Marty Bicknell
Marty Bicknell

Marty Bicknell: An RIA Shark Tank

Mariner Holdings CEO Marty Bicknell looks for wealthtech investments outside of the tech hubs on the U.S. coasts.

Title: CEO, Mariner Holdings
Location: Leawood, Kansas

Marty Bicknell says his interest in technology startups goes back to the beginning of his professional career. But now, as head of Mariner Holdings, with $46 billion in assets, and one of the largest and most innovative RIAs, tech entrepreneurs are all but unavoidable.

“We get people coming to us on a regular basis with things that are going to, in their minds, change the industry,” Bicknell says. “Regardless of how much of that ends up panning out or not, understanding it from the standpoint of what really can impact our business influences the way we might think about that from an investment standpoint.”

He’s a partner at Flyover Capital, a venture capital firm that finds and invests in tech startups outside of the technology hubs on either U.S. coast. Within wealthtech, he has investments in Quovo and Advizr. He’s also seriously considering an investment with Truelytics, a business intelligence and valuation tool for advisors—a sort of the Kelley Blue Book of financial services.

One of his latest initiatives, a new fintech accelerator called ScratchWorks, is the brainchild of executives from five prominent RIA firms, including Bicknell, Richard Burridge Jr. of RMB Capital, John Eadie of Covenant, Jon Jones of Brighton Jones and Michael Nathanson of The Colony Group.

Fintech companies seeking seed funding or early-stage investment can submit an application via the ScratchWorks website, and the finalists will be selected to pitch the RIA principals live at an advisor conference in March for possible funding on the spot, a la Shark Tank. It is sponsored by Fidelity and the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. All the finalists are vetted through a scoring system before they get the opportunity to pitch their ideas.

This is one of a series of profiles on the RIA principals serving as both gatekeepers and early-stage investors for tech startups with the potential to transform the advice industry. 
 
Read more: Skin in the Game | Ron Carson | Steve Lockshin

The five executives can choose to either invest in companies individually or combine their investments with others on the panel.

“They have the opportunity for somebody that could ultimately (use the technology) to test drive it first and have input on what the product design looks like, or what the userface is, or just different components like that,” Bicknell says. RIAs in the audience are also allowed to bid for one of the companies.

But Bicknell believes only a subset of RIAs can shrewdly invest in technology.

“I think it’s for those who understand the risks that they’re taking, because the percentages of investments that are successful are extremely low, and those who understand how to influence, but not control, the situation and the outcome. It’s being strategic enough to understand what’s truly a benefit to the industry versus something that’s just cool looking that I might want to use.”

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