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wealthstack-panel-oleg-kyle-marwa.jpg Photo by Edin Chavez Photography Inc

The RIA Sans CTO Technology Conundrum

Milemarker CEO Kyle Van Pelt assured attendees at the WealthStack conference they shouldn’t be expected to run their firms and have the responsibilities and knowledge of a CTO. 'You should be advisors,' he said.

Advisory firms that want to revamp their techstack are often not doing so because of uncertainty or fear that work involved might take too long or be too large an ask of staff and clients. These fears are leading advisors to miss out on innovation in the tech space, according to Milemarker CEO Kyle Van Pelt.

Firm CEOs can find the task of managing tech overwhelming yet know those burdens are not enough to justify hiring a full-time chief technology officer or internal software engineers, Van Pelt said during the WealthStack conference, part of Wealth Management EDGE, held at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood Beach, Fla.

Van Pelt said he’d spoken to many firms that wanted to change their techstack, but going through a conversion seemed impossible due to the work involved, coupled with non-tech-related responsibilities ranging from acquisitions to client onboarding.

“They’re not taking advantage of some of the cool new things being built, because they say ‘I don’t want to do that. That seems like a huge project,’” he said. “No one in this room should be expected to be a CTO or understand how all this works. You should be advisors.”

Part of the challenge is that the process of managing technology integration both inside and outside firms remains “very inefficient,” according to Oleg Tishkevich, the founder and CEO of Invent. Every firm is trying to (and claiming) to have the “silver bullet” that will create a unique experience for clients and advisors, and they’re increasingly turning to tech; after all, there are only so many model portfolio tricks firms can try to differentiate themselves, Tishkevich said.

But this broad-based differentiation leaves firms and vendors doing the same things over and over again, with everyone’s workload exponentially increasing. Tishkevich stressed the need for a solution, or firm and vendors’ workloads would become even more diffuse and inefficient.

“Everyone is building their own stacks, a universe of multiple suns, in which everyone tries to create their own suns and see if they can gravitate some planets towards that sun,” he said.

To Van Pelt, the long-term challenge remains how to create tech solutions that are accessible for that CEO who can’t hire a CTO but still has unmet technology or integration needs. But he stressed that firms (and vendors) can’t overlook how difficult it would be for firms to make such drastic changes, comparing it to asking a surgeon to do “heart surgery, brain surgery and a lung transplant” simultaneously.

“I’ve talked to CEOs who said ‘if I went in and asked my operations team to change all of the technology they’re using in one fell swoop, I’d have a mutiny on my hands and everyone would leave,” he said.

The focus on “all-in-one” tech solutions to make sure advisors have the tech they need means the focus on the client engagement experience is often lacking, according to AssetBook CEO Marwa Zakarhia. While the oft-cited Kitces FinTech Map demonstrated the breadth (and confusion) of advisor tech solutions, she worried the map also displayed how few options firms had for using tech to better client experiences.

“We’re in a human-based business,” she said. “Advisors need to engage their clients in an efficient way."

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