Envestnet interim CEO Bill Crager took a moment during his keynote at the 2020 Technology Tools for Today conference to reflect on his company’s history with T3.
T3 is where the Envestnet team first met Tamarac, the portfolio management technology it would later acquire for $54 million. And T3 is where Envestnet first met Oleg Tishkevich and announced plans to buy the FinanceLogix planning technology.
The marquee event of T3 2019 was Envestnet’s partnership with MoneyGuide and the return of eMoney founder Edmond Walters to collaborate on a new, more sophisticated planning tool, paving the way for Envestnet’s $500 million purchase of MoneyGuide a month later.
It was a nice gesture from Mr. Crager, but the trip down memory lane highlighted the lack of blockbuster news at this year’s conference. Whereas past iterations featured major acquisitions or industry-moving new products (Fidelity’s multicustodial adviser platform or Black Diamond’s sale to Advent come to mind), T3 2020 was a more subdued affair.
Burt White, LPL’s managing director of investor and investment solutions, was there, but he didn’t discuss LPL’s latest news about integrating AdvisoryWorld into the account opening process. Ric Edelman was there, but spent his time advocating Bitcoin and Bitwise, a firm building cryptocurrency index funds that Mr. Edelman happens to have a financial stake in.
Black Diamond founder Reed Colley was given top billing to announce his new technology venture Summit Wealth Systems, but provided more buzzwords than specifics about a product that will apparently launch by the fall.
Fidelity had two booths but didn’t use the ostensible biggest annual event for adviser technology to show off the newest capabilities of its Integration Xchange API store.
ETrade was there too, but the biggest news of the week, Morgan Stanley’s acquisition of the online brokerage for $13 billion, came Thursday morning after most attendees had either left San Diego or were nursing a hangover from the farewell parties.
Fidelity’s popular financial planning tool, eMoney Advisor, was nowhere to be seen, though the company did sponsor the annual T3 student technology competition.
When asking around the conference, I heard several suggestions from attendees on why things felt different this time, though none were willing to go on the record.
One idea was the rise of new competition. Until a few years ago, T3 was the only adviser tech conference around. Today, technology is a prominent feature at nearly every firm’s conference, and most of the large vendors have their own.
There’s also the new WealthStack event, which bills itself as an adviser technology conference and which was criticized over the fall by industry blogger Bob Veres, who partners with T3 founder Joel Bruckenstein on the annual T3 Tech Survey.
Others feel there simply aren’t enough advisers at the T3 conference. In private conversations, technology vendors asked if I had met any advisers, and the advisers I met wondered if they were alone.
Integrated Partners head of practice acquisitions Alex Chalekian took the question to Twitter.
Mr. Bruckenstein acknowledged that the demographics of the conference have changed. T3 launched 17 years ago to bring advisers together and connect them with technology leaders rather than salespeople. Though the overall adviser count grew to 350 this year, so did the number of technology vendors, private equity firms and industry consultants. Now advisers account for roughly half of the overall attendees.
Michael Kitces, director of wealth management at Pinnacle Advisory Group, said on Twitter that while T3 features “a heavy component of vendors, not ‘just’ advisers,” he still views it as a valuable event for most vendors.
Mr. Bruckenstein doesn’t agree that there is growing competition in the fintech conference space, saying that no other gathering features an array of technology firms as rich and diverse as T3.
“There is only one time in the whole year where everybody who matters in adviser technology is under one roof, and that’s now,” he said.
Mr. Bruckenstein also disagreed that T3 was slower this year than in previous years, arguing the nature of the announcements has changed because of the market.
“I think today in particular, because of the nature of what’s going on with the M&A, a lot of this stuff is time-sensitive,” he said. “Whereas before, people might have waited an extra couple of weeks or a month to make an announcement at T3, now they’re on shorter timetables and they just want to get this stuff done as soon as possible.”
What’s most important to him is the launches of new products like Summit or Andrew Altfest’s FP Alpha financial planning software, and big announcements from firms like Envestnet MoneyGuide and Orion Advisor Services.
Envestnet MoneyGuide added to its Blocks feature, which lets clients create small pieces of a financial plan at a time, and revealed new tax planning optimization and API access for third-party developers. Orion Advisor Services launched a completely new user interface, which is no small undertaking for such a large and popular adviser fintech.
“Those are major, major, major announcements,” Mr. Bruckenstein said.
Overall, he said that he has no immediate plans to change anything about T3. “At some point I’ll either get tired of it or I’ll find a partner or find a transition, but hey, I love this,” Mr. Bruckenstein said. “If it’s fun, it’s not work. There’s nothing I enjoy more than doing this.”