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Fintech Is Ending Money Management as We Know It

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg View columnist. He founded Ritholtz Wealth Management and was chief executive and director of equity research at FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He blogs at the Big Picture and is the author of “Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy.”
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Financial Technology Partners is a San Francisco-based investment-banking firm focused, appropriately enough, on the financial-technology industry. I managed to get my hands on its new report of how fintech is altering the landscape for money management. The report looks at industry trends, interviews numerous fintech executives and sizes up all of the usual big picture Silicon Valley stuff.

For those of you who may not have thought much about how technology might affect Wall Street, the work you do each day, and how you do it -- not to mention what it means for your careers -- this report is invaluable. 

Let’s start with that term "Wall Street," which no longer implies location in lower Manhattan. As technology allows anyone to work from anywhere, being in a corporate office matters less than ever. This is to be welcomed in many ways, but will surely change the cultural definition of what it means to work in finance.

But technology is doing more than freeing us from being bound to a specific location; it is altering how we work. This is changing radically, based on the advances in the tools we use to accomplish our daily tasks. Although there have been some notable setbacks, many fintech companies are well-funded and run by people who are both tech and finance savvy. As much as Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, these are the folks who may end up having the greatest impact on finance during the next few decades.

As of now, we can't yet tell if the new automated algo-driven asset allocation solutions known as robo-advisers are a fad or the way of the future. (My best guess is they are somewhere in between).

What is much more interesting to me is how the traditional money-management industry will respond to and adopt the latest technologies for helping it operate more efficiently and with greater client satisfaction. Some look at the newest technologies as a disruptive threat; it's more likely that they are a boon for the asset-management business.

Don't think of this in the future tense: a huge shift toward digital solutions is already upending the industry, and is one of several reasons financial-industry employers are cutting jobs. Pressure on Wall Street employment also is rising as exchange-traded funds grow at the expense of more traditional investment funds, passive investing overtakes active management and trading volumes fall.

Technology is contributing to many of these changes and will likely do so as much or more in the future.

Just based on my own experience, I've seen the changes take place before my very eyes: My office is small, but thanks to technology, and fintech in particular, we are able to be very productive with just 14 people. It makes me laugh each time I see an article discussing lack of productivity gains in the U.S. economy. Either the data gatherers are measuring it wrong or they're looking in the wrong places. Either way, productivity growth is happening if you have the right tools and use them correctly.  

A few examples: We use world-class software products from Orion, iRebal, MoneyGuidePro, ByAllAccounts, Riskalyze and Salesforce to offer a suite of services that just a few years ago would have been beyond the reach of firms managing anything less than $1 billion.  (Disclosure: I am on the Riskalyze's board of advisers.)

For example, I now can offer clients, a) a mobile app that displays all of their investment accounts; b) a robust rebalance of their portfolios, including regular tax-loss harvesting; c) a complete financial plan, including Monte Carlo simulations, projecting the likelihood of meeting their targets; d) see all of a client's accounts, whether we manage them or not, looking for redundant overexposure to any asset class or a lack of appropriate exposure; e) run a full risk analysis on their tolerance for volatility and drawdowns in a quantitative, objective manner; and f) track all client contact, conversations, updates and changes in circumstances to meet both our fiduciary and compliance obligations.

These are not small things. What it means is that a small firm anywhere in the country can exploit technology to compete at a level not possible even a very short time ago.

That is good news on many levels; the bad news is that this seems certain to continue putting pressure on total employment in the financial industry. Those people who don't adapt will find themselves with limited career options. The same can be said of firms that fail to take advantage of the benefits technology offers.

The future is already here. If you work in finance, the time to get ready for this sea change was yesterday.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Barry Ritholtz at britholtz3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net