‘Outdated’ finance industry leaves behind millions of Americans: Jason Wenk

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People of ordinary means — 75% of Americans — need quality financial advisors, but the financial services industry has largely snubbed them, says Jason Wenk, founder and CEO of Altruist, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

“Good advice has become more exclusive, not more inclusive,” he says. “What we’ve seen over the past two decades is a kind of race to the top of the market. The industry needs to do a much better job.

Altruist, an integrated financial technology company for RIAs, offers custodian, portfolio management, financial planning and billing services, among other functions, at a lower cost, which brings better results for advisors, Wenk argues.

For the past 22 of its 41 years, the entrepreneur’s mission has been to make financial advice both more affordable and inclusive. He wants good advice to be readily available to people, no matter how much money they have.

This can happen with increased advisor efficiency, allowing them to help people at lower cost. But the challenge of achieving this goal persists because “legacy institutions are reluctant to change because it disrupts their status quo too much,” Wenk argues.

In the interview, he is particularly candid about his view of the financial services industry, which he calls “rather archaic” and which “has done a pretty poor job of facilitating [advisors] to start new businesses” to serve those with modest assets and net worth.

“There aren’t enough financial advisors and certainly not enough trustees to globally serve everyone who needs help,” he says.

Wenk aims to improve the efficiency of RIAs, many of which are not – yet – in the AUM superstar category.

A self-described “math geek” and former Morgan Stanley systems analyst for a year, Wenk went on, in 2005, to open his own RIA, Retirement Wealth Advisors.

He then founded FormulaFolios to produce model quantitative investment portfolios to help remove the emotion from investing. He sold the company in 2018, the year he founded Altruist.

Under RWA, Wenk retained nine longtime clients from his consulting days. This helps her understand customer concerns, which helps her relate better to her selfless RIA customers.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Wenk, who was speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where Altruist is based.

Big plans for this year and next include ways to help individuals connect with an “ideal advisor” so that, he says, “when people are looking [one]it doesn’t look like a roll of the dice.

Here are the highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: What motivates you professionally?

JASON WENK: I’ve spent over 20 years trying to figure out how to make it easy for everyday people to get great help with their money and how to increase efficiency so advisors can help more people.

When I entered the financial services field as a computer engineer 22 years ago, I realized very quickly that no one I had ever met in the rural Michigan community where I grew up – the vast majority of people are without significant wealth – would only have access to the type of advice I was programming.

The same could be said of 75% of the United States. I wanted to change that.

Why has this been such a challenge?

It seems there are legacy institutions that don’t really want to see much change. People are reluctant to change because it disrupts their status quo too much.

Is it the wirehouses that have a legacy mindset?

Partially. It’s even the old tech companies that advisors use. There’s a lot of one company scratching another company’s back.

There are a huge number of companies that have had great opportunities to create change; but if they did, it could upset one of their major suppliers or key partners.

Nobody wants [upset] the apple cart.

What is the biggest concern in the RIA space right now?

One of the biggest challenges is that there are not enough financial advisors and certainly not enough trustees to globally serve everyone who needs help.

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