Spread out over three days, the 7th annual T3 Technology Tools for Today conference convened in downtown Dallas at the massive Hilton Anatole hotel last week from Feb.16 to Feb.18. Over 500 advisors, software vendors, and custodian executives gathered to see first hand the latest enhancements, innovations, trends and news in the advisor technology business. From last year, see: T3 Friday Liveblog – updated every two hours – latest: RIA and vendor critiques.
The brainchild of technology gurus Joel Bruckenstein and David Drucker, T3 is the largest gathering for advisor technology in the RIA industry; a trade show environment with nearly 75 software companies displaying their wares, sandwiched around an agenda chock-full of keynote speeches, panels, workshops and parties.
For conference attendees this year, those issues focused around technology integrations, mobile apps and cloud computing.
“T3 is the only conference devoted exclusively to the technology needs of the advisor community, says Bruckenstein. “It is the only time during the year that all of the technology vendors to the industry are gathered in one place and it is the only educational program of the year devoted exclusively to advisor technology.” From last year, see: The T3 conference hit its stride Friday with key speeches and a hum of activity.
Adds Drucker, “This year’s conference content shines a light on the most pressing technological issues of the day for independent financial advisors.”
T3 kicked off with 30 pre-conference workshops hosted by the industry’s leading technology firms, including major RIA custodians such as Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Pershing. Top of mind for these institutions was the continuing quest for integrations among systems to streamline advisors’ back offices and help drive operational efficiencies. See: Fidelity is set to add Envestnet, Redtail, Morningstar, AppCrown and Salesforce to WealthCentral.
TD Ameritrade made the biggest splash at the conference by hosting a “Tech Summit” with over 30 tech vendors participating in the Veo Open Access initiative. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, TD Ameritrade continues to open up Veo, TD’s brokerage workstation’s application programming interface, allowing third-party technology firms to write custom data integrations direct to TD’s core brokerage systems. See: Joining the industry-wide trend, TD Ameritrade announces its upcoming project for 'open architecture’ technology integration.
“We’ve invested millions of dollars into this initiative and will continue to invest millions more,” noted Zohar Swaine, managing director of Institutional Strategy and Product for TD Ameritrade. See: TD Ameritrade brings some Florida heat to the RIA winter.
This juicy news item had many at the conference doing the math on napkins to reverse-engineer the price to see what cash flow multiple this represented and to speculate on the reasons for the deal and what it portended for the industry. See: Big deal: Envestnet will acquire Tamarac for $54 million.
The $54 million deal news caused much buzz among the many software firms in attendance, many of which are small and family-owned companies, as they speculated whether they, too, may be in line for a big-time payday. See: Can the new Envestnet-Tamarac Godzilla take on the Advent-Black Diamond King Kong?.
One of the more interesting sessions, and probably the most hyped at T3, was the afternoon session on the second day that featured the three leading custodians on a panel, each touting the benefits of their custom integrations with SalesForce.
Moderated by the energetic industry rising star, Franklin Tsung of AppCrown, LLC, the panel consisted of custodian executives, Brian Shenson of Schwab Advisor Services Andy Wang of TD Ameritrade; and Mark McGillivray of Fidelity Investments.
AppCrown is one of the leading system integrators of wealth management workflows and overlays to make the massive Salesforce.com business operating system work for RIAs, and as such, was a perfect moderator for this Salesforce slugfest. See: Fidelity is set to add Envestnet, Redtail, Morningstar, AppCrown and Salesforce to WealthCentral.
Designed to be controversial in nature, the panel was actually quite collegial, with the panelists more often than not agreeing with each other on how they are all focused on making advisors more efficient. While the session focused on Salesforce, each of the panelists voiced support for advisor choice and flexibility in selecting CRM packages beyond just Salesforce.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the panel discussion occurred in the question and answer portion.
“I custody with all three of you,” said one advisor. “So, which version of Salesforce should I go with?”
The answer to this question is actually not as simple as it sounds since the custodians are each designing their own proprietary integrations, certain aspects of those integrations won’t work with accounts held at different institutions. Thus, advisors using multiple custodians may not fully benefit from the substantial investments the custodians are making into customizing Salesforce.
As a result, the winners in the competitive custodian integration battles may well be the advisor-designed and multi-custodian-capable CRMs such as Junxure. See: Junxure moving to the cloud amid market pressures.
While many at the conference were looking to handicap which custodian won the panel discussion, it was pretty clear that it was a three-way tie and that the ultimate winners will be advisors as they benefit from these customizations. The other clear winner, of course, is Salesforce itself, as custodians trip over themselves looking to sell the benefits of the business cloud to advisors. See: Dreamforce review: Social media enters the business cloud and why RIAs should care.
Robot in the hall
At the heart of the T3 conference is the crowded and busy exhibit hall. It was here that advisors were able to sample products from nearly 75 technology vendors ranging from document management firms, financial planning applications, portfolio accounting and performance reporting systems, CRM platforms along with other related vendors touting the latest in portfolio analytics, asset allocation systems, risk management and other killer apps.
One of the more show-stopping features in the exhibit hall was Fidelity’s roving robot that was controlled remotely from the Fidelity booth. The robot from VGo — a four-foot-tall robot on wheels with a webcam for a head — in this case, a video display of Al Lee, senior project manager for Fidelity’s Applied Technology group. Lee controlled the robot remotely and was able to have conversations with attendees.
“The robot is a proof of concept for the ability to project yourself and be able to be in multiple places at the same time,” noted Lee. Definitely an attention-getter, these robots from VGo could very well replace the need for tech vendors to staff booths in person in the future.
Chocolate and chili
While the T3 organizers keep costs down by using a no-frills approach to the usual conference amenities of celebrity speakers, rock bands and open bar cocktail receptions, attendees were able to party-hop from the many vendor-sponsored after-hours gatherings.
Sporting many different Texas related themes, including a dessert bar that combined chocolate and chili, these evening events provided attendees the opportunity to continue their technology conversations with leading companies and also allowed the many vendors opportunities to build relationships with each other.
The growing and continued success of T3 portends great things for the RIA industry as more and more attention is paid to the technology needs of these fast growing firms. Based on the positive feedback from attendees and vendors, the 7th annual T3 conference was a rousing success.
Timothy D. Welsh, CFP is president and founder of Nexus Strategy, a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry, and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NexusStrategy.