Compliance & Technology

Enhancing Advisor Success: How to Add Value Beyond the Numbers Through Human Connection

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We talked with Adam about:

  • The history of Asset-Map 
  • The importance of simplicity in delivery and the difficulty of getting there 
  • How to leverage technology to maximize and amplify the humanness in the advisory space

About Adam Holt

While working as a financial planner, Adam Holt found traditional approaches lacking in client engagement and clarity. Recognizing the need to prioritize meaningful financial decisions, he founded Asset-Map as a tool to refocus clients on their goals. Starting as an in-house solution, it propelled Holt’s wealth planning business to remarkable growth. Today, Asset-Map serves thousands of financial advisors worldwide, empowering families to make informed decisions, stay engaged, and achieve their financial aspirations. 

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Full Audio Transcript

Lauren (00:02):
Adam, thanks for your time.

Adam (00:04):
Thanks for having me, Lauren. Great to see you.

Lauren (00:06):
Yeah, it's great to see you. I know we've got a common connection through Derek, and I'm glad to have crossed paths with you in this virtual world. I'm really excited. So for those of you that don't know Adam, he is the CEO and founder of Asset-Map and also the co-host for Rethink the Financial Advisor podcast. So definitely we'll include a link to that. Go ahead and check that out. Before we get into it, he has a really interesting background but I’m also excited to hear more about Asset-Map — what it is today and what the platform is and all that stuff. But let's turn it over to you. Tell me a little bit more about your background, especially this idea from geography to now finance. So over to you.

Adam (00:44):
Well, I think what you're referring to is Asset-Map is very well known for its visual mapping of a household's finances and all the people and financial decisions you've made over time to try to build this financial inventory, if you will, visually. It was used by me in my financial planning practice for, gosh, now 25 years, an in-house homegrown technology experience that was really more about the experience of helping clients finally understand all the complexity they were dealing with and their advisor, myself, to try to figure out how to navigate it. And this comes out of a mapping framework or mapping background that I had actually studied in my undergrad school. I had actually studied what's called GI — graphic information — or what you guys all would think about as GIS or GPS. When you look at your phone or your car, you see this map evolving of where you are, and it's the same kind of technology of taking data and showing it visually and overlaying it with other aspects that might help you make decisions. So that was parlayed into financial planning when I got into the business and then it went viral when I showed it in 2012 at a conference. And the rest is history. Now, thousands of advisors and millions of people have experienced this already and it's really quite amazing how far it's come.

Lauren (02:04):
Can you share a little bit more about that, how that took flight? I mean, so you shared it at a conference. What was it? People just sort of started talking about it, wanted to learn more? How can I get a hold of it? How did it kind of go from concept to presentation to then? And where is it now?

Adam (02:18):
Well, it depends how far back you want to go. In 2002, believe it or not, I actually drew this out. I was in business school at night at the time, and I said, I need to find a way to understand the complexity that I'm doing with these households. Because I was a very visual type of person. I was very interested in graphics at the time, so I actually built this and got it compliance approved in 2006.

Lauren (02:39):
Oh, that's a big milestone.

Adam (02:42):
It took me quite a while to get the compliance departments of my broker-dealer to really say I could use this with consumers. But once I did, I tripled my productivity in my first year and then I tripled it again, and then I tripled again. So by the time I got to the third year of using this in the field, I had obviously made a significant increase in revenue generation that was mostly AUM life insurance at the time, estate, corporate stuff, and started getting noticed and I realized I had to build the technology to support. It was just taking over my life, and that's what I did. I founded and started funding without knowing what I was doing, Lauren, basically just blowing money into developers where I had no understanding of what I was doing. And I built the first prototypes. And in 2012, it was a best practice meeting where we were all sharing our success stories, and it was my turn to share at the top of the producer group in my broker-dealer.

And everyone said, hey, I'm doing the same thing on a yellow pad, on a whiteboard, on a napkin. I'm trying to explain what's going on in these trusts relative to the company and the business and the family members. Can I just use your system? And I said, sure, I guess we'll figure it out. You can use it. And that's how it started. It was 90 advisors by the end of the year, and then it was 300, then it was 500, now it's over 6,000. It's kind of interesting. It didn't just happen like that but it happened because I think advisors all recognized they could be more effective having conversations around the inventory.

Lauren (04:13):
So as someone who has done dozens of development projects, wireframed it, I mean, I've seen design, user experience, data, all that stuff. What are you all doing — because you can get a really sweet working backend — but how have you been doing testing, user testing and experiences to make sure people can actually use information smoothly to get it out product, constantly tweaking, testing, all of that, that process so you can not only have intelligence but then you can help it be presented in what you were saying earlier, in that visual way?

Adam (04:48):
It's an interesting question because I think I've had a very strange mashup of skills. I'm a design nutcase, wanted to be an architect a long time ago, and then got into finance and realized I was a communicator. I love people. I don't want to work with computers. And here I built a technology platform with the backbone of a lot of other smart people. So I didn't do it on my own. But I think for me, I'm a big zealot for UX or user experience and customer experience. And I very much think and always put myself in the shoes of the recipient of my communication. I think I apply that to the podcast as well, whether it's tonality, influx, or whether it's visual, it's controlling the entire experience that you can control as much as possible with the goal of making it consumable and not intimidating.

And that is a really important aspect I think a lot of financial advisors never got trained on, which is understanding how to deliver information that's typically complex but something that's digestible so you actually empower the consumer, not intimidate them. And that's an important nuance because I think for most of my career, I kept watching other advisors just say, here's your 80-page financial plan and your 90-page Morningstar. You see what we need to do? And the client's like, I guess I trust you. You look so smart, and that was enough. But that's no longer the case, Lauren. We are seeing consumers have a much different expectation of the value proposition and their attention span is diminished greatly. You need to deliver value. So we came up with this design principle called simple rich, which means everything we generate from our product has to fit on one page regardless of complexity, and it has to be consumable by the least common denominator but also give prominence to the display or the presenter in such a way that they can take it into multiple discussions. That's a really challenging mashup.

Lauren (06:42):
Yes, that's very challenging. Simple's never easy, let alone to be able to put that sort of complexity on really complex problems. So has that one sheet, I'm assuming, changed over time? How is it? Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about

Adam (06:57):
You mean it’s gone into two sheets?

Lauren (06:58):
Yeah, right. Or maybe a smaller font.

Adam (07:01):
Well, that's true. Disclosures wind up at eight point.

Lauren (07:05):
Yeah, that's right. Minimum.

Adam (07:06):
That's the legal limit. You can't go smaller.

It's funny. The answer is no. Everything we generate must fit on a tear sheet one page. It is a requirement, one we force ourselves into but for financial planning that's really challenging. Typical financial planning reports are 10 pages or more. Mostly it's disclosure language. We figured out actually how to do the math in such a way where we could actually eliminate the reasons for the nine pages of disclosure. And we actually had to design a planning calculation and display it where it had enough insight where a technical person could say, okay, this is not, I can't trust this but to the point where they could actually explain it and go deep. I think one of our secret sauces, I think one of the things we've been able to do is, I mean, look, think about most households. Most households are not just one or two people, right?

They’re two kids or three or two and a half kids. It might be a generation above you if you're also taking care of Mom and Dad. You have a business partner. Oh, you have a trust because you had to set up a trust to hold your insurance, and then you have a charity. Oh, and you have a company. And then, so the reality is households are much more complicated than we typically think. The registrant who has a brokerage account with us now, they're making decisions on a whole different scale, and they have on average 25 different financial instruments — everything from income sources to retirement accounts, 401(k) benefits at work, a checking account. When you add it all up, it's really complicated. How do you get that on one page? And the fact we were able to pull it off with millions of iterations is I think one of the things where we still stand out in this space but it certainly wasn't easy to build that architecture.

Lauren (08:53):
And is that a customizable one page or is it pretty kind of default from lessons learned, from I'm assuming what the data's telling you on your side too?

Adam (09:02):
Well, north is north. South is south. You have to have some standards of basis because of what we needed to have it do, and of course my requirement list is just too large but thankfully we had tested it for 10 years in the field to get to a place where we said, okay, this is really bespoke and scalable but standardizable, just like when you look at an X-ray of your body, and I look at a mine, you can still see they're both skeletons. And so the person who's diagnosing potentially any, let's say financial malady, can look at the thing and see instantly where the problems are, right? So the professional had to have some expectation, that framework where insurance is going to be in the north and her assets are going to be in the west and his are going to be in the east, and their joint assets are going to be south, so you know where to look. And that's an important aspect of creating a standardized but fully customizable experience.

Lauren (09:57):
So for advisors, how is it teeing them up then for that further conversation and how is it helping them maybe even get to those deeper conversations faster?

Adam (10:06):
There's something that happens, and I love this analogy, so perhaps you can imagine this in your mind. If I wanted some guidance on my wardrobe, I could invite you to come over to my closet, my wardrobe, and we go through my clothes. Now, if you're an expert, you might know how to go about looking at that. Most people will take all of it out, dump it on the bed, and like Marie Kondo, they would hold it up and say, do you love this? Does it fit? No, I don't want it. Okay, say goodbye.

Lauren (10:37):
Yeah, get rid of it. Yep, goodbye.

Adam (10:39):
And that process can be very cathartic for many people. It could also be maybe revealing or vulnerable because the reality is most of us haven't gotten any guidance on what are the right financial instruments. We collect a bunch of stuff, usually from employers or from multi-generations. If you have wealth in there and you set up a bank account, you still have the same bank account you started when you got out of college. The reality is that we hoard a lot of the stuff —

Lauren (11:06):
— without even realizing.

Adam (11:07):
We don't even think about it. It's all haphazard. So the first process of any level of financial guidance starts with a know your client, KYC typically called technically but also there's a suitability process for all advisors they must go through to prove they're delivering best interest advice. It doesn't matter whether you're selling life insurance or doing a full-fledged fee-based financial plan, you got to know the client. So this process is actually pretty consistent — the fact-gathering process — so dumping everything on the bed and deciding what actually should be there and not be there is really important. The same thing is true with finances. If you think about that massive collection of stuff, there are some obvious holes advisors will see. Hey, I noticed you have three retirement accounts but I noticed you don't have any pension. Is that intentional? No, I didn't even know to ask that question. Okay, let me educate you. I see you have a bunch of insurances. Why do you have them? Well, my cousin sold me all this insurance. Do you know it's not owned correctly, is the wrong beneficiary? No, I didn't realize that because nobody gets to inspect this stuff, Lauren, and when you have somebody who's invited to look at this in a transparent way, high level, no judgment, actually start teeing up the right conversations to do triage, and that's the first step of all financial guidance.

Lauren (12:19):
Yeah, it makes sense. I mean, what you can appreciate too in working with folks who do have complex situations is if you get a 10-page minimum return, that's a lot to go through, and most people are used to just the executive summary. So it sounds like you're really having to provide that piece of it in a thoughtful way. Are you all doing any sort of coaching for the advisor side and more like, okay, advisor, we have literally teach you up, you go and you run with your piece of thing, or is it also, do you have prompt questions for advisors or things like that to help them then get to that next step?

Adam (12:52):
That's a great point. We do have such things, and over the years, advisors said, Adam, how do we take your language and replicate that? It turned out Asset-Map was less of a software as a service but it was more of a process as a service, and we had to teach people how to go and do that California Closet analogy I just gave you, which is how do we figure out what you should be having and how do we structure this thing? And so we started with a bootcamp that was very popular. Now it's all virtual and people come for three days and they learn our language. We also have a digital LMS tool, learning management system, for them to get certified. But I think the most effective thing has been what we call frameworks, where we teach ways to ask and engage new and important questions that feel very human and very empathetic. For example, I see you have X, Y, and Z on your asset map. Why did you choose to buy that? What did you try to meet? Or what was the reasoning behind it? You learned, by the way, that most of the reasoning is nobody remembers, my uncle told me to buy it, I don't know.

Lauren (13:53):
Yes, you're helping us resurface that, right? Somebody asking you the question.

Adam (13:59):
Exactly. No different than in our everyday life. It’s a very behavioral type of, I think, approach but it enables the advisor to run the same play every time and still seem empathetic and inquisitive and not always be trying to let me educate you to death how an IRA works. They're like, why did you do this or not do this? And so we teach these questions and these frameworks.

Lauren (14:22):
Yeah, but I think that thinking, and you're calling it frameworks, if you have that same framework that can be applied but obviously the results are different because each person's different. So then it gives you the sort of map to follow, for lack of better words, so you can pull them through. Okay, so I have to ask. I don't know, because the thing right now is AI, right? I've heard about it. Everyone's talking about AI in different ways, and this is a different way of approaching, I don't even know if I'd call it AI. What are your thoughts, and do you think there's an intersection here with AI? How do you kind of look at it? Are you guys building tools that are kind of leveraging some of these newer technologies? What are your thoughts on that?

Adam (15:05):
Look, there's lots of different ways to look at the AI conversation. Most people these days are talking about it from the GPT standpoint, right? So this natural language processing that has the capacity potentially to consume large portions of data and make some interesting insights. That executive summary you talked about would seem an obvious potential innovation from Asset-Map, right? Can you build an Asset-Map and then boom, it can already tell you what you need to do. That in a sense does start to, I don't want to say compete with an advisor, and advisors are our clients. So we tend to focus more on can I get data into our platform using AI? And that's where we're spending our time and money. I would offer it to you this, Lauren, there's something that's really important that keeps coming up in our industry. You probably have heard it.

And there's this whole aspect of what's the role of the human in advice delivery, especially as tech continues to creep in and will continue to do so we know how does a human advisor provide more and more relevance? And we actually joke that Asset-Map supports the original, the OG AI and that OG is advisor intelligence AI. And what that means is really there's a component of financial decision-making that has really been historically human and we think will continue to be when a decision has to be made that has a high cost of being wrong or is complex — humans tend to want another human for validation. Am I making the right decision? Are we okay? As we go further and further away from, we'll call it a simple low cost of being wrong problem or challenge, we tend to want this human. And so what we're really trying to tee up withAsset-Map is can I facilitate a high-level conversation and get the advisor's intelligence, whether it's legal, tax, insurance, investment, financial planning, banking, whatever that might be, can we apply their logic and their insight and their experience to the client's life in real time using a common framework, which is as demystifying as a map of your finances and who matters?

That is the real key. Once you do that, all of a sudden the advisor's role is elevated to its best use and highest revenue-producing activity.

Lauren (17:12):
It makes sense, right? Because if AI is a tool that can help speed up the process for the clients and the advisors and then they are able to present it with more clarity — they don't have to go through all the paperwork, the piles of paperwork, what have you, I'm sure there's a degree of that but it seems like it keeps them more seamless. 

Adam (17:31):
Can we presume that an advisor's role or professional role is to provide the client one thing, and that's confidence in the business of decision-making? That's it. Because nobody can give you a guarantee that the outcome is better but you want confidence so you can move off the mark and make a call, make a decision, invest, ensure, get rid of, buy, don't buy, get out. So the point is these decisions really are not because there's no certainty in them, we're just really looking for more confidence. And I think going forward, tools like AI and analysis tools and financial planning tools are all really there to help us make decisions. And I think the key is how do you get the human to really connect with another human and show they actually know what's going on and give them perspective? 

Lauren (18:17):
Yep. Well, I mean, part of leadership is being able to make calculated risks. So this is helping to tee up those decisions so you can make decisions for your own life. And then at the end of the day, if you have a life change, you're not going to go, well, let me go back to my AI tool to see where I need to turn to next, right? You're going to want to talk with Jane or Brian or whoever it is you trust, you can have conversations with. And that human piece, I put it out there. I don't think you can replace that. 

Adam (18:46):
It's a great question, though, and I wonder whether we know that answer. Trust is in fact the key for the human financial advisor. I do believe that certainly the X and Y generations specifically are showing they would prefer digital experiences over human ones. The question will be, what's their threshold for when those decisions are too complicated or have such a high cost of being wrong that they really do want a human validation, how they consume it, whether it's from a fee-based advisor or just their trusted uncle who's rich or whatever it is, or who, maybe it's their guru. It's going to be interesting to see who they go to for that trusted guidance on decisions they need to make.

Lauren (19:25):
Yeah, super interesting. Adam, this is so fun. I love hearing more about just the story of what you've been able to build in this tool at a very high level. Any other thoughts, things I haven't asked that you think would be helpful to share?

Adam (19:37):
I think we're all on the precipice of something new. I'm not sure I know what it's going to be like but I think over the next four to five years, what is not going to change as this classic Jeff Bezos quote goes as he was asked, what's going to change, what's investible over the next 10 years? And he says, it's not important to know what's going to change. We can't figure that out. The question is what's not going to change? And that is investible, and that's where you want to put your time and your energy. We know what it is for Amazon. We can probably all recite that. But for us, and I think the industry in general, Lauren, I think it's all going to be how we connect with our clients and prove we're adding value beyond the expectation, right? It's always about how do you over deliver and under promise? And I think the question for us and advice is that is it really about the management of the money? Is it really about the best products we're finding, or is it really about the confidence we're giving our clients proactively when they don't ask? That's right. Being on their team and watching the store without being asked.

Lauren (20:39):
So well said. Oh my goodness. Well, thank you, Adam, again for your time. I'm excited to continue to watch Asset-Map and all the things you all are doing, and yeah, excited to see what comes of it next.

Adam (20:50):
Thank you so much for having me.

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