Profile: José Supico of Advicefront

José Supico's CV:

2013–present: Advicefront, chief executive/co-founder

2010–2012: Advisory Services Kapital, investment manager

2007–2010: Timeless Capital Advisors, managing partner

2003–2007: Espirito Santo Private Banking, marketing analyst

Professional memberships/qualifications:

BS in Management and Economics

The technological wave is coming, and it will take a new breed of surfer to catch it. José Supico has channelled his passion for surfing into creating a business he hopes will enable advisers to ride that wave, and become ‘financial advisers 2.0’.

But Advicefront is not robo-advice. The core of Supico’s philosophy and proposition is a hybrid model: using cutting-edge technology to streamline processes while retaining the human, emotional element of holistic financial planning. This, he says, is the ‘sweet spot’ of the wave.

Surfing has been instrumental in shaping the Portuguese entrepreneur’s approach to starting Advicefront. ‘Surfing has been my obsession since I was 12, so I have channelled a lot of time, energy and money into that,’ says Supico. ‘It’s more than a hobby, it is truly a lifestyle.’

He adds: ‘It teaches you a lot. You have to overcome your fears and you have to be really disciplined. Every time you catch a wave, good or bad, you have to paddle back out to catch the next one. You have 30 seconds of joy, and maybe five or 10 minutes of hard work. It teaches you to be very persistent.

‘Perfecting your wave craft turns into an obsession, almost an art form, and a way of expressing yourself. All the surfers I know are very independent-minded. Surfing has given me the resilience and the commitment to create my own business.’

Off the hook

Supico’s first foray into finance came with Portuguese private bank Espirito Santo, where he helped create the bank’s marketing strategy. Although this offered insight into various aspects of the wealth management business, what he saw did not appeal.

‘This was how I discovered that element of selling a Volkswagen Beetle for the price of a Rolls-Royce,’ he says. ‘The Portuguese expression is “selling a cat for a rabbit”.’

Supico is referring to an industry centred on the product. He began researching financial planning, and quickly discovered what he had been seeking.

‘They were starting out with the goals, the family situation, the dreams and aspirations of clients,’ he says. ‘That approach made so much more sense to me in terms of delivering value.’

However, the new model adviser concept was not as accessible in Portugal, owing to the prevalence of the vertically integrated model, and the reliance on banks. So Supico launched an investment consultancy aimed at introducing Dimensional Fund Advisors to the Portuguese high-net worth market.

‘Then you can focus on what matters: financial planning, the relationship with the client and the emotional side of handling money,’ he says. ‘That is what keeps clients awake at night, not whether a hedge fund invests in global, macro or long-short strategies.’

Supico noticed the UK was ‘five or 10 years ahead’ of continental Europe in its shift towards holistic financial planning, and thus an ideal destination to launch his new project.

Getting on board

Supico’s goal in founding Advicefront was to combine financial planning principles with the benefits of automation in a way that engaged clients more broadly, and more efficiently. The venture attracted investors such as FP Advance director Brett Davidson and former Bloomsbury Wealth principal Jason Butler.

The firm’s upcoming project aims to automate an end-to-end financial planning process that has been created so it can work in conjunction with a firm’s business model, technology, platform and provider preferences, and client segmentation.

‘Our vision is to become the glue that keeps everything together in the adviser’s business. This means redesigning the entire advice workflow, but leaving it to the adviser to customise and make it their own,’ says Supico.

Advicefront launched Onboard earlier this year, the first of three modules in what Supico hopes will be the firm’s flagship proposition. This automates the initial process of bringing on a client and costs £99 a month. This includes the fact-find, risk profiling, setting up of payments, letters of authorisation and exporting information from back-office systems.

‘The second part is making sense of all of that information, creating a financial plan and delivering a suitable advice recommendation for the client. This is what we are releasing in beta in the next few months. It will be released to select firms, and it is essentially a financial planning module and suitability report generating tool,’ Supico says.

Advicefront integrates with existing planning tools such as Voyant and CashCalc. Supico says, rather than competing, he wants his system to ‘play well with them, so that for both the client and the adviser, there is some framework around goal-based planning’.

The final module Supico hopes to introduce is to supplement ongoing advice, providing consistent updates and demonstrations of value to clients. He is talking to several paraplanning firms to provide ongoing paraplanner support to clients through the Advicefront system, should it be required, facilitating a direct contract between the adviser and the outsourced paraplanner providing the service.

Sweet spot

So if it is not a robo-adviser, and it is not a back-office technology tool, what is it? Supico believes Advicefront’s unique selling point is that it is built from a ‘client-first’ perspective.

‘You get startups that don’t know anything about advice and say they want to build something for advisers,’ he says. ‘But really they don’t know what they’re doing and end up doing a robo-adviser type thing.

‘Or you get the incumbents that really understand the market but have so much legacy software and decision by committee that they are very slow to innovate.’

The goal of the hybrid model is to digitise everything that can be digitised within a model led by the human adviser in accordance with the principles of holistic financial planning.

Supico says: ‘The best metaphor is, if you as a financial adviser want to be successful, you have to be like a surfer riding the wave – you have to be in the sweet spot. If you go too low, you will get crushed, and if you stay too high, you will lose the wave.

‘If advisers only do face-to-face advice, they will get crushed by the competition eventually, as other firms will be that much more efficient in terms of allocation of resources. But if you go too far to the other extreme, like the robo-advisers have, and bombard the client with just technology, clients will feel alienated. People need human advice. They want that interaction. The sweet spot is the hybrid model.’

The aim is for advisers to deploy Advicefront’s financial planning proposition in accordance with client segments. For instance, an adviser may wish to maintain a very light touch approach for clients who are young accumulators. This enables engagement with clients who previously would not have been cost-effective and the building of a long-term client pipeline.

‘It can be customised to be almost a robo-advice experience for them,’ Supico explains. ‘The adviser just comes in at the end to validate everything, speak to the client and sign off the advice piece.

‘Alternatively, it can be a very involved experience for an important client where you could meet with them and go through the plan and the fact-find on an iPad, inputting all the information into the system in real time.’

Advicefront also integrates with Envizage, an analytical software provider using big data to help individuals identify, understand and manage the risks to their future plans and aspirations. It also offers financial services firms a data-driven insight into their clients’ needs. This plays into the stochastic modelling at the core of Advicefront’s proposition.

Collaboration is key, and the firm has partnered with some young advisers who have helped test and provide feedback.

Tom Orchard, NextGen member and financial planner at Salisbury-based Annetts & Orchard, saw a demo of Advicefront’s offering earlier this year. He said: ‘I like what it is doing with integrations. It has covered some big bases already with Voyant and the various payment system options, and the FNZ platform. That is promising, because with adviser tech the integrations are often an afterthought.’

Scaling up

Advicefront operates a forum in which advisers using the service can provide feedback in real time, on both existing products and new ideas. When the firm launched Complete Workflow, the first iteration of Advicefront, in 2016, adviser feedback indicated that, contrary to its intended purpose of streamlining the advice process, users actually found it disruptive, and too much too soon.

This led the directors to completely deconstruct it, in favour of the three-module model Advicefront is now rolling out.

The overarching goal, Supico says, is ‘to give the largest number of people possible access to the best financial advice’, potentially enabling advisers to serve at least twice as many clients without increasing costs.

He says: ‘It allows advisers to scale their business and for consumers to have access to the high end of product design, investment experience, financial planning and the emotional relationship between adviser and client. This is important, because clients want someone they can trust in times of need, so it’s a profession that has a huge future ahead of it.’

Supico intends to have grown the Advicefront team from eight to 12 by the end of the year, comprising 50% tech, 25% design and product, and 25% marketing and management, but hopes to double headcount over two years. The firm expects to end 2018 with 300 advice firms using the system.

The board consists of Supico, co-founder and chief technology officer André Costa. Adrian Durham, chief executive of technology provider FNZ, a major backer of Advicefront (see box below).

Its advisory board features investors Butler, Davidson, Vert Asset chief executive and former head of Dimensional FAS Europe Samuel Adams, and Octopus Labs product manager Francisco Cordoeiro, and also has constant input into the business.

A major priority for Supico over 12 months is to tip Advicefront into profit. ‘We are solving a specific problem that is a huge pain point for many financial advisers. It is a big gap that exists in this market, so we expect to be self-sufficient very soon,’ he says.

‘Most of the robo-advisers are just hoping to be acquired by a bank and become a distribution channel. I don’t see them as long-term strategic players in the market, but I might be wrong. One thing I know for sure is they don’t understand financial advice.’

Given the choice, Supico says he would ‘stay independent forever’, but he believes much of the value Advicefront offers derives from its open architecture, such that if the firm was to be acquired by a large provider, there would be no incentive for the acquirer to change this model.

However, he reveals there has been interest from ‘very large players in the market’ regarding imminent investment in the firm.

Lifestyle shift

Supico hopes Advicefront will become the ‘Uber for financial advisers’. This is a lofty aspiration, but he essentially wants to position the firm at the vanguard of a wider lifestyle change.

‘It was difficult before Google appeared on the scene to understand what was going to happen next,’ he says. ‘Maybe it won’t be Advicefront that is going to deliver that, but a change on that scale is going to happen.

‘We are about financial advice, not back office or products or platforms. We are about the life of the financial adviser and their client: financial advisers 2.0.’

Supico believes this new age advice model will have a much wider impact on society than any models that have gone before, especially in economically uncertain times.

‘It could be the difference between millions of people not having a proper retirement and retiring with ease, with their loved ones, safely on the right path,’ he says.

‘Technology and good financial advisers can help millions of consumers get on that path, and I’d like to have a small role in facilitating that.’

Advicefront's other board directors (pt.1)

André Costa, chief technology officer and co-founder, Advicefront

Once an architecture student, Costa changed his course to follow 3D animation and augmented reality. A self-taught programmer, he is an entrepreneur who loves technology and travel.

As well as being a fullstack developer for Advicefront (meaning a developer who can work behind the scenes and on the parts of technology people see and use), Costa teaches software skills at Le Wagon, a coding boot camp.

Advicefront's other board directors (pt.2)

Adrian Durham, chief executive, FNZ

Platform technology firm FNZ bought a £1 million minority stake in Advicefront at the end of 2017. Durham has overseen the development of FNZ since it started in 2004. It now powers platforms including Aviva, Standard Life and Zurich.

He is currently based in the company’s London office. Prior to founding FNZ, he worked as an equity analyst for what at the time was Credit Suisse NZ, now First NZ Capital.

Advicefront's technology tools

José Supico's firm uses the above technology tools. 

And finally...

Supico has set himself the above ambitious goal for the next 12 months of his business plan. 

The best of Twitter...

You can follow updates from Supico and Advicefront on Twitter using the handles @jsupico and @advicefront.

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