In 2019, the people behind CAIS, a $13 billion alternative investments platform founded a decade earlier, were not totally satisfied. They’d built a system to make the historically laborious process of investing in private equity or hedge funds easier, but they felt they were falling short educating wealth managers about those investments. Those managers, in turn, weren’t likely to invest in something they didn’t understand.
Whitepapers and webinars weren’t cutting it. So, CAIS founder and CEO Matt Brown hired Andrew Smith Lewis to be his chief innovation officer. A learning whiz, Smith Lewis was the founder and CEO of The Princeton Review of Japan, and co-founded Cerego, a system focused on long-term information retention that supports programs for the U.S. Army, New York University, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other institutions.
Smith Lewis and a growing 10-person team got to work on CAIS IQ, the new platform that directs users to different visual, written, and audio content based on how well they absorb and retain information.
Shortly after CAIS IQ launched last summer to 9,000 advisors, its “snackable” bursts of learning, in the form of videos, webinars and podcasts, were already proving they helped them “master” alternative investments spending just minutes each day. The launch of IQ included an effort to gather insights and adapt the program. For example, mobile app users were spending 24% less time learning than web-based users, but mobile learners were achieving a 56% “higher rate of mastery,” Smith Lewis told RIA Intel last year.
CAIS IQ is free for any CAIS member to use. Advisors with the Certified Investment Management Analyst and Certified Financial Planner designations can receive continuing education credits for CAIS IQ courses.
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Buckingham Strategic Wealth, a $21 billion RIA that has attracted some of the most high-profile advisors, began using CAIS IQ and was impressed. Tim Maurer, the director of Advisor Development at the time, called it a “game changer for education.”
But the RIA saw opportunity beyond alternative investments.
Buckingham has grown to more than 40 offices around the country. It worries the client experience across them could become disparate and was looking for ways to better scale employee development, according to Aaron Grey, managing director of Integrated Experience at Buckingham. If CAIS IQ could teach advisors alternative investments, could it teach them other things? It can, so the organizations began a first-of-its-kind partnership to create content on topics ranging from the science of client motivation to strategies around building and protecting wealth.
“A system like CAIS IQ is content agnostic,” Smith Lewis said. The learning system — the cognitive science — is only part of what Smith Lewis and Grey said makes what they’ve created over the past year special.
Buckingham already had a growing library of resources for its advisors that could serve as a blueprint. The companies also hired talented producers who could bring their “Netflix magic” to the course videos.
“High quality matters because it catches you right away and you know that it's different,” Grey said.
There are already dozens of courses, spanning different topics, that will take advisors different lengths of time to complete. For example, an advisor might already be well-versed in how to broach certain client conversations and might be able to finish a course in a week or so. Regardless of an advisor’s baseline knowledge, CAIS IQ says its artificial intelligence and machine learning can evolve and help users learn faster and remember longer. If someone doesn’t truly know something, they won’t put that knowledge to work well, or at all.
“A lot of education in this industry is about check-the-box compliance,” Smith Lewis said. “What we’re doing here is about learning, and learning is about changing behavior.”
To start, Buckingham’s original content will only be available to Buckingham’s advisors. But Smith Lewis said the “next logical move” would be to offer Buckingham’s content to advisors using its turnkey asset management platform (or TAMP). For now, the partners are focused on helping the advisors.
Grey said it might eventually create content for investors, too. “Who knows where the future goes?” he said.
CAIS IQ would consider working with other RIAs, although they would need to bring their own ideas and be dedicated to leveraging the system in a manner similar to Buckingham.
Other companies in wealth management see opportunity in better learning systems. CAIS competitor iCapital Network, which just raised $440 million in funding, acquired AI Insight, an education, research, and compliance company focused on the same asset class, in January. RIA consultancy PFI Advisors recently created what it calls The COO Society, a fully digital consulting platform where RIAs can watch short videos about operations and interact with each other.
“We have found that advisors not only want to learn from industry peers and colleagues, but that they want to learn in different ways and formats than our industry has traditionally offered. By partnering with top firms such as Buckingham, and truly personalizing the learning experience, CAIS IQ breaks the paradigm for advisor education,” Smith Lewis said.
Michael Thrasher (@Mike_Thrasher) is a reporter at RIA Intel based in New York City.