Distribution Disruption — From Both Sides

Broker-dealers and asset managers joined together to outline their unique perspectives on distribution during a General Session at NICSA’s recent 2019 Strategic Leadership Forum. The two panels, moderated by experts at Legg Mason and Merrill Lynch, focused on product innovation and platform enhancements, as well as scale, flexibility, and customization for advisors, home offices, and clients.

A-Side: Broker-Dealer Viewpoint 

To kick off the General Session, Mark Lavan, Co-Head of Retail Intermediary Sales at Legg Mason, moderated a panel of the industry’s top broker-dealers as they looked at the evolution of the wealth management business, how technology is shaping that evolution, and the path forward. 

Rose Palazzo, Head of Financial Planning at Morgan Stanley, said her firm is focused on transforming how it delivers wealth management to clients, specifically through tech tools like WealthDesk. 

“The integrated wealth management platform now allows an advisor to have a single view of their entire book of clients and look across those clients based on outcome,” she said. “It also profiles the client holistically and is not limited to our advisory platform. We want to provide that view so the advisor can give comprehensive advice.”

Mike Greene, Senior Vice President, Advisor Business Development and Financial Planning at Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., said when it comes to tech, his firm is laser-focused on security. “Data privacy and data security is absolutely number one, and then we focus on integration,” he said. “Data now crosses systems that were historically disconnected and operated within their lanes, whether that’s the CRM systems, asset management systems, or financial planning and goal-based advice system.”

Heather Fischer, Vice President of ETF Platform Management at Charles Schwab, said robo-advisors are being used at her firm to enable portfolio management at scale, saving time for business and relationship management. “The relationship management piece is a differentiator,” she said. “You can really understand your client’s goals by bringing together a holistic view of their plan.”

B-Side: Asset Manager Viewpoint

John Pavese, Managing Director, Head of Relationship Management at Merrill Lynch, moderated the second phase of the session, in which leading asset managers explored trending distribution strategies.

Susan Thompson, Executive Vice President, Head of SPDR Americas Distribution, State Street Global Advisors, said State Street is focused on redesigning financial advisors’ client experience. 

“It’s going way beyond product and getting deep into the concept of partnership — of understanding their goals, what they are trying to achieve, and then how we mesh our activities so that we’re all sort of going in the same direction,” she said. “We want clients to feel like they have a partner at their side and not just somebody pushing a product.”

Rick Moreno, Director of Business Development, Aperio Group, LLC, said his Sausalito, California-based firm is continuously trying to improve upon the tools it offers to advisors to streamline their discussions with clients. “We’ve built a lot of tools around environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors and Socially responsible investing (SRI),” he said. 

Nadeem Khan, Head of Corporate Strategy and Development, Capital Group, said that in terms of product, the biggest shift his firm is trying to stay on top of is the move toward solutions. “Previously, the value that a financial advisor brought was access to markets, and then it became mutual funds,” he said. “Now, it’s more about solutions.”

Note: Although the observations contained in this work represent the best thoughts of the individuals comprising the NICSA panel, they do not necessarily reflect the views of NICSA or any of its member organizations. Matters addressed in this work may touch upon legal or regulatory matters, however nothing herein is intended to be or should be construed as legal advice. You should contact your own counsel in order to obtain legal advice regarding these or any other matters.

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