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Creating Digital Marketplace Platforms with Keith Gregg

In this episode, Jack talks with Keith Gregg, Founder, and CEO of Chalice Network, a fintech company based in San Diego.

Keith has more than three decades of experience in financial services and executive leadership. During the first part of his career, he served as a financial advisor and created his first independent business focused on planned giving. Keith also served in the US Marine Corps and was the recipient of the Presidential Service Award from President Ronald Reagan.

Keith and Jack discuss the benefits of creating digital marketplace e-commerce platforms, helping small businesses, and embracing tech advancement in the industry.

What Keith has to say

“There’s no turning back–that genie is out of the bottle. They’re not going to put it back in, so you better become incredibly perfect with being able to digitally communicate and coordinate and deliver to your customers via a digital platform.”

– Keith Gregg, Founder & CEO, Chalice Network

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Hello, and welcome. Thanks for joining us today for our next episode of WealthTech on deck, we talk with industry leaders each week about the confluence of human and digital advice, not help it improve financial outcomes for both investors and advisors. Today, a longtime friend of mine is joining me for our conversation, Keith Gregg is the CEO of the Chalice Network. He’s doing some very interesting things to help financial advisors become more productive and effective, so they can better serve their clients. So Keith, great to have you on board. Great to be talking. So welcome.

Keith Gregg: Thanks, Jack, great to be here. And thanks for the opportunity to visit with you and you’re in your guest. And we very much enjoy the successful partnership we have with LifeYield. So thanks for having us.

Jack Sharry: Terrific kids. Let’s start by talking about the Chalice Network. Full disclosure, I’m on the advisory board with Keith and I have a front row seat to the good work that Keith and his team have been doing so but I’m not sure a lot of folks, particularly in the b2b world know exactly what tells network and so when you fill us in?

Keith Gregg: Well, Jack, as you know, I’ve been in the business for a very long time. And I’ve gone through every phase of the business from starting a business, running the business, growing the business, protecting the business, and ultimately selling and monetizing the business as I did with the sale of my broker doing ra last year to a publicly traded company in the UK. So fully solely focused on the FinTech company we have today. As you can imagine, you have to go through a lot of different phases and places to get to support the entire lifecycle of your business. So we thought why not make it easy to aid the transition from the employee to the entrepreneur business owner. So we created a digital marketplace that aggregates and integrates the best of breed best of need products and services for every phase of the business. Today, we have over 50 products and services vertically integrated and API connected, that our 60,000 Plus members can access to a single sign on technology platform. So not only does this you know, save the adviser a ton of time, by eliminating the need to research products and services, avoid bouncing back and forth between different websites, but also provide significant savings and discounts that we’ve been able to negotiate on behalf of our members.

Jack Sharry: So tell me a little bit Keith, I know the answer. So pardon me for talking about what we both know. So well. But just to clarify for our audience, if I’m an advisor, and I sign up for the Chalice Network, so what’s in it for me? What do I how do I benefit? What are some of the things I get as being a jealous member maybe also, if you just indicate what does it cause that kind of thing just so our audience who may not be familiar, it’s kind of like AARP for advisors, Lee, you don’t have to be old to belong. So when you when you fill us in?

Keith Gregg: Well, Chalice is a purpose-built company that created a member benefit organization for like-minded professionals that are as an entrepreneur and independent business owner, I have come to learn and know firsthand the challenges of running a small business for business owners are constantly chasing the elusive economies of scale. They suffer from any fishing operations, and long for increased profits in enterprise value creation. So I figured out why not band together a group of independent business owners employ our collective buying power to gain economies of scale, and capture much needed discounts and savings on things that we all need to use. Chalice is we launched as a member benefit organization with a technology platform. This enabled us to aggregate and integrate all the tools, products and services into a digital marketplace ecommerce platform, creating a one stop shop and digital marketplace and ecommerce platform, independent business owner, the advisor all the tools that they need to run their business. Today we have over 60,000 members of Chalice Network and dozens of companies and RAs and industry associations using our digital marketplace and technology platform to digitally deliver member benefits and affiliation benefits, including access to affordable group health insurance, our members can join for as little as $100 a month, and you get a immediately in excess of $3,000 immediate savings. We have offerings that can help you with the day to day running of the business including things like 50% discount on UPS delivery, 55% discount on Office Depot, we give all of our members a complimentary lead generating website, we provide access to affordable group health insurance, and the list goes on and on. So it is something that we’re very proud about because it’s the first time that somebody said okay, to help me go to one place where I can get everything I need. And so it was once said that whoever can bring all this together, make it easy to get sales or makes me money. That would be the Holy Grail, hence the name of our company chalice.

Jack Sharry: Gotcha, gotcha. So as if, again, putting it into sort of stark terms, basically you can save me money if I’m a an advisor of any description or have a small firm or a larger firm. I can save on on very cost, whether it’s health insurance or its tech tools or whatever it might Be instance, this is WealthTech on Deck, talk about sort of the digital stuff. I know you’re doing some really interesting stuff around digital. I think we all understand at this point, we at least will hopefully, that the future is digital. So how are you supporting advisors, not only on running their business operationally with tools and capabilities, but also in terms of lead generation and, and that sort of stuff, he really becomes like a dashboard for someone to operate their business.

Keith Gregg: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I talked about three things that most independent business owners or small business owners are constantly looking for, you know, clearly one is economies of scale, two is operational efficiencies, and three is ultimately enhance enterprise value. There’s no question today that, you know, it’s become increasingly challenging for an independent business owner, who today has to log in and log out, log in and log out to anywhere from four to six different disparate systems, go over here to do payroll, go over here to my CRM, go over here, check my portfolios, there’s all sorts of things and it’s a complete waste of time. So we wanted to do is solve for that by creating a single sign on technology platform, whereby you can get access to any of the products or services through one password, all on one platform, and everything’s right there at your fingertips. And when you log in the next time, it shows up in your dashboard. So if you’re doing business with LifeYield, if you’re using Redtail for your CRM, if you’re using eMoney for financial planning, or if you’re using, you want to check your benefits with Oasis, when you log in, it all shows up on your dashboard, you don’t have to log in and log out to those other different disparate systems. We put a great deal of emphasis on providing organic growth schools. To your point about you know what we’re doing to provide lead gen generation and customer acquisition support. We just entered into a partnership with a company called Marketing 360. They specialize in providing a turnkey solution to marketing, with an emphasis on digital marketing prides themselves as being the best at customer acquisition, we’ve added white glove, which I know that you probably featured as well as to your clients to help with some of our support and growing via digital communities today, like we do with so many of the Zoom meetings as opposed to the face to face, we have product and services to not only help with organic growth, but also with inorganic growth. As you’re well aware of Jack, you know, late 2018, I bought a company called succession link, which today is the largest m&a platform in the industry that helps provide m&a support to the masses. And today we have 34,000 listed practices 55,000 registered users on that platform. And it’s a great way to help these advisors, find others to grow through acquisition, as opposed to just merely one client at a time over time.

Jack Sharry: There was a recent announcement and forgive me if this is not public yet, but don’t answer if it’s not or at least indicate. But you struck a deal with the financial planning association, the FPA talking about that.

Keith Gregg: Yeah, we’re very, very blessed you and I have got great respect and admiration for that association, as we’ve been playing in the sandbox for almost 40 years now is it is the largest industry association with 22,000 members. Our good friend, my good friend, your good friend Skip Schweiss, a buddy from TD Ameritrade is the new president. When he came in as the new president. He said, Keith, you know, we really ought to be talking to you guys about what you can do to help us digitally deliver member benefits. We as an organization and association have tried over and over again, to use our buying power to give the best pricing to on certain services to our members. But we’ve never had the way in the means to digitally deliver it the way that you created a digital marketplace. So we’re very blessed that they have chosen chalice to be their technology platform to digitally deliver their benefits to their members. And it’s going swimmingly? Well, they’ve taken a lot of what we have, they’ve taken some of what they had, we put it all together, and now their existing members today can log into their FPA membership. And to get straight through processing right into the to the Chalice digital marketplace.

Jack Sharry: This sounds like world domination in the making only slightly exaggerate. But really what you’re doing is you’re bringing together capabilities for advisors to better run their business from a cost and efficiency standpoint, as well as growth and increasing the valuation of the business. Very important to advisors, particularly independent advisors as they continue to grow. Where do you see this going? Where does this lead you? I think you mentioned 60,000 advisors currently, where’s Where do you hope to take all this?

Keith Gregg: You know, we as an industry, you know, we’ve done a very good job of solving for the investment management needs of the independent business owner, in particular, LifeYield is a good example of that, and solving for the needs of their clients. You know, and I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of was to be able to solve the business needs of these independent business owners. And there’s more and more and more of them as we as you and I both know. And so I see us providing, creating a digital community as which we have created with Chalice network, creating a digital marketplace e commerce platform that advisors can come to to get what they need to run their business better and best serve their customer. And then I ultimately see at some point in the near future, you’ll see us launch a b2b b2c play whereby we make this platform available to our members. customers and clients. Because if you had asked the best advisors in the business and say, who were some of the better customers or clients of yours, and many would say, well, there’s their business owners, they own their own business. Well, guess what, you know, there are 30 million small business owners in America. Many of those have financial advisors, the likes what you and I serve, and why not be able to help our members deliver the same type of member benefits and discounts and convenience and operational efficiencies through a single sign on technology platform like Chalice has built. So I see that as the next phase of the company. We recently launched a platform to support our members for their small business client and customers called Small Business Just went live, it’s a joint venture with a company on Colorado that has two and a half million small business owners. So at some point, we’re going to introduce a small business owners to some of the members of the child’s network that may need a good financial advisor system as well. I see this as a way to democratize the delivery of big business benefits to small business owners. What’s interesting to me.

Jack Sharry: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What you really have done is partnered with a variety of different folks across the board, whether it’s health insurance or its technology capabilities are we just indicated with the Small Business Association or as the FPA, it seems the whole business model is predicated on best of breed and partnering with others that have capabilities where you don’t have to build it, but you work it out. So that’s mutually beneficial for the respective organizations, but ultimately, ultimately, to benefit the advisor, and ultimately, to benefit their clients. So talk a little bit about that whole dynamic, because I know you’re really good at it. Partnering of connecting of leveraging. So talk about how you go about because every time I talk to you, you got another deal, which is an opportunity for everyone to win.

Keith Gregg: Thanks, I really appreciate that you recognize that Jack. And it’s no surprise, I mean, incredibly astute and longtime professional, this industry. So all starts with putting the entrepreneur hat on and thinking like, like a business owner. So there are five stages to a business lifecycle, the business, the starting of the business, the running of the business, the growing a business, the protecting the business, and ultimately the sale or monetization of the business. And I think yet again, because of this, you know, not only do we see a mass exodus from a lot of the employee modelled firms to the growth of independence, including the RIAS, which are action firms. We all were excited about, you know, the enhanced compensation, keeping more of the lion’s share of the revenue that you earn. But you know, there are a lot of challenges that go with running a business as you know, I helped build and launch the independent channel for us today, Wells Fargo Advisors, financial network, you know, I helped many wire house producer go independent and go into and own their own business. And they struggled in the early days. Because, you know, how do I set up a business, you know, everything from setting up the LLC, to filling out the ADB if your RIA and all those things in between. So by taking the lifecycle Start, Run, grow, protect and monetize, is then we go on trying to find the best products and services within those respective areas, and then go out and do the due diligence on him, vet them through a very rigorous vetting process. You know, that’s the only good thing that comes with 35 years in the business is the grades in my head, I’ve seen a lot of these, we got a lot of good people that know how to vet these folks out. Once we’ve vetted them out, we negotiate heavily on behalf the 60,000 members that we have to get the best price points, the average discount on the product and services in which we offer to all of our members is about 25 to 30%. And so it’s going great quality product, best of breed or best of need in that particular category of the lifecycle of business, and then vetting them in negotiating the best pricing. So we’re able to pass along huge discounts and savings to our members. Because of that.

Jack Sharry: Talk a little bit I know you’ve done a lot of work around educating the advisor, particularly around digital. You I know you have partnerships in that regard in terms of the education or the development around embracing the digital future. Talk a little bit about that. If you would.

Keith Gregg: We originally helped to help launch digital Wealth News with Andy Taylor, longtime friend and member of the child’s advisory board. We have helped create our market central with FA magazine at Discovery database. When you know we make sure we self-educate ourselves that we actually know what we’re talking about. You know, a couple years ago, I went to New York University FinTech Executive Leadership Program. And we’ve put together a foundation for the Charles FinTech Institute. We’ve worked with organizations like the society financial service professionals, as well, in helping advisors understand, you know, what is fintech? Financial Technology in of itself, is a pretty broad term. There’s a whole aspect around financial technology in digital marketplaces in digital delivery of these type of benefits. It really starts with some foundational education around, you know, cloud based digitally delivered offerings, and how do you best embrace that, as we all know there’s also such a huge movement going on in the cryptocurrency blockchain cybersecurity world that we Try to provide information and education and awareness around those type of educational needs. And I think a lot of advisors, you know, get a long way to go to get caught up on, you know, what is financial technologies. Many of them were put back on their heels when the clients asked them, hey, you know, how do I move some money around and buy Bitcoin or Aetherium or Cardano. And they need to be more educated around these types of activities, what is a blockchain? How’s it going to impact me in my portfolio? So we have tried to be in the middle of that we try to surround ourselves with really smart people, people that are keenly aware of the need for education around FinTech as evidence of what you’re doing today over at LifeYield. And, well, tech on deck, I just love it. And so surrounding ourselves with folks like you and others that are that are playing in that same sandbox that are very astute in the area of financial technology is critically important to us. And we’re going to be able to provide real, real benefits beyond just the product and services we provide to be our digital marketplace.

Jack Sharry: Well, we are in violent agreement, the future is tech. And frankly, I also think the future is collaboration, which you do you’ve done so well. So I have to ask, and I know your backstory, but please share it if you would with our audience, how did you end up doing this thing? It’s a natural evolution, knowing what I know about your, your background, why don’t you share that with our audience in terms of how you wind up doing what you’re doing today?

Keith Gregg: You know, without going into too much my whole life story, Jack. I’ll just give you a few highlights that kind of paved the way for where I am today. You know, I went in the Marine Corps. When I graduated from high school, I was blessed to serve with President Ronald Reagan, a Marine One that experienced traveling with the president and one of his favorite stories about how an actor became a president by giving people what they wanted, giving them what they needed. In return, they gave him the presidency. That was an invaluable piece of advice, giving people what they want, what they need. In return, you’ll get what you want what you need. I spent the first part of my career as a financial advisor, as you will know and went on to create my first independent business, doing charitable playing, giving when I published my book do well by doing good trying to carry out the theme of what President Reagan had taught us. This was in the mid to late 90s. And I sold a company to a firm later bought by AmeriTrade I went on to run and grow several broker dealers RIAS both an asset manager wealth management, and their AI to experience the operational efficiency and related costs of running antiquated systems and processes. And it was my time and experience at GE Capital and expose me to BPO business processing outsourcing, that really got me going on an outsourcing non revenue producing activities, and going into more of a variable cost basis. So we had shall us deliver our members a state of the art current cloud based single sign on technology built to replicate AWS API gateway, so that we can deliver all the products and services needed to run the business and outsource such activities such as HR, IT payroll, compliance, marketing, finance and accounting. You know, would it be nice to have an O CMO, OC CCO, oh, CFO, and much more. This eliminates the fixed costs typically associated with personnel and overhead, which in turn increases profits. So my life mission was to figure out how to do well by doing good how to give people what they want, when they you needed, and in return, get what I want, when I would need as well, which is to build a business. It’s a value by delivering value to others.

Jack Sharry: So I knew some of that story. I didn’t know the Reagan connection. That’s fascinating. As much as your career because we’ve known each other for decades has made sense to me, that makes even more sense now that I know this, particularly with what I’ve observed, as you’ve put the Chels network together very impressive. So congratulations, as we’ve discussed personally, but glad I can do it more publicly here. So where’s the industry? Where do you see the industry going? And where do you see chalice playing a role in where that industry is going?

Keith Gregg: The future is now for sure. There’s no turning back to the digital world in which we live in. Not only have we experienced, you know, dramatic change and forced to be a digital audience and a digital community, and digitally serve our customers in light of the pandemic. And what we’ve gone through, I see was a nascent group of folks, typically developers that operated externally and did bulk of their business via the web began to become much more mainstream. And having a digital community in a way of corresponding and communicating with your customers and clients. There’s no turning back that genies out of the bottle, they’re not going to put it back in. So you better become incredibly proficient with being able to digitally communicate and coordinate and deliver to your customers via digital platform, whether it be zoom or podcast, LightSwitch or hosting, you got to have that so there’s no turning back. In the case of chalice to you it’s been it’s been an interesting ride for us. You know, as I referenced, we started out as a member benefit organization in 2019. And we continue to grow. Many folks saw what we had what we were building and delivering on that said, hey, you know, any chance to you we could access your technology platform and make it available to our customers or our advisors. And so next you know, we’re doing more enterprise licensing of the platform like we do with FPA and a dozen other firms. But Chalice has really morphed into more of a software company with a digital marketplace an e-commerce platform. Our goal is to democratize the technology and afford SMB access small to midsize businesses access to the myriad of products and services that we’ve assembled to support these independent business owners. So I could see in the next several years or not in the not too distant future, where we add another dimension to our business model that goes from where we are today as a b2b provider, right, because the independent advisors that we serve financial advisors, independent broker dealers are IPAs, insurance agents, and accountants, those folks are running their own small, independent business. But as I referenced before, you know, there are 30 million small business owners in America, many of which work with the advisors that you and I serve today. So taking our platform and providing the platform as and grow into a b2b b2c provider. That’s what I see happening in the not too distant future. You know, the early days, I used to say, you know, the beautiful thing about, you know, a member benefit organization that likes what we’re building, we have PLU people like us, right? These are good quality people with good intentions, that believe in a culture of collaboration, and collegiality. Right. So that’s what I’ve always wanted to surround ourselves with. And that’s what we’ve been blessed with, even with the likes of the Chalice advisory board, just great, like minded professionals here to help each other. So I used to liken it to, you know, how do you grow that? Well, you know, just like being a member, your country club, or your yacht club, right? Typically, its growth comes from, you know, a members guest. Well, in this case, how about letting our members invite their small business customers to be a customer and get access to the savings, the likes, what they have the benefit of Wow, so let’s face it, these are 30 million small business owners, you know, they don’t know where to go to just like many of the folks in our business didn’t know where to go, or go head to go go find it. So it’d be great if we could avail that savings and business solutions to help increase the business value and ultimately monetize sell and get back to the what they sell it for get back to the advisor and help them grow their business. So I see Chalice helping more associations like the FDA enabling them to digitally deliver member benefits. We just launched a new platform called Small Business As that JV I mentioned, it’s got two and a half million small business customers, outside of financial services, we will be making available to our shelves members, this swap is a bit of a platform to make available to their customers. One of the things that we’ve already given away to all of our members who’ve now been giving it out to all of our customers, it’s been a very snowballing effect. In the fourth quarter of last year, we offered during the pandemic called Chalice cares RX. So you may see some of those ads on television all the time good RX, right a discount prescription drug card, you can save up to 80% on discount prescription drugs, well, we created the Chalice cares, RX, same type of thing that provides up to 80% that they can give away to all their customers as part of the value add. So we’re pretty excited about that we see us delivering more and more, not only for the advisors, we serve as part of the chess network, but providing services that they can provide to their small business customers. And then finally, you know, as I look at this, and I, you know, we’ll also be offering a challenge PE plan in the fall. As you know, Jack, one of the most wildly successful offerings we’ve ever had was the ability to create the Chalice PPO plan and a partnership with Oasis providing all of our members with access to affordable group health insurance, it’s been our number one selling product since we launched the platform. Because once you insure the advisor and their families and can save them 25 to 30% on their health insurance costs, you’ve got them hooked for life, because you’re there really helping them with tangible benefits for them and their family. The Chalice PDP plan is very excited about that you may or may not be aware, and I’m sure you are though, in the first of the year, it was a brand new law put into effect called the secure act. This allows small business customers or small business owners to pool their resources to eliminate the hefty fees of a 401K plan and read the employer the fiduciary risk. So having a pooled employee pension plan and making it available to the masses is something we’re really excited about. And you know, you’ll see that announced sometime, you know, late September, but our goal is to truly become the holy grail for anyone looking for a technology partner who delivers a digital marketplace and savings for the betterment of their firm and their clients.

Jack Sharry: Typically around now in our podcast we should have this lasts for about 30 minutes. We keep going fascinating what you’ve done much which I knew I released I thought I knew and I’m learning so much more in this conversation but be that as a May we’ll try to hit that 30 minute mark still, what are three key takeaways you’ve given me at least 10 But when you boil it down if you can down to three that would be beneficial for our audience to understand and take away.

Keith Gregg: Sure, their strength and numbers. We’ve heard it all our lives. You know, there’s a reason we joined many associations and you and I have been part of many fine ones throughout the years that we’ve been in this business. You know, we trademarked the slogan The strength of we empowers a network of me join forces. There’s strength in numbers. And you know, that gives you the buying power and the economies of scale that every good business needs in order to enhance their profits. Second one would be invest in yourself and your business, on the surface that may look like you have have to pay to get savings. But like we’ve all been taught, it takes money to make money. In the end the savings and getting your time back through a single center technology platform to where it’s all there. It will deliver exceptional ROI, you know, the return on investment is far superior than what the cost of doing business. And the last thing is, you know, I say embrace and adopt change. Consumers have become accustomed to buying goods and services through digital marketplaces, look no further than an Amazon. Right. We have done the heavy lifting embedded the best of breed and best of new products and services, and negotiated discounts on our members behalf. I’d say join the Charles network at small business We’ll help you. That’s great.

Jack Sharry: So the last question before we park for now, I always like to ask our guests and I always find it fascinating. What’s one thing that people might find interesting or surprising that you do outside of your day to day work and you do for funding you’re particularly passionate about?

Keith Gregg: Well, I’m an avid deep sea fisherman and I like to fish for big game. I like to fish in big game tournaments. I fished the Bisbee down in Mexico. I fished the sailfish tournament down in Isla Marana Chica Lodge. I won the Hatteras offshore open at 2004 So I like to go hunt big fish.

Jack Sharry: Who woulda thunk? That’s the fun of this. This questionnaire has learned to like really? I didn’t even know you could do that. But I’m not surprised that you would do something new different unusual and of course do it well, So Keith, this has been great really have enjoyed our conversation and to our guests that are listening in. If you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please rate review and or share what we’re doing here on WealthTech on DecK. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts again, guys, thanks. This is a real pleasure. I look forward to our next conversation.

Keith Gregg: Jack, always a pleasure to speak with you. And thank you for the many years of friendship and the terrific partnership we have at LifeYield.

Jack Sharry: I appreciate it. Thank you.

Keith Gregg: Thank you.