Why Advisors Should Own Their Data

Carson Group's Teri Shepherd discusses common advisor frustrations with and misconceptions about technology.

Reviewed by: Lara Crigger
Edited by: Lara Crigger

Teri ShepherdTeri Shepherd knows practice technology. As president and chief operating officer of Carson Group, a provider of investment management and financial planning solutions for advisors and clients, she oversees the operations and technology teams serving nearly 100 financial advisory firms.

Two years ago, Shepherd spearheaded the development of Carson Group's Digital Client Experience platform, which led to a 40% increase in productivity. According to Carson Group, partner firms using the platform have, on average, increased their assets under management by 27% annually.

Shepherd will be a panelist at the upcoming Wealth/Stack conference, held Sept. 8-10 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Ritholtz Wealth Management is putting on the new conference, which is described as "by advisors for advisors." ETF.com recently chatted with her to get a sneak peek at what her panel will cover.

ETF.com: Would you give us a taste of what will be covered on your Wealth/Stack panel, "The 800-lb. Gorilla: Solving Your Tech Puzzle"?

Teri Shepherd: My specific angle will be around data aggregation and owning your own data. Obviously, cybersecurity is a big part of that as well.

Also, integration. There are a lot of great, innovative tools, but they don't talk to each other. So they're not as effective or efficient at enhancing productivity in the way they should.

ETF.com: What sort of data do you think is the most meaningful for advisors to keep their eye on?

Shepherd: I would say it's more that an advisor really needs to own their data. A lot of advisors have been with a firm for some time, or they're affiliated with some group, whether it's a custodian or a broker/dealer or an RIA. So they're using someone else’s systems.

This means they can't really download all the data they're entering into the system, not even just lead-gen information for a prospect. The advisor might have access to it, but if they want to move to another place or integrate it with another tool, how can they do it if they don't own that data?

So [owning their data] empowers them to control their own destiny. That's what we've focused on over the past several years: making sure we empower our advisors to own the data, no matter what tools they use. So if something isn't meeting your needs, you can take that data and plug it into a different system, and get up and running again.

I know it sounds simple, but doing that gives you maximum optionality to control the future of your business.

ETF.com: What do you consider the bare minimum technologies that advisors today must use?

Shepherd: A big part of what we focus on is "passion prospecting"—knowing your client and being able to prepare for their future. There are many different AI [artificial intelligence] and engagement tools now to help you know enough about your client's life goals and life needs, so that you can engage them to a whole other level. You can meet their needs before they even realize they have them.

ETF.com: Technology can help you do this better than, say, sitting down with them face-to-face every couple of weeks or months?

Shepherd: Well, no. But I guess I'm not as good at remembering all that as I get older.

[For example], there are obviously birthdays and anniversaries—the regular, basic things of making sure you send something and call clients on their birthdays. But we're going beyond that now. Is their child graduating soon? Do you need to be thinking about starting a 529 [college savings plan], because you recently had a child?

So we're tying together information about the client and where they're at in their life moment. Then you can have marketing campaigns or drips at each of those life moments, so you can catch them in a customized way through technology.

It makes clients feel there's a personal touch they're getting from the advisor, that they're thinking of them. But it's more automated, so the advisor doesn't have to initiate it all the time.

Consumers and clients are demanding more of that; they want to know that you know them, not just that you're managing their money. Especially with so many online options and robo advisors, you need that personal touch.

ETF.com: What are some of the common frustrations you're hearing from advisors about using or integrating technology into their practice?

Shepherd: A lot of advisors who come to us say, "There's so much out there, I can't even see straight. I feel like even if I can pick the right technology solution for me today, it might be different or there might be a better solution just six months from now.” So there's a little bit of paralysis by analysis. The tech market is changing so much that it's hard for them to navigate.

ETF.com: What’s the fintech trend you're most excited about, or that you think will make the biggest difference moving forward?

Shepherd: There are a lot. Many of the new financial planning software coming to market is really intriguing, and I think it changes the game pretty significantly. Some even allow the client to do it themselves. That'll be interesting: the shift of client-driven capabilities, and how an advisor office balances the wants and needs of the clients, and what they can do versus what the advisor wants to drive.

ETF.com: I imagine a lot of advisors would see that as a threat, right? They might think, "If the client can do it themselves, what do they need me for?"

Shepherd: Yes, and it's tough, because if we're not open to that and meeting the needs of clients, then they're going to go there, for sure. So what's the perfect balance of engagement? It's going to be an interesting puzzle to solve in the future.

ETF.com: When you came onboard as president of the Carson Group, you made it your mission to increase the number of women working at the firm. However, there are still far too many people in the advisory industry who think diversity initiatives like yours add little concrete value. Could you speak to how greater gender parity has been an asset for your firm?

Shepherd: When I first came on board, I was the first female executive. What's important is, we have different perspectives as women. We look at things differently. Especially females in the financial services industry, we have so much empathy, we have so much care. We connect with people. This is a relationship business, and the fact that women are not in our profession as much is really sad.

So it's been a big effort that we've had here. We've done well with our leadership team and internally at Carson. Now we're focused on female advisors, as well as the offices we work with, and on making sure there are strong women in those offices to care for the clients that we serve.

We just launched the Carson Re-Invest Career Development Program, and that's really for people who have been not in the workplace for some time—at least a year. A lot of it is targeted towards moms who've stayed home and are now coming back to work.

They're really smart. They've had to balance a lot of balls in the air while they were at home, and so they have lots of skill sets. So we're really trying to attract those types of people and encourage them to reengage with us, as advisors, financial planners, in operations or marketing.

Contact Lara Crigger at [email protected]

Lara Crigger is a former staff writer for etf.com and ETF Report.