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To Grow, RIAs Must Break These Tech Barriers

Leveraging powerful technology is now table stakes for firms of all sizes – even if some keep working harder to ignore that reality.

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Technology barriers

As talk of human-supplanting artificial intelligence captures headlines and natural-language chatbots continue to proliferate in apps, it’s natural for some RIAs to contemplate their firm’s technology firepower and find it…a bit underwhelming. Even in large firms, it’s not unusual to see advisors working with tech platforms that are woefully antiquated and unable to meet all daily needs. Sooner or later, this can stall an RIA firm’s growth.

“Our recent surveys have found that more people are seeking financial advice, but advisors are challenged with leveraging the technology necessary to provide advice efficiently to more clients,” says Jennifer Valdez, President, Americas for intelliflo, the leading cloud-based technology platform for financial advisors and their clients (supporting more than 30,000 financial advisors worldwide with over $1 trillion assets serviced). We spoke with Valdez about how RIA firms can bridge this gap.

What are the key pain points you’re seeing among RIAs when implementing new technology?

Valdez: In a recent advisor survey, we found that the three biggest barriers to adopting new technology are integration challenges (57%), time to install (41%), and employee time and resources to manage the technology (38%). And these responses align with what we hear from customers.

Innovations are directly attacking these pain points. For one, more tech providers are focusing on improving integration. At intelliflo, being open and integrated is in our DNA; we know customers expect that. But many RIAs still use multiple products and platforms that can’t seamlessly integrate, and many are aware they’re likely missing opportunities to further enhance the client-advisor relationship. We’ve seen many of our customers grow tired of the “swivel chair” effect of using multiple systems and move to superior all-in-one solutions. However, some advisors remain reluctant to change technologies as change management often isn’t for the faint of heart. But improved integrations have the power to make this much less painful.

Second, the emergence of more cloud-based solutions will reduce the time to install. Since we launched the cloud version of intelliflo redblack, our advanced rebalancing, trading, and order management solution, for example, we’ve seen customers get up and running significantly faster. Approximately 75% of new clients are selecting the cloud edition of intelliflo redblack. Cloud is only one piece of the puzzle for saving time, though. Going back to my earlier point, seamless integration with other core systems is a critical requirement.

Finally, the pain point of employee time and resources to manage the technology goes hand in hand with what I’ve touched on. Cloud-based solutions reduce the resources required to manage your technology, along with saving time and reducing human errors from rekeying important data. Your tech stack should not be a drag factor for how you operate; the right solutions should enhance operations and position you for efficiency and growth.


If they know that moving to a sophisticated tech solution would benefit their clients and help grow their practices, why don’t they upgrade?

Valdez: For one reason, many have had poor experiences with technology providers bringing in systems that ultimately didn’t work well for them. They know implementing new technology can be a massive commitment. Advisors may also have embedded ways of working and fear they’ll have to completely change their workflows to accommodate the new solution. Finally, some advisors may not realize that setting up new technology is far less cumbersome than it used to be, especially for smaller firms with more limited resources. At the end of the day, advisors want to spend as much time as they can focused on clients – and the technology needs to work for them versus the other way around.

Speaking of having embedded ways of working, some RIAs are still relying on Excel…

Valdez: Yes. A firm recently came to us with rebalancing and trading needs because they had gone as far as Excel can take them. It was amazing to see what they’ve done with Excel for so long, but they want to do household-level rebalancing, and a spreadsheet app is simply not going to work. At some point, firms need the right technology to scale and grow internally and externally. Trying to be increasingly resourceful with spreadsheets is not a viable plan.

Going as far as they can go with antiquated solutions like Excel really limits how advisors want to serve clients in today’s digital world. Then there’s the regulatory component. That’s a whole other story. But simply put, advanced technology solutions make it easier to meet those requirements.

How do you help RIAs work through their resistance?

Valdez: First, it’s important to recognize that time equity is top of mind for RIAs. It takes time to find a new tech solution, adopt it, and implement it. I can’t stress enough how important it is for RIAs to have confidence that the new platform will be up and running quickly, without the long downtime they may have struggled through during past tech upgrades. This is one reason we’ve streamlined the onboarding process with the launch of our intelliflo redblack cloud solution.

Effectively scaling the onboarding process is integral, too. We have broad experience in launching with different-sized firms, giving us a repeatable and efficient process that’s proven successful for our customers. We’ve got the onboarding and launching down to a science, so the firms that partner with us can trust that implementing our technology will not cause them undue downtime. We get to know your business and the problems you’re trying to solve so we can best optimize how the technology will be implemented.

Secondly, every RIA has a niche or benefit that sets them apart, and their technology solution needs to support that value proposition rather than be a detractor. Their technology partner needs to thoroughly understand that value proposition and make sure that every process or capability that the new tech solution is streamlining or adding strengthens that value proposition or, at minimum, doesn’t weaken it.

I’m sure that’s another area where legacy tech solutions have failed many RIAs…

Valdez: It is. This goes back to understanding the problem advisors are trying to solve. Best-of-breed technologies have had their day, but what advisors value now is an seamlesslyintegrated tech stack that works for both them and their clients that demand a more digital experience.

This is why our implementations always start with a strong discovery session during the sales process to confirm strong, mutual alignment. Understanding an RIA’s current workflows, key strengths, inefficiencies, and business flow helps our implementation team to strategize the most effective implementation plan, positioning them for success. The best implementations are the ones that aren’t forced.

For example, we recently onboarded three RIA firms – one with over $4 billion in AUM and two others with about $1 billion in AUM. All three companies are incredibly successful but came from different rebalancers and had different workflows, goals, and industry experience. We created a customized implementation plan for each, tailored to their idiosyncratic processes and unique mix of needs and strengths. And each plan set realistic expectations throughout the process, so each RIA stayed well informed and knew where they were at every step. The result was a successful implementation for all three, each with a unique path forward. When they were ready for onboarding and launching – which are scalable processes we’ve refined – each firm had the solution they needed to achieve their specific objectives. We pride ourselves in creating the best possible implementation experience for each of our customers, regardless of size or complexity. We know change management can be stressful, but it’s a lot easier when you’re working with an experienced implementation team that’s dedicated to your success – and your continued success on the technology platform.

What’s the tipping point for finally updating for many firms you see?

Valdez: RIAs need to have peace of mind. They have a lot of responsibilities to their clients around regulations – compliance checks, audit trails, and so forth. The right tech solution will greatly ease these burdens, but an outdated or ill-suited platform will worsen them. When the weaknesses in their systems start making an advisor lose sleep – or spend their time inefficiently – they’ll pull the trigger on investing in a new solution to better achieve their business goals.

Less dramatically, some RIAs realize they’re not giving their clients the kind of service and performance they deserve. When using underpowered technology, you’re limited and can only do so much for your clients. For example, if there’s a quick market movement, you may be unable to react in a timely fashion. Even if you don’t lose that client to a competing firm with a more robust tech solution, you know you’re not delivering the level of service that you should be providing.


Internally, reducing work through automation and more efficient processes must be a driver, too…

Valdez: Of course, that’s another motivator. For example, it’s well known that advisors spend a lot of their time on administrative tasks, such as data entry and gathering materials for meetings. Recent research has suggested it’s more than 20% of their time, and informal surveys put it even higher. The right technology will allow RIAs to free up that time to focus on client-facing priorities and value-added activities, like growing their business.

When advisors understand the specific ways new digital tools will create efficiencies so they can focus on what matters – their clients – their mindsets begin to change. They overcome the hurdle of fearing the change and focus on the benefit. They typically won’t hesitate to integrate new technology when they realize how it can help them deliver on their promises to clients.

Why is using open software architecture such a key point for intelliflo?

Valdez: Open architecture is essential. More tech providers are investing in open APIs, and more RIAs know what to ask for when selecting a technology partner. In either role, we should do everything possible to make the technology ‘just work’ for our customers. A ‘walled garden’ approach is ultimately limiting.

intelliflo’s open architecture applies to two critical areas. First, it applies to integrations with other technology providers, such as CRM, portfolio management systems, or other complementary tech solutions. Second, our open architecture also applies to the investment choices made available on the platform. And the good news for intelliflo customers is that by being open architecture, those investment choices don’t have to be solely made available from Invesco, our parent company. You can use whatever models you want. The result is a platform that is designed the way you and your clients need it to work.

What do you see coming in the near future?

Valdez: Generative AI is obviously getting a lot of attention, and its evolution will impact investment management, financial planning, and countless other sectors and industries. We’re assessing how the most powerful AI technologies can best serve our customers.

In taking a more human-focused view, however, advisors that leverage technology to personalize how they interact with their clients will win out in the long term. People have elevated how they want to be engaged and can access info anytime. This elevation has changed the playing field. What may have been historically a more manual interaction with clients is now likely to take place virtually or through other means. Providing an enhanced digital client-and-advisor experience tops the list of today’s priorities for advisors.

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