Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Welcome to episode 21 of the Innovating Advice show.
I’m joined by Jen McKay who co-founded Linktank in South Africa back in 2014.
Linktank is both women-led and predominantly women throughout the business, which is rare given that Linktank was created to bridge the gap between financial services practitioners and industry technology providers.
Jen and I start the episode by discussing the results of a survey we put out last week to evaluate how advisors are adjusting to suddenly working from home.
We were so pleased with the results in those first 24 hours that we’ve decided to keep the survey open. Please head here to complete the brief and painless survey and sign up here to receive the final results.
We then learn about Linktank, trends, opportunities and challenges on both the advisor and tech provider sides.
And stay tuned until the end where I rap a few bars and compare the name of Linktank’s new initiative with an old Doug E Fresh & Slick Rick song.
Jen McKay is a Director at Linktank, which assists Financial Services Providers and industry technology providers in selection, deployment, end-user support, integration, testing, training and maintenance of technology solutions.
Having navigated the seams of financial services and technology for over 20 years, she’s held various positions with both software vendors and financial services providers over time and has been fortunate enough to experience the wealth management industry from a vantage point of technology enablement. Prior to partnering with Nina Lowes in 2014 to establish Linktank, she served on the senior management team of Iress SA.
Jen currently enjoys independence in a landscape spanning multiple industry software providers, given Linktank’s status as a trusted implementation and support partner.
Kate: Hi, Jen, welcome to the show.
Jen: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Kate: It’s an absolute delight. We had a wonderful prep call the other day. We have so much in common. We have so much to dive into today. And as we were talking the other day, you guys do a great annual survey at Linktank and we’re going to be touching on that throughout the episode.
But we were talking a lot about this rapid shift to everyone suddenly having to work from home all over the world. We are all in the same boat. And realizing how many advisors – through my experience with working with advisors around the world, through the survey that you do with advisors in South Africa – how many advisors probably were not properly prepared for that. So it was your idea. I jumped on board. You came up with this great survey that we threw out onto social media and we got almost a hundred responses across six countries.
So huge thank you to those of you that responded from South Africa, the U.S. the UK, Australia, Netherlands, Malaysia. Thank you for jumping in and giving us this data. And while it’s only about a hundred people, we both feel, Jen, I think you would agree that this is probably pretty indicative of the broader adviser community. So since everyone responded, I want to make sure that we dive into that first and talk through what we’re seeing there and how that does mirror so closely with the results in your annual survey and with experience that I’ve seen. Does that sound all right Jen?
Jen: That sounds awesome. Absolutely.
Advisor Survey Results: How Are You Adjusting To A Remote Work Environment?
Q: Is your business still fully operational?
Kate: Perfect. So the first question that was out there was getting a, a pulse on it: Is your business still operating during this isolation/quarantine/lockdown? And while it was great to see that 52% said, “I’m fully operational and it’s business as usual,” 40% said “I’m still operating though on a limited scale,” which I thought was super interesting. What aspects of that do you think are limiting Jen?
Jen: I think, and I’m probably saying the same thing all around the world. I think what’s happened is that so many advisors are still used to operating from offices and they’re used to sitting in the same office with the operational teams, and I think it’s just been, you know, the difficulty in working from home and suddenly having to implement all this technology, which is something that comes up later in the survey, to be able to continue to servicing clients and to carry on with business as usual without having all of those comforts that we’re all used to. So it’s a comfort zone thing I think. And just the, the battle to find technology to fit what they’re trying to do. And some people did comment and say that they were battling a little bit to convince their clients that it was a good idea, particularly their older clients but I’m not so sure about that. So as I said earlier, I think, I think it would be great to leave the survey open for a few weeks and just see how those responses change as we get more of them.
Kate: Yes. So please do that. So that will be linked to in the show notes. We’ll have the survey there. So this episode is coming out in just a couple of days, but like Jen said, we’ll leave it open for a couple of weeks and then I’ll go ahead and post an update to the survey results in in the show notes. I think that would be super fun to see how it does evolve.
Jen: Absolutely. I agree.
Kate: And then we’ve got 8% said: “I’m fully operational and even busier than usual.” And I would say especially among the gen X gen Y advisors all around the world, that’s been a really common conversation. The amount of advisors that are getting an uptick in business, they’re getting clients wanting to open new accounts, seeing opportunities in the market, wanting to invest more, and then referring to their friends, family and colleagues that you know, have spent the last number of years without working with an advisor and kind of realizing, Oh shoot, like I don’t have a budget. I don’t have a savings plan. Now they might be understanding the value of what they should have had they worked with an advisor.
Professionals Giving Back Through Pro Bono Work
Jen: Absolutely. And I think the other thing I’m – and I wanted to ask if it’s something that you’ve seen there as well. Here, we’ve been seeing quite a few advisors putting stuff out on social media saying, we’re offering free advice during this time. You need us more than ever and, and come to us and they are seeing a bit of an uptick in those, in those areas. And I think, you know, because people are skittish where they’ve never bothered to seek out a financial advisor before they’re now going, I think I need to talk to somebody. And of course they’re talking to the ones that are, that are there and available.
Kate: Yes. And that’s a great point. And I’m, you’re right, I’m seeing the same thing and I really am loving seeing all of the pro bono planning that’s coming out. So a lot of people saying, Hey, we understand you probably can’t work with an advisor right now. You’ve just lost your job. You don’t know when you’re going to be able to work again. And taking it as an opportunity to give back and to show what a great profession this is. Because that is an absolute hallmark of a profession is having people that give back to the community.
Jen: Yeah, agreed. And I think obviously that, you know, a lot of them have got clients who they wouldn’t otherwise have been reviewing, or chatting to. Then all of a sudden those clients are also needing a bit of extra love. So I think, that’s probably – yeah – but it’s a bit sad to see it’s only 8% of them who are busier than usual.
Kate: Yes. And that will be one of those things. So if you are listening and you are busier than usual, pop into the show notes, click on that survey and boost that because we really do want to know and see what’s actually happening out there.
Q: How difficult has it been to transition to remote operations?
Kate: So speaking of transitioning to a remote workforce and transitioning to working with your clients remotely, about 44% of the respondents said that it’s either quite difficult or impossible. That’s a huge number. What do you think is going on there?
Jen: Yes. And again, I think it comes down to having the tools in place and having the mechanisms in place to be able to do that. And I think, oftentimes, it’s also, you know, due to being a very paper based business. I think that’s a problem because where you’re generally able to access your client’s information, you know, just by reaching across the office or by and leaning over and asking somebody for it, all of a sudden that’s not available anymore.
And if you’re very paper based or you’re very, or you have information scattered across multiple different systems, suddenly when you’re working online, that becomes very, very difficult. And I think actually a lot of people have battled with really rudimentary issues. Like, you know, trying to find the right online meeting software or being able to contact their clients and make appointments and carry on. And certainly, it doesn’t sound like a lot of them are all searching for new business or anything either.
I think it’s really just sort of calming the panic at the moment. So I think there’s a lot of people just working on the absolute essentials. I don’t know if you, if you agree with your experience on that side.
Kate: Yes I do. And as we’re talking, I’m thinking I might start building out – I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but especially now this morning seeing these survey results – build out a resources page on my website that has just really simple, I mean two to three minute, How To’s [Receive the free tutorials as they’re available]. So whether it’s for Zoom, you know, cause Zoom has been, clearly it has exploded over the last number of months, but there are still a lot of people that aren’t familiar with it yet. And if you have never done a video meeting before or you have never shared your screen, that can be an intimidating thing to do. And as you were talking about, you know, having people in the office that you can just kind of jump over and say, “Hey, how do you do this?” We might take for granted how often we actually, you know, physically show people how to do something on a computer or hand them something.
And there are great tools like Loom – we’ve got Zoom and Loom – that allow you to do really, really easy screen recording. So I can appreciate if you have people working remotely and, Jen, let’s say I was trying to show you how to do something that you weren’t familiar with. It can be hard to say, okay, look in the upper left and find that and the second thing down. And if you’ve got kids running around and you’ve got dogs barking, that can just be too challenging. So I might build out some of those quick little tutorials for all those advisors that responded to just show how simple it can be. And again, really appreciating if you haven’t done it, how intimidating that can feel.
Jen: Absolutely. I think that’s a great idea because I think that’s part of it and it’s just been such a huge learning curve for some people who have never done that stuff before. Now all of a sudden having to test all these different tools.
The other thing we’re seeing quite a lot of here is that there’s quite a few people putting out sort of daily livestreams and just tips and tutorials and it’s amazing how many advisors are dialing into those things every morning just to kind of try and fast track themselves and get up and running.
Kate: Yes, and on that I will absolutely give a tremendous shout out to Francois du Toit of, he’s got his own technology and consulting firm in South Africa. He is the one that connected you and I, Jen. and he was back on episode nine and that will be linked to in the show notes, but he is a great resource and he has been doing those live streams as you mentioned, every single morning for an hour. Unfortunately, it’s the middle of the night, my time, but I do wake up and I check it. It’s always at the top of my feed. So wherever you’re at in the world, if it works with your time zone, I would encourage you to join Francois’ daily coffee meetings where he has guests – Jen, you were on. He’s doing great stuff to help advisors through this time.
Jen: Yeah. Absolutely. It’s very helpful stuff up. I’ll do a shout out there myself.
Q: Did you have to find and implement new technology?
Kate: Yes. So speaking of understanding the technology and knowing whether you have it in place or not, only 24%, no, only 20% of respondents already had the technology in place, but had to make some changes. The rest of them, so we’re on like 80%, either had to find new technology and implement in a hurry or had to make changes and additions. That can be a really stressful thing to do in what is already a stressful time.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. Because, and I think part of the problem is there are so many tools and options out there and if you’ve got time to figure them out, that’s one thing. But if you’re cast into it unwillingly all of a sudden, it’s very difficult to do those things. And I think, I’m sure it’s the same all over, but the biggest drawback, we hear, or the biggest reason we hear frequently, when we ask advisors about whether they engage with their clients online or virtually is they say their clients don’t like it. And, and I’m never quite sure whether that is 100% the truth or whether it’s just, you know, this is how we’ve always done business and it works for us.
And I do agree, you know, there’s a certain amount of relationship building that you can do face to face, but there are a multitude of things, most things, that you can do, virtually. And I think, you know, having never really gone down that road or, or given their clients the option of doing those things, they just haven’t had to explore those types of tools. And now being thrust into the midst of it is, is entirely disconcerting.
Q: How have your clients reacted to virtual engagement?
Kate: It is. But there’s also an upside in terms of the fact that now that you are thrust into it, you’re sort of forced to actually find out whether clients like it or not. Cause before, I think people were standing behind this shield of, ‘Oh we have to do it.’ It reminds me a lot of sending out quarterly statements, which even 10 years ago in my first job in the profession I thought was crazy because by the time you send them out in April for the 31st of March, it’s already out of date. I was like, who’s reading this?And advisors are just so stuck on, we have to print these quarterly reports and we have to mail them. And I was like, did you even ask your clients who’s reading these? But we do see from the survey, 40% of respondents, their clients are quite happy with the change to virtual meetings.
Jen: That does not surprise me at all. And I think it should be higher.
Kate: And on that, 60% of people that responded to the survey say they will probably have more virtual client meetings in the future.
Jen: I know that, that amazed because I thought, you know, I thought it would take more than a week or two to convince advisors that actually this can work. But apparently, you know, there are those who are already seeing the benefit. I’m very encouraged to see that. I’m hoping to see much more of that.
Q: How are you reacting to working virtually?
Kate: Yes, I thought that was super great. 60% more virtual meetings in the future. We’ve got 12% “My whole team will work from home more frequently” which is…
Jen: OK, that one I couldn’t believe. That’s amazing.
Kate: And I think that’s great cause, it is. I think a lot of times when you have offices, firms and practices that don’t want their clients to work remotely. I have always wondered if that is more of an indication of whether you’ve actually hired the right people and you actually trust your employees because living in this day and age and we’re seeing it now, right. This is forcing it all to the forefront again. People are going, Oh, you still get your work done from home.
…the speed at which businesses have been able to adapt over the past few weeks to working virtually and still getting the job done shows that, it never really was about technology or ability. It was always about management culture and that sort of inability to let go and trust people.
Jen: Absolutely. I mean, I’m a huge advocate of working from home and virtual offices and we’ve done it from day one in our business. And it really has always worked well for me. And I saw somebody posted on LinkedIn the other day, I can’t remember the source, but it was something along the lines of the speed at which businesses have been able to adapt over the past few weeks to working virtually and still getting the job done shows that, it never really was about technology or ability. It was always about management culture and that sort of inability to let go and trust people. I’ve always found that people are more productive when they have the freedom to work from home and miss the traffic.
Kate: Absolutely. I could not agree with that more. And on that we’ve got, what was it, 10% say I’m going fully virtual. So to all of you I would say: Welcome to the club!
Jen: I’d love to re-survey those people in three or six months time and see. Ithink it would be absolutely amazing. There need to be more like you.
Kate: Yes. Well, and I would love, whoever that was that responded to that, please connect with me and Jen on LinkedIn. It would be great to hear, you know, what about it has become so appealing in this time. What are any challenges that you’re facing, you know, new tools that you’re finding that might be great for other people during this time.
Jen: Very keen to know more.
The Biggest Stumbling Block to Working Remotely
Kate: So then on the other side, what is the greatest stumbling block in your ability to transition to a virtual environment? Talk about an area that surprised neither of us. It’s because almost half of respondents are too paper-based.
Jen: I wasn’t surprised by that at all. I thought some people might lie about that, but honestly we see that all the time. It’s partly an inability to, or just, you know, we’ve always done business this way and it works, but it’s also partly the industry just is so paper-based still.
Here there are still paper application forms and paper based processes, and paper files. And I think it takes something like this to push us out of that. You know, I don’t think it’s entirely adviser’s faults that they businesses are so paper-based effect. But the more push we have in the industry or the more demand we have and the more practices that we see going, or trying to go paperless, the more push back there will be on product providers and insurers just to enhance their processes.
Kate: Yes, absolutely. So again, we’re keeping that survey open. You can pop into the show notes. Link below if you’re on Stitcher, Spotify, Apple podcasts or go to innovatingadvice.com/post/episode21 and all of the show notes, the links to the tools we’re talking about will be there.
Kate: And so Jen, now we’ve kind of gone through the survey that we just did, I want to spend a few minutes hearing about Linktank’s story. And I was so fascinated when I was first introduced to you by Francois. I was looking into what you were doing. I was like you are a wonderful rare creature in terms of working with independent financial advisors. You are totally independent as a business and so you work with the technology providers as well. So you sort of serve in this wonderful intermediary capacity and you are a woman, you are a woman owned, led, run business. So much good stuff going on there. So talk us through how you and Nina made the decision to create Linktank and any challenges of being women in the profession and on the tech side.
We were, I think to a large extent under estimated as women. It’s a very male dominated industry. And thinking back, I think being underestimated was probably one of the biggest challenges we faced without even realizing it at the time. But it’s actually a blessing as well because it’s so easy to over deliver when there’s very little expectation, isn’t it?
Jen: I’ll try and summarize the story. It feels like a hundred years ago but it’s actually only, we started it less than six years ago that we started this business and we did it because, I mean it took us five years of chatting about it and trying to decide whether or not we were mental before we actually, you know, took the leap and did it.
And Nina and I met when she was a client of mine and we were working on a project together implementing a piece of technology. She was on the financial services side and I was on the technology side. And we were sort of chatting about it and we said, my God, there’s got to be an easier way, because it’s so difficult cause there’s this gaping hole between technology providers and financial services providers and they don’t speak each other’s languages. And it’s just so difficult to implement software into any financial planning business of any shape or size. It’s not, you know, the bigger businesses and the large corporates, it’s not easier for them either. And they have tons of resources, much more than than independents do. Anyway, so we decided we could fill this gaping hole and we took the leap and started the business. It was just the two of us. And we had one employee and it took a lot of tears and blood and sweat and all the usual that, that any business owner knows about.
And it’s funny, I sometimes go back to our original business plan, and have a look at how naive we were that it was just going to be so easy. But in reality, you know, we’ve achieved the things that we set out to achieve, in slightly different ways than we’d expected to, but we’ve, we’re doing those things, you know. So we’ve now grown. We operate out of four cities in South Africa and have, mostly virtual, well actually all virtual at the moment. A team of mostly women and that wasn’t on purpose either. It just sort of unfolded that way. And, yeah, we serve South Africa and we’ve got a couple of clients in the UK and in Australia as well. So, so you know, we’re growing. I think it’s safe to say we’re not going out of business anymore.
I think, some of the challenges we faced early on were, Nina and I were chatting about this the other day. We were, I think to a large extent under estimated as women. It’s a very male dominated industry. And thinking back, I think being underestimated was probably one of the biggest challenges we faced without even realizing it at the time. But it’s actually a blessing as well because it’s so easy to over deliver when there’s very little expectation, isn’t it? So it served us well.
Kate: That’s a great way of putting it.
Kate: I like that. Well, and I wonder if the fact that you are women owned and women run has naturally been an attractor to other women because I do think there are a lot of women that are wanting to be part of this profession on the tech side, on the financial services side, but there still is, in a lot of cases – not always – resistance to joining practices that may not be as ready to truly embrace women and do still have that process of underestimating what women bring to the table.
And so if there’s any one thing I’d say that that we really constantly are working towards building and fostering in the industry is collaboration. And sometimes I think it’s easier for women to do those things as well.
Jen: Yes, definitely. I think so. And probably unconsciously that has been a driver. We’ve managed to put together a really, really amazing team, but we also, you know, we’ve got a team of people who are employed by the business, full time employed. But then we also operate a lot, increasingly in the sharing gig economy. And we work with a lot of external contractors, and specialists that we call into particular projects. And actually many of those are women as well. And oftentimes moms. I think it’s just, you know, moms are so efficient because they just, you know, get stuff done so that they have more time with the kids or more time to do driving around and running around. So, that works really well with that, you know, in the business.
Kate: That’s great. So what is kind of the core mission of Linktank in terms of filling that all important gap?
Jen: You know, when we started out it was possibly a little bit of a wafty mission, so I won’t even share that with you. But really what it boils down to is, we think that there needs to be more collaboration in the industry and we are passionate about the gaping holes that exist in the industry that just have been there for ever and ever and ever. Well, not passionate about the gaping holes, but passionate about the opportunities to fill them. And so if there’s any one thing I’d say that that we really constantly are working towards building and fostering in the industry is collaboration. And sometimes I think it’s easier for women to do those things as well.
Linktank 2019 Advisor Technology Survey
Kate: Yeah. Awesome. So one of the ways that you do that is through this annual survey that I mentioned. So is it always done at the end of the year?
Jen: Yeah. Some years, we’ve ended up doing it a little earlier, but I find towards the end of the year people are more, you know, as they’re sort of slowing down, they’ve got more time to answer it. It’s easier to badger them, to fill in surveys. So, we started out doing it really for our own research to find out what the gaps are, what do financial advisors need, what are they not getting, what are they using, what tools are they using, how does it work.
But increasingly we realized that, that the information that we’re collecting is valuable to others as well. And so we started sharing it with the technology providers that we work with. And we were amazed to find that they really, they ate it up. Because I suppose it comes from being, we have an independent or yeah, probably a unique vantage in the industry because we’re independent.
We’re not re-selling any software providers products and services or any product providers. And I suppose it’s easier for us to get honest and unbiased answers about stuff than it is in some cases for the technology providers. And of course, you know, being a technology provider, you’re also very focused on your particular products and services and the particular types of needs that cause people to use your products and services. And so you tend not to have, as much of a bird’s eye view as you could have.
And so those are the cases where we started being able to add quite a bit of value and give them some indication of, you know, what the gaps are and what’s going on out there. And a key example of that is – I’m sure you get it there as well – is so many technology providers go out there telling the industry that, you know, you can use my tool from start to finish and you don’t need anything else in your, in your business. And yet you find year after year after year that that dial on that meter never ever changes. It’s so rare that you come across a business who uses one platform from start to finish for everything. It’s just doesn’t exist.
Refocusing Advisor Technology Provider’s Priorities
Jen: And to be able to play that back to software providers and go, you know, really, perhaps the place to be working on is integration and relationships and collaboration and not on trying to be everything to everyone because advisors are using all sorts of different things anyway. And their challenges are around integration and access to data. Not where you think it’s at. So I mean that’s really why we started doing the surveys and where we ended up.
And so from this year we’ve decided to turn it into a white paper, which is underway so that there’d be, you know, really expand on, on some of the findings and that, so then we’re not just sharing highlights and we really can unpack that properly. And from next year we’re hoping to make it more of a global survey as well so that we can really get a feel for what’s going on in other countries as well.
Kate: Yes. And I think you and I have chatted and I think it would be great to promote the survey on this show and to, you know, use my platform with Innovating Advice to reach advisors around the world and then to bring that information right back to the community so that people understand what’s going on, where they are at in their journey compared to their peers, where they want to be and where the future of the profession is going.
Jen: Absolutely. I’m looking very much forward to that collaboration.
Kate: Yeah. So this will be at least an annual recheck in and we’ll have you back on the show numerous times, which will be great.
Jen: I’m looking forward to that and it’s going to be fun to see how these things change from year to year and what the trends are telling us.
Step 1 For Legacy IFAs in Adopting Technology
Kate: Yes. Well, and we know, you know, in terms of your advice and the data that you get from IFAs, independent financial advisors, as they are evaluating their tech stack – and that’s a conversation that I’ve been having more and more with guests on the show. And I’ll link to those episodes in the show notes because there’s a lot of great stuff going on – is where do you even start if you are a, I’ll call it a legacy firm that has been slow to adopt new technology?
Jen: I think. And you and I have chatted about this as well. I think probably the obvious place to start, is in your paper based processes. It is not that difficult to digitize, and to start for, you know, draw a line in the sand and pick a day and move forward from there. And there are countless businesses who can help with those, you know, consultancies and, you know, who can help with that process. If you get stuck, there are endless tools available. I think that’s a good place to start.
And the second thing we always advise people to do is just be practical. Just take a look at your business and go, who am I, what am I trying to do here, what is my value proposition to my clients. Is it, you know, keeping all my millions of pieces of paper all over the place or is it, providing advice and so what can I do to systemize and automate the things that don’t add direct value to my core and focus my attention on my core value offering. As simple as that sounds, it’s apparently isn’t that simple in practice. So let’s start with paper.
Kate: Yes, I agree. And I think advisors can tend to make things more complicated than they need to be. And I think we always have to turn inward and remember when we’re working with clients, hopefully we are really simplifying things for clients. And you know, with traditional financial planning, maybe it was a list of here are 80 things you need to change. Well that can be overwhelming for a client. So if you’re thinking about your tech stack and you think, Oh, I have 32 things on the list, I’m never going to get to them so I don’t start. That’s not a good way of approaching it. Start with one single thing first and like you said, and I have been saying that for years, when it comes to paperless, don’t start by thinking, Hey, I started my farm in 1985 I need to go back and start scanning all of those documents.
No, no. That’s adding an unnecessary complication. Just say as of the 30th of April, 2020 we are going to be doing everything electronically and you can go back in time if you need, but just focus on going forward.
Jen: Absolutely. Couldn’t agree more.
Technology’s Impact on Succession Planning
Kate: And with that, thinking about legacy firms, one of the top midterm strategic initiatives that came out in your survey from December of 2019 was implementing succession planning initiatives. That… I find is a tricky one because I think there are a lot of advisers and practitioners out there that have been in the profession for a while that are thinking about transitioning into retirement and would like to figure out what their succession plan is. And it’s something that has been near and dear to them. So they have a lot of internal value, emotional value in the practice. But if they are still paper based, if they’re still brick and mortar, if they have clients that are in the decumulation phase, that’s not setting them up for success to be able to implement succession planning.
I think people are thinking a lot about succession planning and they go into a lot of talks and seminars about it, but I don’t know how much is actually being done in practice.
Jen: Absolutely. I agree. And here we’re going back to the paper based thing again. The other problem with that is, you know, we often see it here that it’s di