I’ve been to a few industry events recently and had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussion on the future of platforms. The opening question to a panel of platform leaders, “what innovations can advisers expect to see in platforms?” presented a brilliant opportunity for platforms to stake their claim on how they can assist financial advisers.
In 2001 Microsoft famously branded open source and Linux “a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”. Twenty years later, Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith, admitted, “Microsoft was on the wrong side of history when open source exploded at the beginning of the century”, and it is now the largest contributor to open source projects, outstripping Google and Facebook. This pivot in attitude is where the platform industry needs to be.
Microsoft accepted it couldn’t solve every problem for every user; there were too many and too varied. But it can provide every user with the tools to create solutions to their own problem, which is the view platforms (and adviser tech) should take.
Reflecting on that opening question, I believe it sort of misses the point. Platforms should not be telling IFAs the innovations to expect; platforms should be facilitating advisers to create the innovations they seek. Some of the most successful software to assist advisers in their job has come from advisers; such as CashCalc, Elen Software, Plannr, all born from adviser needs. Loved by advisers because they designed the products to meet a need they know others have.
So, what is innovation in the platform space? Innovation is creating reliable and standardised APIs which allow advisers to build applications or to connect the software they use. These should be OPEN APIs; charging other providers to connect with an API is not ‘open’ and holds back the whole industry, and, ultimately, open API and open source will win; Microsoft will back me up here. The data is the clients and obtained by financial advisers; providers should not put barriers behind the scenes to control that data.
If you’re an innovative financial adviser who wants a tool that creates an ESG Suitability Report telling your clients how ethical they are and how much carbon their portfolio uses, here’s your data, innovate away and good luck.