#WinnersOfWealthTech Ep 28: Aaron Schumm, Founder and CEO of Vestwell

This month’s Winners of Wealthtech interview is with Aaron Schumm, the Founder and CEO of Vestwell, an entirely new kind of digital retirement platform transforming the way plans are offered and administered — for the benefit of advisors, employers, and employees alike.

Prior to founding Vestwell, Aaron was a co-founder of FolioDynamix, a wealth management and advisory services company that powered $800 billion in assets for over 100,000 advisors. At FolioDynamix, which was sold to Envestnet in 2017, Aaron oversaw the strategy, revenue, marketing, customers and product. Aaron holds a B.S. degree in finance from the University of Illinois and an M.B.A. degree from Duke University, The Fuqua School of Business. He was named as one of 40-under-40 by InvestmentNews and WealthManagement.com’s “10 to Watch”.

Listen to the podcast here!

 

Ryan Anderson Recently Joined Vestwell

Ryan Anderson recently joined Vestwell as the Senior Vice President of Product & Design. In 2010, Anderson founded New York City based Alchemy50, an award winning product design studio which was later acquired in 2017. During his time there, his clients included DataMinr, Artivest, FolioDynamix (now part of Envestnet ($ENV), United Healthcare, Thomson Reuters and 1 Second Everyday. Anderson also spent time as the Chief Product Officer for Advizr before it was acquired by Orion Advisor Services.

 Ryan, you joined the company this August to lead product. What drew you to Vestwell?

Let me back up a few years to give you the whole story. I led a product design studio in NYC called Alchemy50 for many years, and along the way we worked with a whole host of financial firms – hedge funds, portfolio managers, fintech startups – all different types of people and products. And what started to become important to me, rather than focusing on the institutional stuff, was thinking about how I could better apply my experience to help everyday people. One of the things that came up in the course of my research was how poorly Americans do with their retirement savings and financial planning in general. So when a former client, Advizr, approached me about becoming their full-time product officer, I jumped at the chance. Through their financial planning and ultimately their wellness platform, I could take my expertise and apply it to people in need.

When Advizr got acquired, I thought, ‘Okay, what do I want to do next?’ That’s when Aaron and Jonathan approached me about joining Vestwell. I knew Aaron and Jonathan from FolioDynamix, another former client of Alchemy’s, and Vestwell’s mission was closely aligned with why I went to Advizr in the first place – helping people make better financial decisions. On top of that, I now had access to recordkeeping and payroll information, which is powerful data to have when creating tech that supports financial services.

 What opportunities and challenges do you see for Vestwell as they build a recordkeeping platform for the modern day?

 I think the big challenge is that retirement plans can have a lot of variables. You have different investment vehicles, enrollment requirements, plan designs, and compliance rules to keep track of. That means there are a lot of levers that need to be set up and maintained to give sponsors and advisors the flexibility they need. Furthermore, a big benefit of our offering is that it’s highly automated and digital. Traditional recordkeepers have outdated, manual processes that don’t make things easy for sponsors and participants. Simple is hard, but we’re 100% focused on making retirement easy.

When working with larger enterprises, it’s important that our service can be white-labeled so that everything coming out of the system appears to be coming directly from them. This is also a challenge, as the devil’s in the details. The more you expose, the more complex it gets and the longer it takes to bring that kind of stuff to market.

So I think the biggest challenge is improving on what today’s recordkeeping systems do in a way that is much more flexible and automated – particularly for smaller plans, which is our focus. If we get this right – and we will – then this becomes an extraordinary opportunity.

 Tell us about your product roadmap. You’ve only had a few months to dive in, but what do you see as your immediate and long-term goals for Vestwell’s platform?

The first thing that stood out to me was how much more we could do with the user experience. This encompasses a lot of things, like the amount of reporting we give to advisors, improving platform navigation, and increasing platform communications. As part of that, a primary focus of mine will be how we better onboard sponsors and participants onto the platform. We’ve done a solid job here thus far, but I do think we can further improve this area via automation, getting smarter about using data, and working with our operations team to better understand their challenges and how best to address them.

Longer term, it’s all about integrations. So if you think about what makes Vestwell unique, it’s that we’re creating a system with a modern technology stack which allows us to be more flexible and better positioned to integrate with many different providers and services.

How do you plan to approach building a product that supports advisors while also ensuring a great product for the end-user?

If you think about what a product does, it solves a problem for a user. And what we’re trying to solve touches all of our users: sponsors, participants, and advisors. Their problems are all a little bit different while sharing a common thread. As an advisor, there’s a trust element; advisors want to know our platform is reliable and accurate and that it can provide what they need to run their business effectively. And in much of the same way, there’s a trust that we have to build with sponsors, too. If you think about how sponsors and advisors interact, it’s not super frequently and when they do interact it is often to solve a problem. So the better we can create a system for the sponsor that does what they need it to do – like taking care of enrollment, engaging their employees, and submitting contributions – the better it is for the advisor. That stuff has to be rock solid.

With participants, the problem for them is simply saving for retirement. Whether it’s registering for an account, making a contribution change, or taking out a loan against their savings, it needs to be incredibly straightforward – and accessible (mobile). Outside of that, they don’t care about much else.

So while I really look at it as three separate problems, and we treat the experience separately for each, there are common elements. The portals for each should be easy to navigate and do what it’s intended for which means information has to flow across all three seamlessly.

What do you believe gives Vestwell a leg up over others in the space?

The big problem is – and it’s the reason why I think Vestwell has such a great business model – there’s a lot of old technology in the industry. The incumbents started in the early 80’s and they haven’t evolved much since. You’re now seeing some kernels of new tech, but the pace at which it’s being built just isn’t fast enough, and the cost to do it is prohibitive in many cases. When trying to meld old technology with new systems, it can be expensive and time consuming. So, I think the approach we’re taking where we’ve started from scratch means we get to look at the problems in the industry today and solve those with a better solution through a modern tech stack. If you look across our team, we are all seasoned, enterprise fintech professionals.  This is what we do, and all we do. In that, we are allowing retirement plan providers to get back to their core, focusing on their clients, instead of trying to be a technology recordkeeper provider.

You’re still the new kid on the block, but let’s fast forward 5, even 10 years from now. What’s your biggest contribution to Vestwell going to be?

I want to help create the modern framework that this 40-year old industry rebuilds its foundation from. Ultimately, I hope that translates into a greater sense of empathy to the problems our users face. I want to help create a system that solves those problems for them.

 

Study: Advisors’ Fear of Outsourcing Underscores Struggle with Scale

Identifying new opportunities and managing scale were cited by retirement plan advisors as the biggest issues they struggle with in growing their practice, but a new study suggests they are not taking steps to create additional efficiencies.

In “Evaluating Operational Challenges to Drive Scale and Efficiency,” 39% of advisors stated that identifying new opportunities is their biggest hurdle to growing their practice, followed by 33% who see managing scale as their biggest hurdle. Yet, an even smaller percentage are outsourcing their most basic functions, according to the study by digital platform firm Vestwell.

 

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Amid compression in recordkeeper industry, one start-up is banking on its technology to buck the trend

Consolidation of recordkeeper service providers to the defined contribution market may not yet be as torrid as some early predictions, but it’s happening.

The trend is expected to continue among the largest national recordkeepers—a list numbering about 40—and among the scores more of regional providers.

“From a pure recordkeeping standpoint, there is excess capacity,” Alexander D’Amico, a partner in McKinsey’s financial services practice, told BenefitsPRO earlier this year.

 

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Why BNY Mellon thinks fintechs are friends not foes

As the world’s largest custodian bank and asset servicing company, and one of the oldest banking corporations in the US through its predecessor, many would believe that the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (BNY Mellon) is a traditional financial services company that has not kept up-to-date with digital and technology advancements and is instead tied to its legacy past.

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Read more about our partnership with BNY Mellon here.

To benefit from outsourcing, advisers need to focus on what is, and isn’t, core to their value

Advisers are increasingly outsourcing parts of their business to focus on growth. But a new study from Vestwell, a digital platform that allows advisers to offer and administer retirement plans, suggests many aren’t doing it with a strategic focus on the unique value they provide clients.

When Vestwell asked 420 retirement plan advisers to name the key factor that differentiates their practice from others, 75% named some form of relationship management, such as employee education or holistic wealth management.

By: Ryan W.Neal

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Putting MEPs on the Map

As we all know, the Department of Labor recently unveiled a new final rule that will make it easier to form and manage Multiple Employer Plans (MEPs). So it’s no wonder that many advisors in the industry are thinking about the best ways to incorporate them into their business strategies.

For retirement plan advisors, in particular, new MEP rules are changing the game—especially in the small plan market. Thanks to recent regulations, employers that have little or no business-related connection to each other are now able to join a closed MEP, creating an opportunity for advisors to service smaller clients as a 3(38) fiduciary in a way that’s both scalable and cost-effective.

Where should an advisor start? Although advisors cannot sponsor closed MEPs, they can leverage relationships to put the right MEPs in place. Most advisors have spent their careers developing centers of influence. A MEP allows them to turn those relationships into partnerships by working together to create really efficient offerings.

While the MEP would be sponsored by a lead employer that takes on the bulk of the fiduciary responsibility and administrative oversight, advisors and partners can make it easier to craft and manage, while also delivering superior brand and value.

Two relationships, in particular, that bring significant opportunities are employer groups and associations, both of which can act as the “lead employer” of a closed MEP.

Since recent regulation now allows for unrelated employers with at least some commonality to create cost-effective group retirement plans, employer groups and associations are a perfect place to start. Both have access to a significant base of employers with common denominators such as a common geographic location, which the Department of Labor said is a sufficient nexus to join a closed MEP.

By sponsoring a MEP, association or employer groups can enhance their benefits, better support their members, increase engagement, and even boost membership.

The value in one payroll provider

Another relationship that’s highly relevant in the MEP universe is payroll providers. Having a number of disparate payroll providers in a MEP can be an administrative nightmare.

Since accurate payroll files are critical to administering the plan, some MEPs engage a separate data aggregator to process those files, which adds time and cost while making the plan more vulnerable to mistakes just by virtue of having another third-party provider involved in plan administration.

Therefore, having one central payroll system in a closed MEP is a huge value-add, and triangulating the payroll relationship with an employer group or association is an even stronger offering. Forward-thinking advisors will try to connect associations and payroll providers in a MEP structure for maximum efficiency with optimal cost designs.

Start the MEP discussion

Overall, advisors should be thinking about MEPs not just as they relate to their clients, but as they relate to their own business models as well. And while the future of MEPs may currently be in limbo, they are still a worthwhile discussion point for advisors in the small plan market.

If nothing else, conversations about MEPs give us all an opportunity to have transparent discussions around the future of retirement for companies of all sizes. And once the passage of open MEPs comes into play, advisors who take steps now to make changes to their business strategy will already be ahead of the game.

By: Benjamin Thomason, Vestwell

Ben Thomason is the Executive Vice President, Revenue at Vestwell, a digital platform that makes it easier to offer and administer retirement plans. Thompson leads the sales and service operations with a focus on expanding the firm’s current advisor relationships, building new strategic institutional partnerships, and overseeing plan sponsor support.