Monday, August 14, 2017

Robb Baldwin of TradePMR: On Selecting the Right Technology and Custodial Solutions for Your Financial Advisory Firm

TradePMR ( specializes in providing custodial services and technology solutions for RIAs. Their technology is proprietary and built by their in-house developers with RIAs in mind. TradePMR supports RIA business without a competing retail division. This specialization gives them the agility and flexibility to respond to each advisory firm’s individualized needs. “You deserve to be on a first-name basis with your back office,” says Robb Baldwin, founder and CEO. I had the pleasure of speaking with Robb in July 2017.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

Marie Swift: Hello and welcome back to the Best Practices in the financial services industry this is your host today Marie Swift and I'm speaking with Robb Baldwin. He is the founder and CEO of TradePMR. Robb, as a former advisor, you established TradePMR about 20 years ago, is that right?

Robb Baldwin: That is correct.

Swift: Could you tell me why? Why did you start Trade PMR? That's a lot of work to start a custodial services and technology support platform.

Baldwin: Well you are correct, but picture this Marie: In 1997 as we were investigating who we were as an RIA and we had assets custodied with three different various vendors, we realized most of those vendors were heavily catering to the retail public. The service model to the RIA channel was undeveloped. The technology was nothing but comma-delimited format sent to us in an email every day. And we still had the competitive nature of the fact that our custodians were going after retail clients that could cross over to our clients. So, we wanted to develop a model whereby we were heavily involved in service. We developed incredible technology that gave investment advisors all the tools they needed to run their practice and be able to offer that we weren't going to compete with our own clients, our own advisors. So, that's why we started TradePMR in 1998.

Swift: Could you tell me a little more about TradePMR and the ways you stand out from your competition?

Baldwin: Certainly. We are currently the only real-time portfolio management system available to an advisor on the phone that is out there in the marketplace. And we do that because we are heavily involved in technology. We believe you can solve a lot of issues with technology. Of course, there is a lot of discussion about technology in the RIA space, always has been in the last 10-15 years, but it's becoming more and more out there to the RIA community that they have to ante-up and solve their technology problems and integrate so they can increase their bottom lines.

The difference between us and our competitors simply is we want to be a much better service model, know our client, stay relatively small in our advisor count and provide a full-service technology suite that allows an advisor to be up and running in business without having to add any additional technology except for those they want based on maybe some historical use they have from a prior life.

Swift: So, when you said “available on the phone” do you mean a mobile phone, a smart phone?

Baldwin: Yes, any and all devices.


Swift: You recently had your big annual conference; I believe it was called Synergy, down in Miami. You had a big announcement there. Can you talk a little bit about what that was?

Baldwin: Certainly. We released EarnWise, which is our newest technology – it is really a three-in-one system. It combines an advisor portfolio management system so advisors can have performance reports, do fee automation, and all portfolio management, which includes trade re-balancing, model management, trailing stops etc. In addition to the advisor PMS, It also provides a client portal so the clients can login and see all their account information, and also a robo offering. So, advisors can utilize the same system with the same database off the same feed, a robo, and attach that to their practice if that's an offering they want to include. So, it's a three-in-one piece that we dreamt up and started planning out about two-and-a-half years ago. We just rolled it out in May.

Swift: When I was at the conference with you, I heard from you and your team that this might be the biggest thing you've ever done. Why is that? Why do you say that?

Baldwin: I think it's the biggest thing we've ever done because when you look at how an advisor works typically they are piecing together technology in order to formulate what they need in their practice. They have to have an outside portfolio management system. They'll end up with a separate vendor to give their clients a portal access. Then they'll go out and find a robo and it may be a robo at a different facility than they currently use. It's all these pieces they have to deal with, work with, and have human capital in their office to handle all the different vendors. EarnWise is revolutionary because it allows an advisor to have everything in one place. That way they don't have to go out and buy all different types of equipment and solutions for outsourcing – it's all included with EarnWise, including the CRM.

(you will also see Robb Baldwin jump out of an airplane)

Swift: That's fantastic. I read here you also have third-party integrations. Could you talk a little bit about the freedom of choice for advisors who want to stick with their favorite whatever it is CRM or PMS?

Baldwin: The advisors that come to us sometimes have a history with different vendors and we want to support all of those vendors whether they be a portfolio management system, a CRM, a trading platform, a re-balancing system, etc. All of those are supported by us. We have literally dozens of integrations to support that — including the financial planning tools.


Swift: You've also been in the news a lot recently. I noticed in RIABiz yesterday another big article about TradePMR and how you're helping advisors reach their goals. The goals they actually tell you they want to achieve when they come on with TradePMR. Could you talk a little bit about the Letter of Understanding and how that works for TradePMR and the advisors they serve?

Baldwin: The Letter of Understanding (LOU) came about three years ago when we noticed that we were having relationships with some advisors that were not working out. They would send us emails and discuss their business plan with us and what their future plans were with their practice and literally would fall flat on their face. So, we wanted to introduce a concept with the LOU, to have a written-down goals agenda with each advisor so that our relationship managers could follow up with the advisors and discuss with them where they were in their business plan. And if they didn't meet their goals or didn't accomplish what they had written down in their LOU with us we might be able to assist them or get them coaching.

We have a free coaching program that we offer that allows them to be under a coaching mentor that helps them grow, helps them reach their goals. If they are not really interested in doing that or not really interested in reaching their goals or something came in the way then sometimes it's best we part ways if they don't have the same goals that we have and that is to work and grow advisors.

Well, I certainly met a lot of interesting advisors. Some large advisors when we were together in Miami at the conference. Could you talk a little bit about the type of advisor that is drawn to TradePMR and who is really the ideal advisor for TradePMR to serve?

Baldwin: Yes, exactly. Well, I think we've been known in the past for dealing with smaller advisors; however, a shift has started to occur and I think it's being driven mostly by technology because many of the large advisors are searching for technology solutions and our three-in-one EarnWise solution is something that a lot of advisors have looked at and stated that's something that could help them out greatly to increase their P&L. So, the message is getting out there to a lot of larger advisors that TradePMR is open and available to them. We've increased the size of the RIAs we are searching for to bring on board – $180 million and up is really our search criteria at this junction.

Swift: So, last question Rob. How do advisors learn more and what does the process look like if they're interested in exploring the opportunity with TradePMR?

Baldwin: The best way to find out about us is just to visit our website at On our website, we have the ability for advisors to request a package and it will give us a little bit of information about them. Then, we will reach out to them and discuss completing a profile form. That profile form will allow us to really give a proposal based on their practice and how they want to run. That's really the best way to learn about us and begin working with us.

Swift: I sure appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for your insights.

Baldwin: Thank you, Marie.

Trade-PMR Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC

Monday, July 3, 2017

David Edwards of Heron Wealth: On Evolving with the Times and Building a Platform for Success

Working with top advisors like David Edwards, founder and president of Heron Wealth (, is a real joy. I spoke with David to uncover some of his secrets to success. David provides some great insights for fellow financial advisors. There are lots of great ideas and much to emulate here.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Hello and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host today, Marie Swift, and I'm joined today by David Edwards, who is the founder of Heron Wealth a New York-based fiduciary investment advisor and wealth management firm. Today we are going to be talking about how Dave has intentionally built a wealth management business that is growing in leaps and bounds. I would say, Dave, that you are a shining light for all the advisors that will be listening to this audio. Welcome to the show.

DAVID EDWARDS: Good afternoon Marie.

SWIFT: Thank you so much for your time today. I was reading the white paper that recently came out, of which you were the main focal point. It was put out by eMoney, and it focused on your client service model and how you've grown as an independent wealth management firm since your inception. It focused particularly on the last three or four years. So let's talk a little bit about your hyper-productive team – I love that phrase – and how you are building such a successful and enduring company. So, what would you like to share about your strategy?

EDWARDS: So, let me divide the last twenty years into two phases. For fifteen years, I ran a solo practice, taking care of maybe 50-60 families with about $75 million in total assets. That suited my life while raising two children. Well, those children went to college in 2011 and I was facing the next 15 to 20 years of my career and thinking about what I wanted to accomplish with all that spare time. I decided to build my firm to a billion dollars in assets. If you think about moving from $75 million to a billion dollars, you can't do that as a solo practitioner.

I spent some time trying to understand the form of a well-run wealth advisory firm: the structure is a pyramid. Not a pyramid scheme, that would be bad, but it is a pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid is your core foundation. It's technology, operations, cybersecurity and compliance. That has to be rock solid. On top of that, you build your service package. For us it's financial planning, investment advice and estate planning. That has to be rock solid, as well. On top of that you can build a marketing and business development process. And on top of that is management. If each of the lower layers is rock solid, management is not that big of a deal.

So, by understanding exactly the structure of my firm, I was able to hire very talented people to fill in the roles of compliance, training, portfolio management and financial planning. I was also able to hire outside vendors for compliance, cybersecurity, marketing, PR and technology. The transformation was that I no longer spent 80% of my time running the firm. I spent 80% of my time talking to clients and prospects, which is the fun part of my job. It's what I want to do every day.


Now, we've always been a very technology-driven firm and we had been using a paper-based financial planning process, which was slow and frustrating. It could take us up to 20 hours to get a good financial plan for a family. That's an expensive plan. That's a $10,000-dollar plan and that precluded us from working with a lot of clients that had less than a million dollars in assets.

At the same time, we had a situation where my 55-year-old clients might have a $1 million or $10 million in assets, but their 25-year-old children were just starting out with $10,000 or $50,000 or maybe even college loans. And if I said to those college children, "Hey Billy, Hey Jessie, I would love to work with you. Can you circle back to me when you have a million dollars?" I would never hear from those kids ever again.

As we do every four years, we were reviewing our technology and looking at pain points and trying to see how we can get past this paper-based financial planning process into something more modern and more streamlined. And that's when eMoney came into play. We started looking at eMoney in the fall of 2014, brought the platform on board in February 2015, and spent about four months getting up to speed. It is complicated, but we embraced it fully, moved all of our clients off of paper onto the platform and realized we could get to a good baseline in only two hours and not twenty hours.

So, we could go back to Billy and go back to Jessie, and say, “Hey we can bring you on board. It's going to be a digital-based platform; it's going to be on your PC; it's going to be on your phone.” Sure, they could call if they had questions, but we can now get them on board with pretty good service level, as far as they were concerned, and not kill ourselves on the cost side. Between the eMoney upgrade and all the other upgrades, we went from growing 5% a year in assets to growing 40% a year in assets. That took us from $75 million to $300 million in 5 years.

SWIFT: That's amazing! So, is that what you are calling the bionic advisor?


EDWARDS: Absolutely! We always laughed about Steve Austin, the $6-million-dollar man, back there in the 70s when I was a kid. That would be the $6-billion-dollar man today, but what Steve Austin had was both the smarts of a human and the strength of technology to help him look long distance, jump over cars and run 60 miles an hour. That's what we need to do as financial advisors just to win the game every day.

SWIFT: We’ve talked a little bit about how you've adopted a new pricing model to target younger clients and to provide an onramp for your digital services. Also we’ve talked a little bit about your technology and this bionic advisor idea. Talk a little bit about how you find the right clients.


EDWARDS: Sure. So, here’s the traditional advice for advisory firms like mine, let's say you start out with a $250,000 minimum. As time goes by, you raise that to $500,000, then eventually to $1 million or $2.5 million. Up until three years ago, our minimum was $1 million dollars and generally speaking we didn't go after clients with more than $10 million dollars, because above that is a different level of service we weren't willing to provide. Well, we still have a $1 million minimum for clients that are 50 years and older, but we have a scaled minimum for younger clients. It's as little as zero, if you are younger than 35 years old. It's $250,000, if you are 40. It's $500,000 if you are 45. And instead of charging on an AUM basis, which is the traditional way of getting paid 1% a year or 75 basis points a year, we charge a financial planning fee directly to a client's PayPal account. So that would be $25/month if you are younger than 30, it's $100/mo. if you are single between 30-40, and $200/month if you are a couple. And the financial planning subscription fee automatically transitions to an advisory fee, an AUM fee, when you have enough assets. So, for a couple, once they get over $300,000 in assets to us, we transition them to the AUM fee.

We believe this model works because we have a pretty good sense of how much time we need to spend with someone that is 25, versus 35, versus 45, versus 55, and what kind of cash flow we need to service them properly and still leave profit left for us. So, I would say today our bread and butter clients are Boomers between 50-65 years old, but the clients we are aggressively going after are Gen X clients between, let's say 45 and 35, and millennial clients younger than 35, because that's where the value will come over the next 15-20 years.

SWIFT: That's a very smart strategy, Dave, and none of us are getting any younger, right?

EDWARDS: When it comes time to sell a firm like mine, the old rule of thumb is, “Well, it's three times revenues or two times revenues,” which is a very naive analysis. If you have a client book of people between 75-85 years old, they are spending their money, giving their money away and they are going to die. If you've made no provision for transitioning those assets to the next generation and even the generation after that, you’ve got nothing. We are working with a family now, one of our dear clients passed away in January (she was 90 years old and had a wonderful life). We've been working with her adult children who are in their 50s and 60s for about a decade now. We've also been working with her grandchildren who are between 25 and 12 years old. Obviously, we don't spend a lot of time with the 12-year-old, but the 25-year-old already has a successful career. We want to make sure that she goes nowhere but to us when she needs good financial advice.

SWIFT: So how do you go about finding these new younger clients?


EDWARDS: There are multiple avenues of attraction. The traditional route is client referrals, of course. We seek those out the best we can. We don't get as many as we'd like. Another fruitful route for us is centers of influence. That could be a divorce attorney or a trust and estate attorney. We have a good relationship with advisors with much higher minimums than us – $10 million, $25 million dollars – and they'll call up, "Hey David, I have this wonderful family. They only have $5 million. Can you take care of them?" Totally! That is a sweet spot client for us. $5 million is perfect!

In networking, I'm out in an environment of places where I might meet clients all the time and that's not necessarily in a business networking group – that might be at a party, at a sailing regatta, at a polo match. I always have my ears open for a couple of phrases that tell me that someone needs help. I might meet a hundred people in a given month who could be my clients, but only five of them have the following characteristics: they are not able manage their money themselves successfully; they don't have an advisor already; and most importantly, they have a transitional life event such as a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child, the birth of a grandchild, a promotion, a grant of stock options, a retirement, an inheritance. Something is making them think about their money and they need advice and help.

In the old days when I was much less disciplined about my marketing, I would pitch everybody I met. 100 people a month and I'd win 4 clients – it was pretty demoralizing. After I went through a process of defining my ideal clients and only going after those clients that clearly demonstrated they had a need to talk someone like me right now, all of a sudden for every five people I'd pitch, I'd win four. But now we've gotten even better, so every time I pitch a client, I win. Do you have any idea how much fun it is to go out and bat a thousand every week?

SWIFT: I do and I wish I was doing it more often.


EDWARDS: If you are in that groove, you can't wait to do sales. Most people hate sales and will do anything they can to avoid sales. If that was the only thing I did for the rest of my career, I'd be very happy.

SWIFT: So how did you get so good at this?

EDWARDS: Well, nothing ever happens by yourself anymore. Twenty to twenty-five years ago, I had all the time in the world for trial and error. I'd try this, I'd try that and make notes on what worked and didn't work. It was a much slower and easier time. I recently saw a display of the original online technology from Fidelity Investments. It was a kit that sat on your PC, and connected to Fidelity at 9,600 bot – super-slow. Wow, I remember that. Today, everything is moving super-fast. What worked a year ago might not work today. What worked four years ago definitely doesn't work today. So instead of trying to do it through trial and error, I sought out experts in as many different fields as I thought were appropriate.

So, we work with a strategy coach through Peak Alliance. That's Ron Carson's coaching business out in Omaha, Nebraska.

I also worked locally with a Sandler Training coach to improve my one-on-one marketing skills. Here's the thing, I've been doing sales for 20 years. Why would I need to do that? Well, do you remember the story of Tiger Woods? When Tiger Woods was a young tournament player he was having success, but he felt he'd peaked already. So, he took a year off from professional play, went back to the basics, rebuilt his stroke from the ground up and then went on to become a champion we know. I was feeling like I was running about a B, B- in my sales efforts. Sure, I was winning four out of five, but that’s still only an 80% success rate. I wanted to do better. I wanted to be an A, A-. So, I kept my eyes and ears open and eventually ran into a gentleman, David Fisher, who runs at local Sandler Sales Training franchise here in New York City. Mr. Sandler originally started his career selling chocolates in Philadelphia back in the 50s and 60s. Through some career reversals he ended up being a sales trainer and discovered he was far more powerful helping people be better salespeople than he ever was selling chocolates. The Sandler Approach says take all of the usual things you think about: got to make a pitch, got to get talking, got to do this, got to do that, all that stuff just throw it out. It's boring, the clients get defensive and they won't reveal what's really going on. Instead, just be yourself and be more conversational and listen more than talk. That's a challenge for me because I love talking! 

SWIFT: I know you David, and know that's true.


EDWARDS: So, Sandler Training taught me to listen for those phrases that tell me somebody needs help. The phrases that tell me somebody has pain. And then give them some open-ended questions rather than questions that have a yes or no answer. Open-ended questions get people talking. For sure once they start talking they are going to like you because everyone loves to hear the sound of their own voice. So, let's say I'm in a situation, I'm at a cocktail party, it's a trust and estate meeting and I'm talking to this one estate attorney and he says, "Hey David you know I got this funny situation. I've been working with an advisor at a traditional brokerage firm my whole life. He's the advisor my dad had but my dad died recently and all of a sudden I have money that I didn't have before and I'm talking to this guy he's still in the business but seems out of touch. He's never available, he's always off in the afternoons and I have a busy schedule and I'm a little frustrated. I'm like, “Well really, how do you think the relationship should be?” He says, “Well I'd like to have this report and I'd like to be able to do that, and understand what will happen in 10 years now.” And I say, "Okay, we have the ability to give you that information. What would you like to know?"

So now the guy is telling me exactly what he needs to become a client. I'm not forcing him to follow my plan. I'm letting him describe exactly what he wants in the relationship. I’m pretty good at making mental notes, but the second I get back to my office, I quickly write that down into a one-page report that gets entered into our client-relationship management system. So now we have a track of that opportunity and we have a reasonable sense of how quickly we should get back to that person – three days, five days, two weeks – and what kind of follow up questions we should have and where should it go. But the other important change we made as part of this escalation process or acceleration process was to break apart the presentation of the advisory agreement from the presentation of the account documents.

In the old days, I would spend two, five, ten, twenty hours working out the financial plan, working out the investment plan, getting the client to buy in. And then I'd present them with a fifteen-page advisory agreement and potentially two, five, twelve, roughly 32 packets of account documents. It could be weeks before the client got back to me. Because, if you are a successful businessman, a successful lawyer and someone gives you a stack of documents in 2-point font, that's danger! You are not going to sign anything until you've read it carefully. So, what we did was we looked at our pipeline process, which was averaging six months between the time the client first reached out to us and the time where their assets where completely on board, and looked at every single element of that process and tried to figure out what were the choke points. And we realized the moment of the advisory agreement and the account applications was a major choke point. Some clients disappeared at that point, really demoralizing.

Now, we will spend up to two hours creating a base-line financial plan that we will review with the client in their office or our office or wherever it seems to make sense, and if at the end of the 90-minute meeting, the client is nodding their head and saying, “I really like what you are talking about,” that's where we say, "Okay we'd like to pause now and take out our advisory agreement. You are not going to sign it right now, but what I want to do is show you this document and explain what's in it because we are creating rights and responsibilities and liabilities with this conversation and we need to know that you understand how serious this is. And if you decide you do want to move forward, great, understand that there's an automatic subscription of $100/month or $200/month depending. If you do transition your assets to us, we'll automatically switch over to an advisory agreement.” Then we spend the next ten minutes starting at the top of the page and going to the bottom of every single paragraph in that advisory agreement, which, by the way, is printed in 14-point font not 2-point font, and if there is anything the client wants to balk about, let them speak now when we are together and can explain.


Here's another value: a lot of times, clients are looking for free advice. They are very happy letting you spend ten or twenty hours preparing a beautiful financial plan, investment plan, until they get the answer they are looking for, at which point they “ghost” you. They got what they wanted for free, see ya! If someone is going to ghost me, let them ghost me after two hours when I invested $1,000 in the process, rather than after 20 hours when I invested $10,000.  But we haven’t had that experience yet. If somebody is going to be serious and signs that agreement for $200/month, we are going to get their assets a month later. So, the six-month sale cycle is now compressed to six weeks on average, which means I can pick that many more clients per year and keep up our 40% annual growth.


SWIFT: Fantastic! Speaking of rights and responsibilities, one of the things you're known for is your taking care of your clients, protecting their data with cybersecurity. In fact, you were put on the cover of Financial Planning magazine for your prowess on this. I was looking at your ADV on this and you've got a clause that protects your clients against elder abuse. Maybe you can talk about those two issues.

EDWARDS: Sure. So, the client-facing part of our business is financial planning, investment advice, and estate planning. But remember that foundation? That foundation is operations, technology, cybersecurity, and compliance. Five years ago, we were casual about cybersecurity because we had reasonable protections on our computers and we weren't hearing about any threats. But then our clients began getting attacked, not us, our clients. They would get attacked in the sense that their email password would get “sniffed” if they were using free wi-fi at Starbucks. Next thing we would get mysterious emails, asking to transfer money to places we'd never heard of before. I began to get concerned. This never happened to us, but other advisors have forged their client's signature to a wire transfer to send $10,000 or $50,000 to some place they shouldn't have and then THEY’RE on the hook for it personally, not their custodian, the advisor. I can't afford that.

So, we brought in a cybersecurity consulting team and I said, “I don't have unlimited time or unlimited budget. Tell me the ten things I need to worry about the most, help me rank order them and help me knock them off one after the other over the next year.”

Once people find out you have a top ten list on cybersecurity protection, you start getting phone calls from conferences and from journalists. I've spoken at a number of conferences and given many interviews about this topic of cybersecurity protection for the client, not as a technology expert, but as a stressed-out executive who just needs to protect his clients and just needs to protect his firm. As part of our annual compliance review, we bring in our cybersecurity team and have a meeting with our compliance consultants and talk about what are the threats for this year and what do we need to do to keep those threats under control. There is the old joke about the two guys in the woods and they come across the bear and the bear is going to eat one of them. The other guy laces up his sneakers and the guy says, “What are you doing?” The guy says, “Well, I don't have to run faster than the bear, I just have to run faster than you.” So that's how we are approaching cybersecurity. We are never going to be 100% perfect, but if we are at 99% and our peers are at 60%, they are going to get attacked ahead of us. Really, it's our goal to stay 18-months ahead of our peers in anything involving cybersecurity.

Now, when it comes to elder abuse, again we look to our clients and that's where the pain first arises. We had a situation a couple of years ago where a client learned his father had died, which was unfortunate, but the gentleman was 95 years old; therefore, expected. What was not expected was the realization three years later when there were brand new trusts, wills, powers of attorney naming the father's nurse as the sole beneficiary of a three-million-dollar estate. Here's the thing, those documents were 100% legal and there was nothing we could do about it. We engaged a private detective, we engaged a lawyer that specializes in elder abuse and they said “Yep this stuff happens all the time.” Who were those witnesses, right? Nobody ever heard of them before but they said, “Yeah Mr. K seemed fine when I talked to him.” They were lackeys of the law firm that pulled this together. By the time our client was able to even get to the family home, the locks had been changed, the safe deposit box had been emptied out and that's where all the stock certificates were. The family photos were gone, the family paintings were gone, the money was gone from the bank. We called up the bank and said “Why didn't you ever alert our client that this guy was changing the Power of Attorney?” And the bank said, “We've know Mr. K for 45 years and whatever Mr. K says goes.” No, that's not acceptable any more.

There is legislation kicking around the country right now both at the federal level, that's the State Seniors Act, and also at the state level. Now, given Congress is in chaos right now, we are not expecting this legislation to come through any time soon. But the jist of the legislation is if any advisor – could be an RIA (Registered Investment Advisor), a broker dealer, a bank teller – feels like a senior is being taken advantage of, they can not only suspend transfers of assets for up to 15 days, but they can also reach out to a trusted relative to say, “Hey, is this thing on the up and up?” We don't have to wait for these laws to go through, however, to take advantage. We did a major revision of our advisory agreement at the end of last year, last December beginning of January, and we literally wrote into the contract that if we are concerned about an outbound transfer, we can put a hold on it for up to 15 days with no liability. We also asked the clients to name their trusted estate attorney, their accountant and a couple of trusted relatives or friends who we are allowed to call on if we are concerned. And again, I feel like we are 18-months ahead of our peers in building these safeguards into our firm, but that's how we want it to be.


SWIFT: Yes, that's reassuring and thanks for your leadership on that. Let's switch back to the marketing and the digital presence that you've built. This will be my last question, and if you want to wrap up with any words of wisdom, I'm all ears. But one of the things that's amazing about you, Dave, in addition to everything you just shared with us, is how often you are quoted in industry publications and personal finance publications, whether it’s the Wall Street Journal or New York Times or Financial Planning magazine. And then you are also really active on social media. You just finished a whole website refresh and collateral marketing material. Talk a little bit about your logic and why you did that now at this junction in your company’s history?

EDWARDS: We feel marketing materials have to be refreshed from scratch every 4 years. Maybe it's 5 years for some firms, and 3 years for other firms. The way we do things today is not the same way we did things 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago. And yet still people are relying on a website that was built 15 years ago and it looks boring and stale. Someone is going to land on your webpage from a phone and not be able to read anything and they are gone, right off the bat. So, we are one of the first firms to even have a website back in 1996. I think there were 7 other firms that had websites. The most recent iteration of our website that was launched in March was designed to look great on a smart phone, because we can tell that 75% of our first-time visitors are looking on their smart phone. At that same time, we changed our web domain to make it a little shorter, a bit punchier.

We redid our logo to make it look a little more modern, more current, and changed some typefaces around. I've always said that marketing doesn't solve your business problems. If you're not sure about your process, if you're not sure about your ideal client, if you don't have good operations in place, the best marketing in the world won't help you. However, if you do have a good process, a well-defined client definition/target, are clear about your value proposition, then the marketing is how you show the world what you have. Half the time, by the time my client even calls us, they are pre-sold. They've already been to our website, seen our technology, seen our media and they say, “Yeah, I need to talk to this firm.”

Now, talking about media for a moment. We've been doing media for a long time and very early on someone said to me, “Hey, David if you get a phone call from a journalist, return it immediately and answer their questions, because they are on deadline and whoever gets back first wins.” So, that's been a big plus. But the reason why we do media at all is for that critical third-party validation. So, if you jump on our website, you'll see I've done 200 press items since 2011. We actually counted when we were rebuilding the website: that's print, that's television, that's radio. You say, “That guy, that guy, that guy must know something because everybody keeps asking him questions.” That gives a general halo of goodness around your firm that just makes it that much easier to close.


SWIFT: Amen to that. So, any final words of wisdom as we wrap up today, Dave?

EDWARDS: You and I were joking the other day about a prospect that I connected with in London, of all places. I was in London visiting with some clients, and I had finished a meeting. I went to the bar and poured myself a long, cool vodka and I fell into a conversation with the guy next to me, because I have what's called the three-foot rule. If there is a person within three feet of you, you have to introduce yourself and have to talk to them a little bit. A lot of people are shy and I know it's hard to believe, even I'm shy at times, but if you oblige yourself to reach out and connect to anybody that is around you, you're going to get some serendipity.

So, this gentleman was a lawyer on business in London. He's based in North Carolina and I'm based in New York. So, the probability of my running into him in North Carolina was zero. He asked what I did and I kind of gave him the overview. And then he got back to me later on a call and said, “Remember that phone conversation we had in London,” and I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well listen. I'm now the trustee of a $7 million foundation and I think you're just the guy to run that foundation for the investment side.” I'm like – “Done!” So, if I hadn't had the three-foot rule to prompt me to reach out and say, “Hi,” I wouldn't have made that connection for a $7 million foundation, which is about $35,000 a year in revenue to us. Not bad for three feet.

SWIFT: I'd say not bad at all. Well David, it's always a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much for all your generosity sharing your words of wisdom about how you've built such a great firm. Thanks, and I look forward to seeing you at the next conference.

EDWARDS: Thank you Marie!

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Marketing System from Snappy Kraken Creates a Consistent “Wow” Experience for Financial Advisor’s Clients and Prospects

Snappy Kraken ( is a SaaS marketing solution that helps financial advisors personalize, automate, and track marketing campaigns and business processes. Users can choose from a number of ready¬-made campaigns, each containing combinations of professionally designed and written email drip series, social media posts, ads and more. Clicks, opens, and shares are managed and tracked from within a single dashboard. Snappy Kraken, which took first place in the FinTech Startup Competition hosted by the XY Planning Network in September 2016, is lead by industry veteran and practice management consultant Robert Sofia (

I had the pleasure of speaking with Robert Sofia in May 2017.

Read the transcript below or click here to listen to the audio interview.

MARIE SWIFT: Welcome to “Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry.” This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Robert Sofia. I'm super excited to have him here today to talk about marketing and building your business as a financial advisor. If you are listening as an enterprise that supports advisors I think there are going to be some really good ideas for you here as well.

Robert is a marketing expert. He has personally worked with 2,000 advisors on their marketing plans. He has a ton of practice management experience. He's worked in a billion-dollar RIA. He's worked with solos and ensembles, with financial offices, custodians and insurance companies. Today, through that long journey in the industry, he is the CEO of a cool little company – but I don't think it will be little for very long. It's called Snappy Kraken.

Robert, I love your logo. It's a little red octopus with sunglasses. Tell us about Snappy Kraken’s vision and how you think about pain points in the industry. What should advisors and enterprises be thinking about today to be getting over that next hurdle?

ROBERT SOFIA: Boy, that's a nice introduction Marie. Thank you! That's a big question too. I think there are a few vital questions in there. One, related to the hurdles advisors face. How we see overcoming those hurdles and then how we fit into that. If I may, I'd like to take those one at a time. Is that alright?

SWIFT: Absolutely, jump in!


SOFIA: Really, the reason we started Snappy Kraken is because of the problems we see advisors facing. They are related to a variety of factors. So are the external forces they cannot control. Advisors have stress over the regulatory environment, the market environment and the economy, and the geo-political issues but those things for the most part are out of their control.

But when you get into the things they can control, they still have challenges. It's hard to be an advisor today because you have to differentiate from a tremendous amount of competition both from advisors next door to online brokerages which are expanding more and more into financial planning and into wealth management. So, there is that and then you have to manage the myriad technology tools. When you look at the combination of portfolio management, marketing and all the different components of that where you have your email, your compliance, your website and your social presence and everything you use for trading, client account management, and file sharing it gets really hard to serve your clients well and run your business.

That's what today's advisor has to be. They have to be an entrepreneur, a business owner, and at the same time serve other people – being that it's a service business. Those things are always at odds with each other because the time you want to devote to your clients is often times being dragged by all the infestimal little things you have to deal with. So, basically, we understand those pains and we decided we wanted to make it easier with technology. That is what we set out to do.

SWIFT: I've seen the recent product you just rolled out for advisors; I believe it's called Visional Marketing Insights. Am I correct?

SOFIA: Yes, that's one of our products.




SWIFT: It occurs to me that technology is just part of the solution because what Snappy Kraken has brought through is the communication aspects -- the technology is “just” the delivery mechanism. So, could you talk a little bit about communicating appropriately from the advisor’s point of view out to the general public and how to engage people visually?

SOFIA: I'm happy to do that – but I’d like to note that Visual Marketing Insights is really just a small part of what Snappy Kraken is doing. In fact, you mentioned our octopus logo. The idea behind that is of course to have a little fun but it's also because there are a myriad of tentacles that go out from our API junction, which is our system that can connect to any system. So, we can connect not only on the marketing a communication side but also on the practice management side, and also through CRM and other tools that advisors may use. So, the idea is to create a junction where everything can be managed from one place. And, that includes the communications.

Visual Marketing Insights is just an example of one form of communication that is designed to help the advisors engage their clients more effectively – which should be part of an overall omni-channel fully integrated client approach to client service. When you think about today's consumer they are used to engaging with brands and with companies that they patronize on a number of levels. They will visit their website, visit their social profile, come into their office, talk to them on the phone, use appointment scheduling software, they will login and check their accounts, they will do all types of things and they expect the experience to be constant across every channel. That's something that builds trust and that's something people expect from their relationships with companies.

So, when you engage with a company on one channel, you expect the experience to be the same as how you engage with them on another channel. Advisors struggle with that because they end up using all these different tools that are disconnected so their clients have different experiences. The problem is, it creates confusion and undermines trust.

If you go to an advisor’s website and there are all these different services and products but they all feel different because their experience logging into their accounts is different than their experience they have with social media versus on the website. That's a problem. So, what we're doing just with our Visual Marketing Insights product is that we are creating campaigns. Single campaigns so the clients experience it the same on every channel. What that does is it actually builds trust and reinforces that relationship with prospects in a way to lead them to a desired outcome. So, if they enter a campaign from a social media channel or from your website or from an email or from any method that is used to promote that campaign, they will enter and stay inside that campaign while the messages they initially expressed interest in are continually reinforced until they are ready to make a decision to meet with the advisor or to further the relationship in some way. So, the Visual Marketing Insights product is just a component of just that concept.

I know I digressed a little to explain the concept but it really explains how we think about the marketing and the client service we are helping advisors perform. So, this pre-launched product is highly visual. It's very interesting, it touches on current issues of concern in the marketplace from consumer perspectives. We look at what's trending. We look at what's happening in either the political environment, economic environment in the markets or just with people's lifestyles. We build entire campaigns around a theme and we give the advisors the ability to personalize and deploy those campaigns from one source easily. And, to track and measure those effectiveness of those campaigns so they know the marketing dollars they are spending and the technology dollars they are spending are returning on their investment.


SWIFT: I'm looking at your most recent news release where you announce the Visual Marketing Insights system. It's an ongoing turnkey subscription and the introductory price is just stunning – just $39/month if advisors sign up during this initial launch period. There is also a 60-day free trial.

Let’s also talk about “snackable” content. I love that term. I'm just going to read this, a couple of sentences:

To increase the shareability, each visual is just one piece of a larger campaign meant to dazzle clients and prospects while informing them quickly. Each communication is paired with a related stand-alone webpage, also known as a landing page, and this serves as another source of traffic, readership and email list building route for financial professionals while also making it easy for people to link to and share the content via social media.

Could you talk about the value of that landing page?

SOFIA: Well, a lot of marketing content out there is just noise to people who receive it. You have the constant barrage of emails, social media posts, and mailers. People drive down the road and are hit with billboards, radio advertisements, and so forth. It's just non-stop. So, people tend to tune out. When they actually tune-in, and that's the key to the snackable content, they need to see something that is visually appealing and easy to access and hopefully interesting enough to motivate somebody to click through. When that happens, you need to make sure you're maximizing the impact of that communication, that chance. It's like a little window, a rare glimpse, that somebody is getting into your business and they've just expressed interest. And if you merely broadcast content for the sake of content then you are missing opportunities.

So, what we do is we create content that is designed to capture interest and then we always have a purpose for that content. There is an objective or goal on every place where that content is featured. In this case with this product, if it's an infographic for example, then below that infographic there will be a call-to-action and it will be designed to capture information. That landing page allows you to have a little bit of introductory text, perhaps a financial lesson. Perhaps a bit of credibility that you can build into the content so it's just not content, its content and business building with lead captures so the effort really pays off. That's a big part of our focus with the landing page. It has a purpose and it's designed to grow business.

SWIFT: I love everything about this campaign-driven approach you are taking. I've seen some of the creative work and it's stunning. It's looks like the kind of content that comes out of a big New York advertising agency but the only thing is it's better because it's specifically for advisors. It's from people who really know what advisors need – all the compliance and language issues and so forth.

I love that in your dashboard the advisor can actually go in and customize to an extent that I really never seen before – and it's still stunning and beautiful visually.

I want to take you a little higher level now. I know we've been talking a lot about this current product but I'd like to hear how it fits into everything else that you doing. This is just one thing that the Snappy Kraken is doing in the industry, right?


SOFIA: Yes. So, there is a lot that is still in store. We are just getting started. This product is one to collaborate with our early users and gather their feedback and work with them as we continue to build out our feature set because what we really envision, Marie, is a time when advisors will be able to access one place and conduct business from one place online and their clients will have one experience and access their advisor in one place online. So, we want everything integrated.

For example, we are working on integration with trackable phone numbers. So, phone numbers can be run through the system and be monitored and measured for retargeting pixels so that anybody that visits these sites can be retargeted online through advertising. We are working with integrations with key CRMs, key website providers, etc. so that everything that happens on their website and the marketing through our system and the activity in their CRM are linked. So even activities such as when a client is about to turn 70. Our system will recognize that and automatically begin to send them a campaign if they have qualified money in an account that talks about how they can use their RMDs – and it will also notify the advisor. Or if the client has an anniversary and been with the advisor for a year automatically our system could trigger a gift to be sent to the client based on their preferences and based on the budget that is set for that client based how they are segmented in the CRM.

So, with an automated omni-channel marketing and business management platform, which is what we've set out to build, the goal is to take everything out of the hands of the advisor except what he is really uniquely qualified to do: meeting with clients, gathering assets, speaking to them face-to-face and over the phone; we want everything else to be automated. You can with technology today because there are thousands of tools – but we are not out to build another tool. What we've actually built is in conjunction … something that leverages tools. In fact, we have over thirty integrations in our system with outside tools yet you would never know that within our system. It feels like it's only one tool.

So, as we build out integrations and extend our tentacles to other services and products we aim to become "the hub" for advisors to conduct business and marketing so that practice management and everything that they have to do has been automated as much as possible. That is our vision. Visual Marketing Insights is a way to demonstrate the potential because it covers email and social and landing pages and personalization and other things all from one place. It's just a start but there are only five or six channels integrated into it. Potentially there will be hundreds in the future and that's our vision.

Some of our enterprise clients who are going to be deploying this will have more of this functionality and we are working with them on custom content. So, a company that has a specific product set or advisors with a specific profile can actually have their own library with their own custom campaigns. Their own custom workflows, business processes and forms all can be personalized by that advisor, stored securely and help those enterprises to build relationships with the advisors and help them serve their clients better. These are just a few of the things and I could go on all day but we have a lot of exciting things in store.


SWIFT: I love everything about what you've shared today Robert. It's no surprise that you won the Fintech startup competition last year hosted by the XY Planning Network.

Click to watch a cool video interview that Snappy Kraken’s founding team did with fpPad’s Bill Winterberg:

So, congratulations on all your success. It's really exciting to peel back the curtain and hear more about what you have in store because just this one product, the Visual Marketing Insights, is exciting enough. Everything else you've shared about one place and online and the customization and retargeting is really exciting. As a marketing professional myself I get super excited about this because it does address so many pain points for advisors and the enterprises that support them. So, with that, will you tell us how people can learn more about the latest and greatest at Snappy Kraken?


SOFIA: Sure, so we want collaborators right now. I'll be candid: we are not looking for 10,000 users to come onto our system tomorrow. We are happy to have a couple of thousand really engaged advisors who want to give their feedback and tell us what they need. Anybody that is interested in being that kind of user – a power user, a collaborator – and wants to work with us to help build something that is great for their business, those are the kind of people that should go to and sign up for updates or register for our Visual Marketing Insights products just to try it out.

On every page, there is a feedback link. Start giving us your feedback. You'll find we are very responsive and we want to get to know you and your business. Again, just go to We'd love to get acquainted.

SWIFT: It's been great talking with you today, Robert. Thanks so much for being here.

SOFIA: It was a pleasure Marie. Thank you for having me.

Friday, June 2, 2017

On Becoming an Elite Advisor: Insights from Tony D’Amico of Fidato Wealth

Working with top advisors like Tony D’Amico, founder and chief executive of Fidato Wealth (, is a real joy. I spoke with Tony to uncover some of his secrets to success. Tony provides some great insights for fellow financial advisors. There are lots of great ideas and much to emulate here.

Click here to listen to the audio recording.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Well hello and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift, and I'm joined today by Tony D'Amico from Fidato Wealth, a fee-only firm that provides comprehensive fiduciary advice. Tony has just crossed some very interesting milestones and is now in what I call the “elite advisor group.” I wanted to have Tony today on the show to talk a little bit about his career progression and how he's built his team and why he is now in this elite category. According one of the industry’s top coaching organizations, he's meeting the standards that the top 1% of all advisory firms who are in this category are meeting. So, it has to do with growth, but not just growth for new growth’s sake, but also expanding relationships with existing clients and retaining the clients you have. It also has to do with, of course, growing the team so that there is not just the same client experience, but maybe even a better client experience. So, Tony, welcome.

TONY D’AMICO: Hi, great to be with you today Marie. 

SWIFT: Thank you so much for spending a few minutes with me here this morning. Maybe you could just start by telling us about how you got started in the business, how long you've been an advisor and take us through where you are today.

D’AMICO: Sure, that's great. I first started in personal finance in 1999. I first started out in life insurance, long-term care insurance and disability insurance. I started in that avenue of personal finance and things kind of grew very gradually from there. In early 2010, I obtained my series 65 and basically, I started my own RA and began working with clients in a much more comprehensive manner. It's been a great journey. I started off in one aspect with personal finance and just grew very gradually over the years to now be providing comprehensive financial planning and wealth management.


SWIFT: So, you've recently crossed over a certain threshold of assets, you've added new team members, a new position and improving the client experience. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you begin with that client focus and how's that helped with the business success.

Sure, when I started off, I started off as a solo practitioner, which I really enjoyed. Our focus has always been to help clients achieve their financial goals in a proactive manner and, with that focus, forged some really good relationships with clients and enjoyed providing that comprehensive planning experience. As things grew as we attracted more clients and expanded relationships with existing clients, there was the need to add staff members to make the client experience consistent and also to continue to improve each step of the way. That's kind of the nice benefit of growing as a firm and adding the team members, support financial advisors and administrative support to ensure that client experience continues to be successful and improve. Part of that improvement is having multiple team members that allow for multiple perspectives and also allow for more services to be provided. I think we are able to go a little bit wider in the service offering as far as what we are doing and the standards of care we are providing. It's been a very nice and important part of this process for us to continue, not only in growing new clients but more importantly expanding existing client relationships.


SWIFT: In this report I was referring to it says that the elite advisors, based on their research and opinion, have lost fewer than three clients over the past year. I believe your retention is quite remarkable and maybe you can address that in your next little bit of commentary as well as talking about your marketplace. You're not in Chicago or Orange County. You're not in a big metropolitan area. If you could, please address the retention factor and growth in a smaller marketplace.

D’AMICO: I'll start with the growth piece. I read in the report that the top 1% of advisors attract about twenty-five million in new assets each year. We are proud of the fact that in 2016, we greatly exceeded that. We are humbled by that fact. I work with one of the leading industry consultants for registered investment advisors and he has knowledge of our marketplace. He says it's very common that the top advisors are in about the fifteen-million to twenty-million-dollar mark in what they are about to achieve in new client assets each year. I'm just very happy to be well above those benchmarks. That's an affirmation to me that some of the things we've implemented along the way have worked. It's a sign that things are going well and the client experience is good, which has translated into growth.

Equally important, if not more important to me, is the retention rate for our customers. We do meet those benchmarks, as well as, far as retention and how many clients are lost in a year. We are happy that we are meeting those benchmarks, because we’re not only keeping a client relationship but most importantly expanding client-based relationships by providing more services and helping with more aspects of their financial plan. Maybe we help by going deeper into their estate plan, tax planning or strategic Roth conversions or perhaps other different types of financial planning. I wish there was a metric out there that measured client expansion and not just the retention because we’re certainly surpassing it. Nonetheless we are extremely humbled and happy that we are on the right track on the growth, but more importantly retention and expansion with existing clients.


SWIFT: One of the things I heard you say earlier when we were talking offline was attracting the right team members in a smaller marketplace Its not like the sky is the limit in your smaller markets. So maybe you can talk about how do you attract such good people to join your firm? Is it incentives? Is it vision? Is it leadership? Maybe all of that?

D’AMICO: The recipe for a good company is having the right talent. We are in northeast Ohio and our headquarters are in Strongsville, OH. There isn't as much talent here as there is in, let's say, Chicago or Dallas or California. The talent pool is smaller and I think it makes it challenging. It takes more time to find the right person. You really have to know who you are looking for, which is the key, and making sure there is very good cultural alignment. So my focus has always been people's character, culture set, maturity and direction. I think those are some of the key ingredients that are a good indication that you have the right person. If you have the right person, I believe you can train people on perhaps on certain aspects of financial planning or investment management. But I don't think you can train cultural fit.

So, I think that it's been great for us that we do have a strong corporate cultural identity. We have a clear mission of exceeding client expectations, being a fiduciary, and providing comprehensive financial planning. We help clients achieve their financial life goals in a proactive manner by not being afraid to do the work that's needed to really make that happen and form some good relationships along the way. As a result, we've looked for people that have that same sort of internal drive and that same motivation for wanting to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. We look for people who want to be in the fiduciary model, whether or not they used that model previously or were with a firm that wasn't providing as much of a comprehensive planning experience. So those are some of the key things we look at, but that's just the starting point.

From there you have to nourish that ongoing relationship. It's just like a client relationship. What you put into it is what you're going to get out of it. Really knowing your team members and in my case, being the leader, knowing where your team members are professionally and personally is key. You should be aware of what their goals are, since everyone has different goals. You need to really understanding where they are in meeting their goals and what their strengths are and the areas in which they need to grow. Just having a positive and ongoing collaboration with them in a good relationship is really key, especially when you are working within a team where there are five or so team members that are working in cooperation for the benefit of a shared client.


SWIFT: So, you are a registered SEC investment advisory firm. I also read in a recent announcement from your firm that you've also achieved the CFP designation, the marks of distinction. I wonder if you can talk a little bit about your own commitment to ongoing education and professional development.

D’AMICO: Thank you for bringing that up. Achieving both of those milestones has been a great accomplishment. We believe that achieving those milestones again signifies that we are doing the right thing as a firm. As far as obtaining the CFP marks, I'm definitely very proud of that and humbled by the response I’ve received. Since I started in personal finance in 1999, I have always had that lifelong learner bug, so I love to learn something new every day. I love to read articles pretty much every morning. I think it's really important. Whatever somebody does in their career – whether they are a financial planner, or a doctor or a carpenter – it is important always to be learning and growing. Things change, new information comes out, new laws happen. So it's really important to continue with that ongoing learning and development and apply that knowledge, as well, for the benefit of your client.

I'm really happy to earn those marks. That achievement was important to me to continue to that progression of learning on an ongoing basis.

SWIFT: Tony, congratulations. Thanks so much for being here today. I'm impressed by your ongoing success. Could you tell people how to learn more if they are hearing this audio and would like to check out your firm?

D’AMICO: Sure, our website is a great place to find information about Fidato Wealth and the services we provide. You can also inquire about employment opportunities. Our website is

SWIFT: Well, Tony, thank you so much. Congratulations on your ongoing success. It's been a pleasure talking with you.

D’AMICO: Thank you, Marie. It's been great catching up with you today.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Financial Advisors / Plan Advisors: Are You Asking the Wrong Questions? Retirement Planning Expert Ed Dressel Says You Might Just Be

I met Ed Dressel, CEO of the firm that makes TRAK retirement planning software for financial advisors, through a mutual acquaintance. I have since taken a deep dive into the financial planning software and listened to Ed tell his story a couple times. What he says makes a ton of sense to me, so I invited him to record a Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry interview.

A transcript of the interview is posted below.

MARIE SWIFT: Well hello everybody and welcome back to Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry. This is your host, Marie Swift. I'm joined today by Ed Dressel, who is President and CEO of Retirement Readiness Solutions (formerly known as Trust Builders, Inc.).

Ed’s company produces transformational retirement planning software for advisors. The desktop version is called TRAK and the cloud-based version is called TRAK-Online. Details are available at

Ed, welcome to the show.

ED DRESSEL: Nice to be here, Marie.

SWIFT: So, one of the things we were dialoging before the show was about 401(k) advisors and the things they get wrong and participant engagement success with their clients. So, could you talk a little bit about this? I think you know a thing or two about how engagement and participation can make a big difference for 401(k) advisors.

DRESSEL: Yes, we've been focusing on this area for 30 years, partly in the performance area review world and for the last 10-15 years in the 401(k) world. In participant meetings there are a lot of things that could be done differently, if we say it nicely. If you look at one of the umbrella aspects: advisors are not providing effective motivation and we can put details under these umbrellas.

Number one is that they are answering the wrong questions. If an advisor walks into a room and asks the participants, "What are they key questions that you need answered today?"

Often, they are going to hear about fees, funds, allocations. Those don't engage anybody. Those don't get anybody leaning forward. Those don't get people excited to talk about retirement. Those are very academic. They are important, but they don't get people saying, “I'm looking forward to this meeting.” Rather they create meetings people don't want to be in. But if you say, “I'm going to answer a question for you today. In this meeting, I'm going to tell you if you can retire.” People are going to perk up and say, “That's really about me.” They answer the question: Can I retire today? If you can provide that in the room, rather than taking a passive approach and saying, “Today, in this session, we are going to talk about fees, funds, allocations. Afterwards, I want you to go to a web portal, learn how to log into it and figure it out. And figure out if you can retire.” Instead, if you can say, “I'm going to tell you if you can retire today” and bring that answer into the room, we are going to take a different approach rather than a passive approach to the retirement planning. We can take it into the room.


We also talk abstractly to a participant about what it means to increase their contributions. Let me give you an example. If I ask an advisor, I'd like you to increase your contributions from 3% to 5%. Advisors don't know what that means as far as take home pay, which is the number everyone cares about. How does it impact what I'm taking home? It's very abstract to say go from a contribution of 2% to 5% or 2% to 4%. But if we could show a participant the small steps they can take, they would be much more ready to say, "Oh, I can afford $50.00 a paycheck."

Another part is we expect a big step from them rather than showing them the small steps. We can show them and show them from a gap analysis, needs analysis that they need to go from 2% to 12%. That will cause most people to say, “I can't retire.” But if we can show them they can go from 2% to 4% or 6% this year, and next year we will revisit it. If it costs them $50.00 a paycheck to increase their contributions we can come back next year and say, “can you afford $50.00 more?” So, we can spend it over time, increase it and get to the goal, rather than saying we need to swallow the whole chunk today.

Delaying action is easy to show using our tools, and this is especially important for younger people - and younger people may be the hardest people in the room to get engaged. Younger people don't understand the cost of delayed action. They say, “Well, I can start next year.” For a younger person, the longer the delay, the bigger the cost. It doesn't affect the people closer to retirement, but the further they are from retirement, the steeper the cost is on delayed action. We motivate young people by saying, "you should start today because even waiting a year going from 2% to 4% can costs you thousands of dollars over time.” So, that is really helping the participant engage and look at retirement as a practical, meaningful aspect.

The other one is a little bit different: the metrics advisors talk about. They only focus on how many people in the room are participating. The more important metric is how many people are participating in a way that allows them to have a successful retirement? Being able to answer the second question, by saying everybody is participating, but only at 2% or 3% contribution, then that's not success. Success is when participants can anticipate having enough money for retirement, based on the metrics of saving correctly. That's a much more meaningful metric to provide to the plan sponsor than saying, “Well, I got everybody participating at 3%.”

It's really helping people motivate participants and providing good information to the plan sponsor that proper metrics are related to real world data.


SWIFT: You know, you bring up so many good points. One of the things I hear is your mission to help advisors help more people retire successfully. I imagine there are a host of other benefits for the plan sponsor, as well as the advisor. Could you touch on those other benefits?

DRESSEL: One of the key benefits is employee satisfaction, especially amongst the millennials. Studies have come out that showed millennials really want to be able to retire successfully. They are going to appreciate any plan sponsor, any employer that says, “I'm providing you more than just a retirement plan. I'm going to show you that you can retire successfully.” It's been a lot of fun. Even at the advisor level, I was talking to an advisor the other day and showed him the reports we provided. He said, “I want somebody to provide this for me.” Well, that's advisors saying that – and just think what it will do to the participants when they understand it. It becomes meaningful information. The plan sponsor isn't just providing a plan but providing information on what it means to retire successfully and people are engaged in the process, so they appreciate more of what the plan sponsor is doing and hopefully will help cut down on some of the turnover rate that employers are experiencing.


SWIFT: Indeed. So, you mentioned the reports that you provide. Can you talk a little bit about the tools and the reports and the TRAK? What's that stand for?

DRESSEL: Yes, TRAK, stands for The Retirement Analysis Kit. Our branding is AskTRAK, which means Ask The Retirement Analysis Kit for retirement planning questions. We can work in a group level with census data that has a few more data points than people are used to asking, but we can import that and provide a customized report for each individual in the room. Each member of the plan and the participants get to see where they are at. They can see a gap analysis statement on the first page, which allows them to see where they are in retirement planning. If they are fully funded or if they need to go from their 3% or 4% to 8% or 9% or 12%, there are some options in there to configure. A lot of configuration options work with a Roth, because there is a lot of detail there.

We also show them how that affects their take home pay. That's the number they care about. If going from 3% to 12% only costs me fifty cents a paycheck, no big deal. But if it's going to cost $400, then it becomes a talking point. Down below there are other actions on whether they want to wait a year before they start saving more, or if they want to retire a year later.

The third item is if you have outside assets that are not included in this plan, an advisor can talk to them at the group level. If you have outside assets, you may want to consider rolling them into the plan. The plan may have lower fees. The plan is easier to manage and to talk to the advisor one-on-one. That helps the participant to start thinking about, “what about my outside assets?” Now a lot of them won't have it, but the few that do can result in a significant increase in the plan assets. There is a one-on-one tool that an advisor can use with participants that might say, “You know, the one-page isn't as complicated as I want,” or “I do have outside assets that I’d like to add to see what it does for my retirement goals.” You can customize it.

Once you have the basic data in there, you can sit down with the participant and, in 5-10 minutes, provide a decent retirement needs analysis, add those outside assets and show them where they are at and what they need to be doing. This provides a very easy way of engaging each individual in the plan. The other part is that somebody can't go from 3% to 13% contributions. We can show them another report that you can attach that shows small steps going from 3% to 5% to 7% to 9% and what those increased deferrals do to their take home pay, and what the future holds for that at different rates or returns. You've got a lot of information in these reports. Some advisors say, “That's way too much information.” But I've watched participants in meetings really enjoy seeing their information presented in a report in a way that is tangible to them. That leads them back to talking in a very concrete way. “What are the fees? What are the funds? What are the allocations?” Those become a lot more meaningful when somebody is engaged in the plan and increasing their savings and starting to really think about, “I'm really going to be able to retire.”


SWIFT: Yes, that is really exciting. Does TRAK, The Retirement Analysis Kit, also work in reverse? Let's say I have clients and am an advisor and clients come into my office and they are not really there for the plan so much as their outside assets?

ED: Yes, we have a lot of advisors (that's the world we come out of, it's the 403b world). I call it the retail-advising world. A lot of advisors use their software in that context. People may say, “Well, I use e-Money.” If you are doing a full financial plan, and you want the complications of e-Money, we are not trying to compete with them. We work in a world with Middle America where we can answer questions very quickly. You can do a full retirement plan with somebody in 10-15 minutes, without having any data in the software, and show them where they are at, where they need to be and talk to them about their other assets. It's a very engaging tool, as it can be used interactively with a person and it's not intimidating like, “Oh, I missed that data point.” It's very self-explanatory. Most of our user base uses the software interactively with their clients in that context.


SWIFT: You know we were just down at the T3 advisor conference and you had an advisor who was co-presenting with you talking about how he uses The Retirement Analysis Kit to build relationships and serve more people. What is his name? Wade?

DRESSEL: Wade Murphy.

SWIFT: Could you talk a little bit about Wade?

DRESSEL: Wade is an advisor in Southern California, mostly on the 403(b) side, but works some 401(k) plans as well. He's been using our product forever and is a big advocate of AskTRAK because he gets people leaning forward at his desk. He gets 401(k) participants looking at the reports. He can be efficient. He doesn't have to tell the lower income America, “I can't afford to work with you,” because he can provide the reports very effectively in an engaging way, where the people appreciate the amount of information they are getting and are able to take action. The key aspect in retirement planning in individuals is to provide them enough information, enough analysis, where they take action. If we provide too much and go away saying, "let me think about it," that's going to cause them not to take action.

Wade is a fun presenter, a well-informed advisor and it's been a pleasure working with him. He's been an advocate for us for twenty-five years now, almost thirty years of using our software and helping people retire successfully.


SWIFT: Wow, that's really something. Recently you had some news releases that came out. I think one of them was sequence of return planning. Could you talk a little bit about that and anything else you have on your product roadmap?

DRESSEL: Yes, we introduced sequence of return planning recently. We want to do a quick retirement plan with somebody. So, with just 5 or 10 minutes with a 401(k) plan, we can do a quick retirement plan. If an advisor wants to do a little bit more sophisticated tool, we can grab the sequence of return tool and select the historical assets that we want and look at what would happen if they selected a historical market index and how would that have done in retirement. How would they have succeeded and/or failed? It's kind of like a really quick Monte Carlo without having to spend all the time explaining Monte Carlo. It literally can be done in 2 minutes, rather than say, “I'm going to start with college 400 series in retirement planning.” We started with college level 101 and then moved it up to 201 really quickly. If you are selling annuities or indexed annuities and you a want to illustrate annuity limits on the product, whether it be point-to-point or caps or spreads you can add that to the historical index, and say, “Here's how the annuity would have helped or hurt you in retirement.” You can provide a quick analysis for them. For some people, you cannot justify the time and/or it just doesn't make sense - maybe it's a younger person. You don't want to get into sequence of returns with them yet. That's beyond the scope of the conversation. You just never go to that tab, you just focus on the tabs that you want.

So, we are constantly adding new features to the software. The next major set feature will be an asset allocation or a bucket strategy where you can allocate different buckets, which is a popular model, also called a “ladder strategy.” Let's start with a five-year bucket, then we will do five to ten, ten to twenty etc. We are working on a very elegant solution. Our goal in our design in our software is not to illustrate the nuance of the products or the world, we are trying to illustrate it so a person understands what you are doing. They understand what an advisor is trying to say in a way that makes sense to them. It will make sense to the advisor because they are around it all day long. But a client doesn't come in thinking, “I really want to know about retirement,” and studying about it hard. They often come in flat-footed and our tools and methodologies are a little bit different than others. Where we are helping people connect to what they need to do and why they should take action today.

SWIFT: Wow, it sounds great. So, tell us how we can learn more.

DRESSEL: We have a web portal, website at: You can download our windows version and there is also a web portal version at

You can try a two-week demo there and take a look at the tools. Now, if you are getting into the 401(k) tools, I'll tell you right off the bat that they are not self-explanatory. They are a little bit complicated in importing census data. Give us a call. We have a sales staff and a support staff that can answer your questions. We are not just here to sell you products. We have people in-house that will help work through your issues and get you going with it. It will really help you understand, and moving forward, get engaged. We not only want to sell you our product but we want good word of mouth from your experience.

SWIFT: Ed Dressel, thank you for your time today. It's been a pleasure

DRESSEL: Thank you, Marie.



TRAK-Online, is a transformational retirement planning solution for advisors. By changing the focus of retirement planning conversations from sales to education, TRAK-Online helps educate clients and engages them in the retirement planning process, resulting in them understanding your value as a financial advisor. With TRAK-Online, you can be there when your clients need you. With only an Internet connection and a standard browser, you can support more collaborative retirement planning meetings.

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