Jean-Francois Courville is CEO for Wealthsimple for Advisors, a digital platform that allows financial advisors to outsource certain functions that robo-advisors can do efficiently.
Here, Mr. Courville, who is known as J-F, outlines Wealthsimple’s hybrid strategy for robos and human advisors working together.
When robo-advisors first arrived, a lot of people saw them as disruptors that would supplant financial advisors. Now you’re working with advisors. Why?
The disruption first came from true robo-advisors. But we also strongly believe in human advice. Good professional advice is an enabler, through thoughtful goals-based planning, sound decisions and good habits. I see Wealthsimple as a digital investment platform and an enabler that pairs human advice with great technology.
What are the advantages of robo-advisors working directly with advisors?
Technology is going to change how advice is delivered to clients, and it’s really not about robo-advisors at the end of the day. It’s about the modernization and digitization of everything, and that includes financial services. It’s not easy to change existing businesses. We need to connect and build bridges between traditional financial advice models and this new technology.
Tell us about your strategy for Wealthsimple working with advisors.
We are building an all-in-one solution for financial professionals.
That means that no matter the practitioner’s or business’s needs, they’ll be able to deliver their products and services in a way that’s more intuitive, cost-effective and transparent to their clients, streamlining their business operations and improving communication. The advisors we aim to partner with are financial planners who focus on the big picture of their clients’ goals and finances, rather than only on portfolio management. They want to differentiate themselves through the relationships they have with their clients, through financial planning, through their quality of service and their communication. Earlier this year we became licensed under the Mutual Funds Dealers Association (MFDA), which will widen the range of advisors we can work with. Having an MFDA licence will allow us to support advisors with a solution that can manage passive or active portfolios of both ETFs and mutual funds.
Is your strategy different than competitors? What kind of edge are you looking for?
Our strategy is to focus on the needs of our user. In our consumer business, we’ve been successful by staying really focused on the client, and iterating on our product based on client feedback.
The approach is the same in our B2B business: we're focused on building a platform around the needs of advisors and their clients. Our offering is very different than our traditional and emerging competitors in Canada. We work with a fully integrated service platform from the client-facing service all the way through to the operations systems that make everything work in the background, rather than connecting new systems to old pipes.
What are Wealthsimple’s goals for expanding this part of its business? For example, do you hope to have a certain number of advisors by a certain date?
This is a really fast-growing part of our business. My prediction is that it’s going to be at least as significant, if not larger than the direct-to-consumer business over time, just because the vast majority of investors do work with an advisor or an advisory firm with whom we can partner.
Does working with your digital service benefit advisors with certain types of clients more than others?
It really benefits all clients. The client maintains the relationship with their advisor, who’s now able to spend more time on value-add activities for them. It lowers costs for clients and gives them a really simple, transparent experience. I can’t think of a client who wouldn’t benefit from that. I think there’s a misconception that these partnerships are only for younger or smaller clients, but it really isn’t the case – our oldest client is 102. Everybody deserves access to a good advisor who can be relevant and present with them.
How does business-to-business robo-advisory service differ from the apps that retail investors might use? Can you provide a few examples?
Advisors who log in get a complete view of their business as well as the tools to manage their clients. They can see everything that matters in managing their business and how their clients are doing relative to their goals, they can add and serve new clients in minutes, they can transfer accounts and make deposits and withdrawals – all from their dashboard, no paperwork required.
Are we entering an era where financial advisors who don’t work with robo-advisors will be at a disadvantage?
We can use technology to help good advisors be great, and great advisors be even better.
The advisors who will be at an advantage will be comfortable with change and will embrace new capabilities that may feel different at first. Great advisors will use technology to connect with their clients in more meaningful ways, to embrace simpler, effective investment portfolios. What they do for their clients and what that costs will be more transparent.
What surprises have you discovered in your role since arriving at Wealthsimple last spring? Did anything turn out differently than you expected before arriving?
It’s the depth of thought that our engineers and product professionals bring. The only thing that matters to them is how we help our partners, advisors and clients. They look not at how things are done today or what the industry standard is, but the art of the possible, seeking to provide a simple and meaningful experience for everyone.
What do you like most about your work?
I love that feeling of being unconstrained in how we do things. It’s very liberating. Our team is quite idealistic: We know that we have a chance to not only work in the most innovative time for our industry, but also to drive positive change for people. I have always been in this business to help people succeed and this makes me very happy.