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Q&A with Greg Vigrass of Folio Institutional

Editor’s Note: The below interview has been edited for length and content.

Quovo: Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Folio Institutional?

Greg Vigrass: My name is Greg Vigrass. I’m the president of Folio Institutional. Folio Institutional is a broker-dealer and financial technology firm that delivers solutions and primarily works with participants in the fee-based industry, which includes registered investment advisors, fee-based asset management components of broker-dealers, and insurance companies. We also work with managed account program sponsors, investment managers, qualified retirement plans, and provide tech and enterprise-level solutions to robo-advisors and large national entities.

Q: Speaking of robo-advisors, let’s move on to one of the more disruptive in the wealth management space over the last few years. Can you talk to me about the impact that robo-advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront are having on the financial advice industry?

greg vigrass photo

GV: We think that the trend goes beyond the robo-advisors. I think the robo-advisors have had a positive impact on the industry because they have responded to and provided a solution to the growing emergence of investors who are more biased toward a higher degree of self-engagement and who are looking for lower cost solutions to investing. These investors seek the advice and guidance of an advisor without the traditional advisor-client relationship.

At Folio we have begun to hone in on the notion of digital engagement. I don’t think there’s any magic in an automated solution that can provide an investment recommendation or the investment solution. The more important aspect is that there is a real change in the rules of engagement in financial services. It’s a more consumer directed world now. So, the consumer is demanding access to and interaction with their financial services professionals on their terms, almost like—I know this is probably getting overused these days—the Amazon Prime-ing of financial services, where it’s access on my terms, when I want, where I want, how I want.

Q: Building off that, what’s the best way for advisors to adapt to this trend and provide more engaging experiences for their customers?

GV: It’s pretty overwhelming right now for advisors. We’re seeing technology transformation at a rate that we’ve never seen before in this industry. It’s almost like advisors are drinking from a fire hose of technology options.

I think the best thing advisors can do at the moment is really look at what they’re trying to solve for. In some cases it may be very simple, such as “We want to have a way for clients to perform simple administrative tasks on a direct basis, such as opening their own accounts and completing an online account application.” It could then continue up the chain with, for example, “We also want to be able to allow our clients to take investor questionnaires online” so that by the time the advisor engages, a lot of the administrative tasks like account opening and questionnaires, which clients are now willing to perform on their own, are done. Quite honestly, advisors and advisory firms are going to have an increasingly tough time defending margin on administrative tasks that their clients are willing to perform. So, what you have are advisors who need to be aware of what their clients want and then look for the technology solutions that solve their needs and complements the firm culture. A lot of times firms underestimate the impact of technology on the firm’s culture.

Q: Can you dig into a little bit more about how technology can impact a firm’s culture?

GV: In conversations I’ve had with others across the industry I’ve come to see that, first, people typically build themselves around a set of core competencies. Historically it’s been those who are embedded and engaged with tasks and processes. Once you begin to streamline and change a process or set of processes, people often get a little bit nervous. They think “Well, wait a minute, if that’s now automated what do I do?”

My takeaway is that firms should think about the impact of technology implementation on all employees early on because confusion typically begins once you start introducing and making changes. Part of the process has to be a well-thought-out, well-planned migration to technology.

Q: You like to use the term “non-millennial millennial.” What is a non-millennial millennials and what do they mean to wealth management?

GV: A non-millennial millennial is something that we came up with a couple of years ago because we were seeing so much time and attention focused around classically defined millennial. I suddenly realized that people are pigeonholing millennials into an age group. It struck me that what’s actually more interesting is, at least in financial services, the  millennials’ behaviors. For example, the willingness and desire to engage and seek on-demand access to your providers. It’s the willingness to do things online, including building a trust factor that says “I will open an account online. I will bank online. I will do all these things and that’s how I want to do it.”

Contrasting that to the other side of the coin, some people say “Gee, Baby Boomers still want to go into a branch. Baby Boomers still want to interact with a human being.” It struck me there’s an awful lot of folks out there who may not be in the millennial demographic but share their behaviors, and financial service providers, advisors, and others will be missing a huge opportunity if they simply thought digital meant an age range and not a behavior set. So, non-millennial millennial just simply means people that don’t fit the age definition but absolutely fit the behavior description, and quite candidly, probably have more investable assets. When we started talking about that, it was to caution people not to turn a blind eye to the fact that you’ll probably have a lot of people that you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being willing and able and wanting the technology enhancement but they probably do want it.

Q: I’d love to get your thoughts on advisors becoming bionic by equipping themselves with technology but yet maintaining that human touch with their clients.

GV: Yeah, I love this idea. I think it’s fantastic. The intersection of technology and humans creates the best possible outcome, and I believe you’re going to continue to see more advisors embracing the change and disruption that technology brings. They won’t be afraid of technology and run away from it because it brings so many more opportunities to an advisor. For example, streamlining workflow processes into data aggregation processes offers the ability to take a much more holistic view of a client and their household, allows you to be more inclusive, and potentially deliver better solution. In short, I think the idea of advisors equipping themselves with technology to streamline and enhance their practice just makes all the sense in the world.

It’s pretty overwhelming right now for advisors. We’re seeing technology transformation at a rate that we’ve never seen before in this industry. It’s almost like advisors are drinking from a fire hose of technology options.

I think the best thing advisors can do at the moment is really look at what they’re trying to solve for. In some cases it may be very simple, such as “We want to have a way for clients to perform simple administrative tasks on a direct basis, such as opening their own accounts and completing an online account application.” It could then continue up the chain with, for example, “We also want to be able to allow our clients to take investor questionnaires online” so that by the time the advisor engages, a lot of the administrative tasks like account opening and questionnaires, which clients are now willing to perform on their own, are done. Quite honestly, advisors and advisory firms are going to have an increasingly tough time defending margin on administrative tasks that their clients are willing to perform. So, what you have are advisors who need to be aware of what their clients want and then look for the technology solutions that solve their needs and complements the firm culture. A lot of times firms underestimate the impact of technology on the firm’s culture.


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