Thursday, December 26, 2013

High-Tech Invader to Compete With Advisors

Charles Paikert for writes:  Personal Capital is at the forefront of one of the advisory industry's hottest trends, using algorithms and account aggregation to offer advice and portfolio recommendations online.

Bill Harris, the firm's founder and CEO, is a Silicon Valley repeat performer, with stints leading both PayPal and Intuit. Two years ago, Harris set his sights on another market he saw as ripe for disruption: financial advice.

The Northern California RIA now has almost $200 million in assets under management and 700 clients, according to its latest Form ADV; Harris says 250,000 people use its free online tools. The firm has also raised more than $50 million from private investors. Financial Planning asked him for his take on wealth management.

Where is the industry headed?
It's ripe for change. It's such a huge market - an estimated $32 trillion in individually managed investable assets; that's twice the U.S. GDP. The investment management business today is bifurcated between self-directed do-it-yourselfers and those who are advised. The real opportunity is the blending of advice and information tools.

What's your pitch to investors?
We're in the midst of a transition from physical distribution of goods, services and information to virtual. The penetration of digital and mobile devices in affluent households is close to 90%. We're building a financial advice company from the ground up, offering virtual tools for a digital age

Do generational differences matter?
It's gone beyond a generation gap. Tech adoption skews young, but having money and financial complexity skews old. They balance each other out. One need not be a software programmer to manage life digitally.

So who's your target market?
Affluent households with complex finances who use technology in everyday life. Our minimum for managing assets is $100,000 and the sweet spot would be $200,000 to several million.

You plan to add 100 new advisors in two years. Where do they come in?
Clients will expect contact with an advisor by phone, online or on a screen. I think one of the opportunities will be co-browsing, when the advisor and client are looking at the same screen at the same time and discussing what they want to do.

How do you see the future of financial advice evolving? And how concerned are you about the competition?
I think it's inevitable that, over a five- to 10-year period, a very significant portion of investment management services will be delivered digitally and remotely. And I suspect many advisory practices will be doing the kinds of things we are trying to do today. That's fine. I encourage it. I don't see them as competition, but as comrades in arms.


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