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While attending Schwab IMPACT last month, we had the privilege of listening to a presentation by Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital.  In his opening remarks, he compared Vanguard in the financial services industry to Netflix in the entertainment industry, or Amazon in the retail industry.  He cautioned advisors that if they do not adapt their businesses and break from the “way we’ve always done things,” advisors could suffer the same fate as Blockbuster or Sears.

Clients are no longer willing to pay for investment performance, Duran argued, because they can get steady investment performance as good as and often better than active managers from any Vanguard fund or other robo advisor for a deeply discounted fee.  How can human advisors compete in this day of the machines?  Duran believes advisors must express knowledge, understanding, and empathy with their clients – that is what clients are willing to pay for.

He concluded that you must know the client beyond their investment strategy: what is the purpose of money in the client’s life?  What do they prioritize in their life?  An advisor that can’t answer the client’s core question, “Can I live the life I want?” will surely lose that client.  The advisor’s job is not to console clients and tell them everything will be okay; the primary purpose of the advisor is to help clients understand their choices and hold them accountable for their spending decisions.  Duran eloquently stated, “Advisors are there to give clients permission to spend their money in line with their priorities.”

This sent us looking for tools that advisors could use to better understand their clients and their thoughts around investing, risk, and spending habits.  United Capital has designed a technology platform called FinLife Partners, which walks clients through a set of questions to better define their life priorities.  United Capital advisors are then able to help build spending and investing habits around what truly matters to clients and their families.

A firm in the Bay Area, Wealth Technology Solutions, has partnered with Professor Hersh Shefrin, co-author of Nobel Prize winning work in Behavioral Finance, to develop investor profiling technology that identifies clients’ financial, social, and emotional needs, and behavioral quizzes designed to reveal how a client’s personality can influence their financial behavior. With this type of information at hand, the company believes advisors can better serve their clients through a deeper understanding of what drives clients’ decisions, which leads to more meaningful discussion around wealth.

Another firm, Financial DNA (, has developed a 46-question assessment that provides advisors with “a more accurate measurement of who the client truly is, and therefore the best starting point for any discussions about important life and financial decisions,” says Leon Morales, Chief Relationship Officer at the company.  With the data provided from the Financial DNA reporting system, advisors can better communicate with their clients by framing the financial discussion around what truly matters to the client, thus increasing the client’s chances of understanding the advice and hopefully limiting irrational decision-making by both the client and the advisor.

A new company, called ROL Advisor (, founded by industry veterans Steve Sanduski and Mitch Anthony, is rolling out a suite of digital Discovery Process Tools designed to be used collaboratively, and in real-time with clients. They believe the industry is shifting away from focusing on ROI and toward focusing on ROL (Return on LifeTM). Their system puts the client’s life at the center of the conversation, not their money. It empowers advisors to gather their client’s story and to deliver “value in a way that is uniquely human, mathematically measurable, and truly valuable.” According to the firm, rather than using technology to minimize the advisor’s role, they are building technology to leverage and amplify the “humanness” in the advisor/client relationship.

By adopting these methods and improving the discussions with their clients, these tools will help advisors compete with robo advisors in order to better defend their premium pricing and stand out from their human competitors.  Advisors leveraging this type of technology are not fretting over fee compression or losing money to the next generation – topics prevalent in the industry press these days.  Advisors embracing Behavioral Finance tools have embraced the same concept that Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg discovered long ago: technology shouldn’t replace the human condition, but it should instead be used to amplify the human condition.  In the end, that is what clients are willing to pay for.