I want that! That simplicity is what I'm looking for from you." I kind of knew that it would be valuable, but compliance approval would be required. It took about two years to get it compliance approved with my broker/dealer back in 2006. After that, the rest is history.
Hortz: Tell me about how you made the step in your mind to go from being a financial advisor and having a profitable practice, and then making the decision to become a FinTech entrepreneur. That's a big, big jump! How did you make that step?
Holt: Well, I would say that I didn't make it in one big leap. My original IP goes back to 2002. Post the compliance approval I obtained with my broker/dealer we all had great success in growing the practice with it. It wasn't until 2008 that I actually funded the building of the original technology platform. Being that that was 10 years ago ... not having a background in technology I paid for a lot of expensive learning experiences ... I kept that Platform within the firm and we kept innovating it all those years testing it in the field with our team which had grown to 10 professionals.
In 2012, we allowed 20 of our peers to use it after a best-practice meeting, and they had great results in terms of engagement, as well as new business and referrals that they earned from the process. By the end of the year, we had 90 professionals, and then the next year, we had 300 entirely virally. It wasn't until the last two or three years that I spent a majority of my hours away from the practice, which only was possible because I had built in partners, junior advisors and a written succession plan. Zoom forward to the end of 2017 and Asset-Map Platform 4 has over 3,200 advisors using it globally.
I think one of the biggest things that we tend not to do as financial advisors is to surround ourselves with people who are going to be supportive of however the business evolves, and we had done that. When we reached 10 employees in Asset-Map and thousands of subscribers, it was looking like I was going to have to run Asset-Map full-time, and would need to take a hiatus from my managing roles in the practice. This was the big leap and not one that I made easily.
As a professional we make obligations and commitments to our clients to be an advisor and an advocate in their financial journey. Those relationships run deep and it’s personal. The same holds true for my partners who made real sacrifices in their own plans to support the Asset-Map endeavor. The key was to be open and communicate and be honest that this is going to be a real change to our worlds for some time, and building the support of the team around you, including family. Having support of all the stakeholders was essential for me.
Hortz: How does Asset-Map help advisors ask the right questions that, as stated in another testimonial, “uncovers unexpected opportunities every time”?
Holt: There are a couple of things that are really obvious when you look at a visual diagram of a client’s current financial decisions. You see visually where things are over weighted. You see where there is no attention in certain areas, like in savings, insurances, cash flows, or assets for that matter. There are structural distinctions that are obvious and common sense kicks in when you can see all of this laid out. For the expert eye, even more becomes obvious like legal and tax ramifications to the current financial structure.
Once the consumer is able to see visually what was going on in their life, they are able to then communicate their issues, concerns, and fears about these different choices that are represented on the Asset-Map in a way that most advisors are not able to elicit just with verbal communication alone.
We also built an innovation called Stencils, which comes from the experience and data from the hundreds of thousands of households now in Asset-Map, to learn what a client's peers also have. We've been able to overlay on an Asset-Map other types of concepts, techniques, and strategies that others might be using in similar situations. It allows me to show the client ‘these are the types of things that your peers have and are contemplating - now do they make sense for you?’ In doing so, it enables more productive and effective conversations that quickly get to resolution.
Hortz: Are there ways to quantify how using visual tools and processes add impact and effectiveness?
Holt: There's a study that has been used in the marketing world forever, which claims that 65% of the population are visual learners. It makes sense because most people’s initial experience with their world is an immediate visceral reaction to what they see. That image is either going to be appealing or unappealing so the key for displaying information visually is to create something that can be appealing and digestible by any person in order to keep them engaged long enough to achieve a new distinction and learn from the graphic. We all know that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ but when you’re able to capture a complex subject like financial condition in a picture - it’s worth a whole lot more than words.
Hortz: With your tagline “Less tech. More you”, you seem to seek and like to occupy intersections and are trying to engineer unique balances within them. Can you share with us your thinking and activity behind your tagline?
Holt: It's interesting that you picked that up…. There is a concern that the current path of advice, and especially FinTech in its delivery, is ignoring one of the biggest components of financial advice. In the world where we're all saying that the “robo-advisor” technology is going to be good enough to provide the advice, we think that’s missing something. What we're trying to do is recognize that most individuals who want financial advice actually want a human to apply their knowledge, confidence and intellect to their situation. When financial decisions are complex and/or there's a high cost of being wrong, people want other people to help them make tough decisions. That emotional need is not going to change quickly.
Consumers are not hiring an advisor to just apply some technology to them and then tell them what the technology says. They're actually asking for things that technology hasn't mastered yet, which includes empathy, experience and comprehension of diverse ideas in finance, like legal and tax implications, like insurance and investment intersections. As a result, where AI or artificial intelligence has been dominating FinTech headlines, we're of the belief that what we need to do in “FinTech” is to find a way to apply a different kind of AI - Advisor Intelligence.
When you see a statement like, "Apply more you, less tech" we're trying to say, "How do I get my advisor to be more relevant and engaging in providing their guidance and not just focus on the technology?" If I can facilitate a way for the advisor to deliver their intelligence, experience, understanding, knowledge and guidance in real-time using technology - then that is our goal. We think Asset-Map exists to help the advisor be more capable of providing their insight, as opposed to a technology alone. That's the dichotomy and the balance that we are seeking in the human and technology merger of financial advice.
Hortz: From your perspective, what best advice can you offer financial advisors on preparing for the accelerating rate of change bombarding the financial services industry over the next few years?
Holt: Well, the first thing that advisors should do is they must intentionally decide what they want their customers’ ideal experience to be. Let me suggest that it should be easy, simple, actionable, not intimidating, accessible, transparent, and it has to have a clear value proposition. So, an advisor needs to contemplate which specific technologies are going to help deliver that experience, and which technologies are expendable because they won’t support that experience.
The other key point to that is that there's going to be no way to compete in tomorrow's world of advice if you don't have a technology-enabled experience, which is just the way it is. Ironically, if you're going to make a single investment in your practice, it should be in technologies that help you in building relationships or facilitate more meaningful interaction. That is not going away.
I think where a lot of advisors are attempting to automate the entire client experience. They are going to automate their practice into oblivion. I say this because the next version of automated experience that is cheaper, prettier and slightly more appealing will wind up as a direct competitor, and that area of FinTech is growing faster than you can imagine. Focus on technology that makes your practice more efficient but puts the client and advisor working on the same goals together.
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.