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Reprinted with permission. The Publisher's Sale of This Reprint Does Not Constitute Or Imply Any Endorsement Or Sponsorship Of Any Product, Service, Company Or Organization. © 2024 Dow Jones & Company. All Rights Reserved.

"Only those those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” This T.S. Eliot quote comes to mind when I think back to when I first signed up to launch a tech start-up inside America’s oldest bank focused on creating novel solutions for financial advisors.

After working with myriad advisors throughout my career, I knew one thing to be true: If I wanted to build truly innovative tools that would help serve their needs, it would require developing products using a different industry approach—by collaborating directly with advisors to cocreate them.

The financial-services industry has seen massive changes over the last two decades, from the rise of ETFs to the shift from a brokerage model to an advisory model. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the number of advisors in the U.S., which has remained stubbornly flat.

So, if we can’t create more wealth managers, how is the industry going to grow and help more Americans achieve financial independence?

I was passionate about tackling this problem by creating an advisory platform designed to help wealth managers be super-productive and more efficient, so they could spend more time serving more clients. Last June my team and I launched that tool, called Wove. I’m proud of what we accomplished, and it wouldn’t have been possible without eight lessons we learned along the way—lessons taught to us by advisors:

Build the plane alongside your clients.

Financial advisors are client-centric by nature, so it’s surprising that not every company enlists their help to design the products they will ultimately use. We took a different tack and solicited feedback from 25 advisory firms, showing them several prototypes very early in the process. Some things we got right, like our navigation system. Others, such as our activity-based home page, required several trips back to the drawing board. But I’m pleased to say that at each step advisors were integral to the process.

Check in—and check back in—with first adopters. 

We got a limited beta version of the product into advisors’ hands early on. Rather than just take their initial feedback, we kept checking back in to find out what else they would like to see. That process helped us design our tax transition tool, which is now a popular application on the platform. And since the first adopters were able to show us exactly what they needed, because they were already using other parts of the product, we got it right the first time.

Give wealth managers what they want—options. 

Advisors told us they didn’t need an all-in-one system. Rather, they wanted a platform that gave them the flexibility to integrate existing tools they liked into the new system. We believe deeply that each practice needs a different configuration to make our technology work for them. As a result, no two implementations of our platform look the same.

Allow advisors to customize their investment solutions. 

We learned that investment offerings vary greatly from firm to firm. Some advisors lead with alternatives, while others are heavy into direct indexing. Ultimately, what all advisors want is a selection tailored to their end investors. To address this need and supply our clients with the right solutions, we provide advisors access to institutional-grade investments, and even custom-made portfolios, within Wove that are curated by an investment group composed of individuals from across BNY Mellon.

Help advisors expand their client base.

As firms evolve their growth strategies they often look to service new client segments, but this can be hard to do without the right tools. For example, we helped a firm that had been focused on insurance relationships to scale with the right platform solutions so it can now look to offer wealth management services to their clients.

Don’t limit your approach to data.

A resounding message we got from advisors from day one: They wanted to harness data from different sources to help optimize their practices but had trouble corralling it all. That led to the creation ofa cloud-based platform that gives advisors all the basic data they need to monitor performance, as well as a place to add their own data, to achieve one seamless solution.

Know when to say no. 

With so much advisor feedback coming in throughout the process, it was tempting to fulfill all requests. But it was also important to remember our goal of increasing advisor productivity. So if someone wished for a feature that didn’t align with that goal—even if it was a great suggestion—we declined. Being consistently focused on the problem you’re trying to solve is what builds a sustaining, differentiated business.

Dream big. 

When we were looking for a CRM component to add to our platform, I asked the team what their “dream” partnership would look like, and they replied with the industry leader— Salesforce. So, dreaming big, we called them. And in a few short months we had a plan in place to deeply integrate Salesforce into Wove, with both read and write capabilities. They believed in our mission to help advisors help more people.

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