Discover the cutting-edge advancements in FinTech through an engaging interview with David Benskin, Founder and CEO of Wealth Access.
David Benskin is the founder and CEO of Wealth Access, Inc., a Nashville-based financial technology company launched in 2011. Under his leadership, Wealth Access empowers financial institutions to unify their account holder data to generate deep insights that power hyper-personalized banking and wealth management experiences.
David, what inspired you to pursue a career in the intersection of finance and technology, and how did your personal and professional experiences shape your interest in this field?
Prior to forming Wealth Access, I spent more than 12 years with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. While there, I realized that we were missing the tools that would enable customers to easily see their assets and communicate with their advisors. My high-net-worth clients struggled to understand their holdings because their 401ks, brokerage accounts, debt and mortgages all existed in virtually different account universes. This led me to the realization that there had to be a better way to manage customer assets in a more seamless way, so I decided to explore ideas and built an all-encompassing dashboard that has evolved as Wealth Access.
How has Wealth Access evolved since its inception, and what have been some of the major milestones along the way?
Initially, our focus was on aggregating customer data for wealth management firms and gathering information on accounts both within and outside the enterprise. Our client advisory board is very collaborative and has played a key role in helping us better understand the needs of our clients and ensure our strategies are well-aligned. Since our inception, our first bank relationships were primarily focused on the wealth management side of our clients’ businesses. We began unifying their customer’s wealth information to create a living balance sheet for financial planning purposes.
A few years ago, during the height of the pandemic, payroll protection plans were applied, and banks were more largely engaged in aiding small businesses. Under this regulation, many small business owners had to begin sharing personal financial statements to their bank for underwriting purposes. We found a way to innovate by taking the same technology leveraged for wealth management to introduce a roles-based experience for small business owners that enables them to execute exit preparedness, while allowing us to serve another business line of the bank.
We have found opportunities to further our product by listening to our clients and developing various experiences that enable them to better engage customers in different roles and grow their businesses. Today, our API can integrate with the entirety of an institution’s digital banking experience to display 401k, investment accounts, etc. all within an account holder’s online portal. Being able to create those newly enhanced digital experiences has really allowed Wealth Access to continue growing and developing the business. Today, we serve regional and community banks, trust companies, RIAs and broker-dealers.
Can you discuss some of the most important metrics and KPIs that you track at Wealth Access, and how you use this data to inform decision-making?
Every year, we host an annual client summit where leaders from our partner banks, trust companies and wealth management firms that represent a wide range of firm types, asset levels and customer engagement models gather to have productive conversations on subjects such as leveraging data and technology to more effectively engage customers, delivering digital experiences to ensure staff and customer satisfaction, evolving innovation at the enterprise level and revenue growth strategies.
Prior to the event, we distribute a survey that explores each firm’s approach to innovation, growth strategies, challenges to overcome, use of data, customer engagement success and several additional areas. After these results are compiled, we look for notable trends, challenges and successes found among the institutions and leverage these insights to guide the development direction of our platform. This yearly event is vital for our product enhancement plans and helps us ensure that our innovation decisions are intuitively based to truly meet the needs of our clients and their account holders.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the wealth management industry today, and how is Wealth Access addressing these challenges?
Often account holder financial information can be cluttered or scattered around a financial institution with several business lines (wealth management, consumer/retail, commercial/business). This means there are several entry points into the same financial institution, and the systems that most banks and wealth management firms use to manage customer information today are dated and challenging to adjust. This often leads to unorganized information throughout their enterprise and difficulty keeping up with customers’ modern service expectations.
We aim to make it simpler for the institution to present their data to engage customers and enable them to access their financial information wherever they prefer – whether that’s via mobile, digital banking, wealth management experience, etc. Our platform unifies that data and goes across the enterprise to eliminate these siloes and create an omnichannel digital experience that empowers bankers and advisors to drive stronger engagement and transform their customers’ financial journeys.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about data unification, and how do you work to educate clients and investors?
We’ve encountered misconceptions about the value of data unification versus aggregation. While data aggregation allows financial institutions to compile information comprehensively, data unification enables them to uncover clear, consistent and complete customer financial stories. By unifying data, enterprises can collect, combine and enrich all customer data housed within existing systems and disparate data stores across various business lines to create 360-views for customers, bankers, advisors and the firm.
Some bank leaders believe that data unification isn’t always worth their budget spend, but what they misunderstand is that unifying various systems throughout the enterprise actually enables greater cost-saving opportunities. We’ve found that banks leveraging our software gain strong operational efficiencies and experience high ROIs that are 15x their spend on our platform. We work to educate our clients by demonstrating the value our platform has provided to their peers. We also invite our banking and wealth management clients to participate in peer-led discussions that allow them to explore the value of data unification, the ways other enterprises are leveraging this technology and the results they have seen.
How do you see the role of AI and machine learning evolving in the wealth management industry, and how is Wealth Access leveraging these technologies?
Over the past several decades, technology has continued to play an important role in advancing the wealth management industry. From trading online to ‘robo-advisors’, there has been no shortage of innovation in the space. I believe that AI and machine learning will have significant long-term impacts within the wealth management industry.
AI enables quick data analysis, pattern recognition and extraction of valuable insights from vast amounts of financial data. These technologies improve risk assessment and management by analyzing historical data and predicting market conditions, which is crucial to decision-making. Automated trading algorithms optimize investment portfolios, while AI-powered chatbots offer personalized financial advice. AI also enhances fraud detection and security measures. While AI brings many advantages, human expertise and judgment will also continue to remain essential for interpreting insights and providing personalized advice to clients.
Can you discuss any philanthropic or community initiatives that Wealth Access is involved in, and why these causes are important to you?
The Wealth Access team strongly values finding ways to have an impact within our community and give back to those in need. We donate and volunteer locally with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, an organization that provides food to those facing hunger.
When given the opportunity, I also give back to the industry by mentoring novice entrepreneurs and supporting them to achieve their business goals. Referencing my industry experience, I provide a realistic perspective to help entrepreneurs prepare for potential challenges and clarify their long-term objectives. Fostering these relationships is rewarding as it helps new entrepreneurs gain the outlook they need to develop successful businesses. More successful startups mean greater innovation, which leads to the creation of more resources that effectively address challenges faced within the banking industry today.
How does Wealth Access ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and stay abreast of changes in regulations that impact the financial industry?
While access to unlimited data on each customer’s financial record furthers financial institutions’ relationships with account holders and enables tailored experiences, it also means increased security risks. Consumers are often concerned about how their data is being managed, which is why we proactively work to prevent data security breaches that would be detrimental to an enterprise’s reputation.
Wealth Access is trusted by some of the largest financial institutions, as well as reviewed by their security and compliance. Our platform’s structure strongly prioritizes data compliance and privacy protocols. Wealth Access has experience working with clients regarding disclosures to ensure customer sharing of data across multiple business lines including Broker Dealer Trust, Private Bank, RIA, etc.
Securing our data and protecting access is core to our platform and mission, and it is the commitment we make to every client firm we serve. We undergo stringent info-security, information technology, legal and compliance reviews as part of vendor due diligence programs with the client firms that we serve. We are also SOC 1 and SOC 2 Type 2 compliant, and we complete annual certification.
Can you talk about any upcoming developments or initiatives at Wealth Access that you are particularly excited about?
A few of the upcoming developments that we are delighted to implement for our clients include:
Free receipts that offer support for the New Account Opening workflow;
Notes feature that offers our clients the ability to create and access a repository of account holder-specific, actionable notes and share important information to improve communication and collaboration around each customer;
Continued conversions to our new and improved Document Vault, an intuitive, highly secure bi-directional storage system, complete with DocuSign integration. This ensures customers and advisors have a secure communication channel, where everyone can access important documents needed to keep transactions flowing smoothly; and
Two new multi-factor authentication options for account holders – voice and authenticator application.
Can you discuss any lessons you have learned as a leader and entrepreneur, and how you apply these lessons in your work at Wealth Access?
Throughout my career, I’ve noted the value of taking a hands-on approach to innovation. While at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, I gained first-hand experience with the common challenges faced by advisors and clients in their communications and asset management practices. Yet, the resources needed to solve these difficulties simply didn’t exist. I knew there had to be a better way to manage assets and simplify advisor-client communications, and I became determined to create an improved system. Understanding those obstacles ultimately better equipped me to develop an intuitive solution that delivers the tools needed to create a more streamlined experience for both the advisor and their customers.
At Wealth Access, we hold unique values inspired by that experience – “Listen, Learn and Lead.” We have a client advisory board that has been instrumental in guiding our strategies and ensuring we are working to meet their business objectives and needs. In addition, we also hold an annual client summit during which we invite our banking and wealth management partners to take part in a peer discussion that they lead without our intervention. This has given us a fantastic opportunity to listen to our clients, learn about their challenges and successes, and leverage those insights to continue enhancing our product based on their strategic priorities.