Fidelity is going with one of its own to fill the six-and-a-half-month CEO vacancy at eMoney Advisor.
Edward O’Brien, formerly a senior vice president and head of platform technology at Fidelity Institutional, was named eMoney’s new CEO on Thursday, starting immediately. He will report to Michael Durbin, the president of Fidelity Wealth Technologies, who has served as interim CEO since eMoney founder Edmond Walters resigned in September.
In a statement, Fidelity said O’Brien was chosen “from a very select, elite pool of candidates… for his strong credentials and experience leading significant financial technology initiatives that directly support the wealth management industry.” Durbin said the priority was finding an industry veteran who could quickly assimilate into eMoney’s “unique” culture and ensure a seamless transition.
He added that announcing O’Brien on St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t an intentional decision, but that it fit with the timeline the company gave to stakeholders last fall.
“We were pretty transparent at that time to say we would take a thoughtful, methodic, strategic approach,” Durbin said. He added that eMoney’s strong performance allowed for an extensive search involving executives from both Fidelity and eMoney.
“The depth of his fintech knowledge, strong industry relationships and understanding of the unique challenges facing financial advisors and their clients are substantial,” Durbin said. “Most of all, I’m confident he will help us further establish eMoney as the strongest ally of advisors seeking to meet the growing high-tech and high-touch expectations of their end-clients.”
In 2011, O’Brien patented the technology used to launch WealthCentral, Fidelity’s digital platform for RIAs. Integrating the platform (recently combined with StreetScape and given the new name WealthScape) with eMoney is central to Fidelity’s proposed Total Advisor Platform.
Durbin said that O’Brien’s experience with WealthCentral was “not lost on anyone, but not the driving element” in selecting O’Brien for the role. O’Brien said that WealthScape and eMoney were connected with the shared mission of helping advisors be “future-ready.”
“[eMoney has] a lot of the elements of technology that advisors need to get more efficient,” O’Brien said, citing eMoney’s robust financial planning tools.
O’Brien also launched AdvisorTech, a new firm providing technology to financial advisors in Japan, South Korea and Germany, and served as the president and board member for the Providence Society of Financial Analysts.
As part of his new role, O’Brien will lead eMoney’s upcoming advisory board meeting in the spring and the firm’s annual Advisor Summit in September. O’Brien will be moving to eMoney’s Radnor, Pennsylvania, offices. He said his children are already asking to trade in their Red Sox tickets for the Phillies.
Since acquiring eMoney in February 2015, Fidelity has tried to quash speculation that it was going to make a grab for advisor assets not already at Fidelity, or cut off eMoney advisors who don’t bring their assets. Durbin has repeatedly said that eMoney will remain both an independent firm and custodian agnostic.
So making a 30-year Fidelity executive the new CEO is bound to renew concerns from independent advisors that Fidelity is about to pull the rug out from under them. Durbin addressed the issue in an open letter on eMoney’s blog, acknowledging that O’Brien’s selection is sure to “raise a few eyebrows.”
“Say what you will about Fidelity acquiring eMoney (the first thing you probably said was wow, great choice), but since the acquisition, we have proven our continued commitment to supporting ALL of eMoney’s clients, remaining custodial/clearing agnostic, and delivering product enhancements regularly and transparently,” Durbin wrote. “And so when you consider what some pundits and our competitors will undoubtedly be eager to point out, also consider what they were saying 12 months ago—their predictions about what would happen to eMoney have not only been proven inaccurate, but rather the company has thrived.”
“Don’t buy it? No problem—actions speak louder than words,” Durbin continued. “And I welcome you to watch and see for yourself how it continues to unfold.”
Durbin told WealthManagement that it’s a fair question from independent advisors, but said most voiced their concerns when Fidelity first purchased eMoney. Now over a year later, he said the companies have demonstrated their ongoing intent to keep eMoney independent.
“Ed is leaving Fidelity and joining eMoney,” Durbin said.
O’Brien said the transition won’t be a huge one, as his focus at Fidelity was technology. “For me, it means getting a step closer into the mix with advisors who don’t necessarily custody or clear with Fidelity.”