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wealthtech on deck podcast - Denise Wypiszenski

How Collaboration Drives Innovation with Denise Wypiszenski

Financial services have seen connectivity and collaboration emerge as game-changers, transforming the way advisors engage with valuable resources and reshaping their practices. Contrary to popular belief, it became evident that technology itself was not the sole innovation; instead, the art of collaboration stood as the true catalyst for change. This revelation shifted the focus from a mere pursuit of technological prowess to a quest for a seamless and collaborative connection between financial professionals and their clients.

In this episode, Jack talks with Denise Wypiszenski, Founder & Co-CEO of 4U, the financial services industry’s first real-time digital partnership platform for investment and wealth management firms. In her role, Denise leads business development and partner success for the company. Inspired by transformational technology platforms like Amazon and Netflix, Denise and the 4U team have created a digital engagement and analytics platform — an industry-wide technology solution to the age-old industry problem of billions spent. Too much noise. Too little engagement.

Having an understanding of the challenges and untapped opportunities within the financial services industry, Denise talks with Jack about the power of the 4U platform, why collaboration is the future of financial services, and how 4U guides some of its investment companies.

What Denise has to say

“We continued to talk to people and take their feedback. It’s interesting because it sounds like technology isn’t our innovation, the collaboration is the innovation.”

– Denise Wypiszenski, Founder & Co-CEO, 4U Platform

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this week’s edition of WealthTech on Deck. So my favorite conversations are with people who take something that is the way it is and brings a thoughtful understanding and smarts to whatever the issue might be in terms of function or a business on its ear. In other words, I love a good story and reality around how to do things better, faster, cheaper, and ultimately more effectively. Today, we talk with Denise Wypiszenski. Denise is the founder and Co-CEO of 4U, 4U is the Financial Services industry’s first real-time digital partnership platform for investment companies and wealth management firms. 4U enables client-facing financial professionals to be more productive, effective, and compliant. Inspired by Amazon and Netflix, Denise and the 4U team have created a digital engagement and analytics platform and industry-wide technology solution to the age-old problem of billions of dollars spent, too much noise, and too little engagement or effectiveness. Denise Welcome to WealthTech on Deck.

Denise Wypiszenski: Thanks Jack, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, our pleasure. So Denise, let’s start with you telling us about 4U What is it? What is 4U? What do you do? Who benefits?

Denise Wypiszenski: Absolutely. So 4U is, as you mentioned, a digital engagement analytics platform. You know, if I’m thinking about what we do, and who it benefits, it’s probably best articulated if I break it out by our products. So you know, you start with 4U Connect. So 4U connect is what you mentioned compliant. So it’s a compliant portal. It’s where all of the product and marketing resources are submitted, reviewed, and approved. And I don’t know if you know this, but before 4U, if an investment company, which is really the term that we use kind of loosely to talk about asset managers, insurance carriers, all firms, what have you, if they wanted to use their products in marketing resources, their brochures, their videos, their white papers, their fact sheets, with advisors at a wealth management firm, they literally had to fill out a different form at each of the wealth management firms. And it was all done via email, spreadsheets, PDFs, and it was different at every firm. So think of 4U Connect this way, we basically took all of the forms and built a common app for the industry. You know, a kid wants to go to college, they’d prefer to fill out the common app, send it to 10 schools, as opposed to a different form for each school. The same applies here, you fill out the form, you load your brochure, and you can send it to one firm or 12 firms. So it’s really the record of truth for the street on what’s approved where.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. And tell us more about the other products.

Denise Wypiszenski: Yeah, absolutely. So 4U engage is just as you said, it’s that Amazon, Netflix, Google experience, and it’s right on advisor desktops. So you know, having been an advisor back in the day, you know, I need something for a client meeting, I can’t possibly go to every website, you know, these wealth management firms are partnered with hundreds of third-party asset managers, investment companies. So I also you know, if I go to those websites, my email gets captured, I get inundated with more emails, I might forget my password. So we’ve basically streamlined that entire process for advisors. And, you know, think about a few weeks ago, a couple of months ago, the Silicon Valley Bank collapse situation that happened towards the end of the week, you know, all of the investment companies are pumping out content, white papers, thought leadership on the banking crisis, you know, faster than fast. And basically what happened in that key moment in the industry is that those papers were written, and submitted to the wealth management firms, either over the weekend or on Monday. And by Monday afternoon, we had well over 100, reviewed, approved and available pieces of content in the hands of advisors so they could use them with their clients. So it’s a great opportunity for advisors to find all of the third-party companies that their firm is partnered with all of their contents, and all of their sales contacts, so we marry wholesalers to an advisor’s zip code, so they can easily find who to contact via phone or email. And then lastly, calendar events. So you know, you’re hosting a webinar on the state of the markets. You want advisors to know about it, but you email them and so do 100 other firms. This way, advisors sitting at their desks through Single Sign On right on their desktop can just go to this calendar and see who has what, and when and register right there. So once again 4U Engage is just really a one-stop shop for advisors to find companies’ content, sales, contacts, and calendar events. So, you know, because all of that is happening in one place, you know, you said at the beginning, it’s really an engagement platform and an analytics tool or resource. So we’re capturing all of this behavioral data, you know, what are advisors actually searching for? What are they finding the most interesting, what are they sharing with their clients? So for example, we know at 4U that advisors engage with value, add content, two times more than product content on 4U. And so that’s just one tidbit where never before have wealth management home offices really had that purview across all of their advisors about, you know, what product and marketing resources are important to them, you know, they do now. So, you know, I’m sitting as home office wealth manager. And, you know, I can’t go out to all these websites and figure out what to my advisors went where, but now I see in one place on my desktop, you know, what’s trending around all of the advisors at my firm? What are they searching for? What are they sharing with clients? You know, we recently hosted a webinar with JD Power. Edward Jones, Franklin Templeton, and we took all of the attitudinal data from JD Power studies, married it with our behavioral data. And the real takeaways were, how do you as an investment company be more relevant? How do you be more useful to advisors and to the clients they serve? So we got some great feedback from that webinar.

Jack Sharry: Wow, we talked a little bit earlier, and I had heard cool things coming from you about what you’re doing. But you just blew me away. I’ve been around this game a long time, as a wholesaler and as a sales manager in lots of different spots in between head of marketing, CMO, and all that stuff. Wow, I didn’t think this was possible. How did you pull it together? I mean, I’m assuming you’re working with a lot of the wealth managers, a lot of the asset managers, and insurance companies. And so I’m talking about it, maybe not by name, if that makes sense. Please do but who do you work with? How do you pull them together? And tell us more about that?

Denise Wypiszenski: Well, you know, we initially thought maybe there was a way that we could help some of the smaller asset managers. And then as we started thinking about that, we thought, well, that might be a longer road to start there. So then we took a step back and said, Wait a minute, we come from the wealth management industry, most of us are former Smith Barney people. We know a lot of people at the wealth managers, and it’s a small street, everybody is still there, but maybe in a different seat at a different firm. So that reach was broad. So we just started reaching out to the wealth management firms. And they understood that what we were doing was a huge workflow efficiency, a risk mitigator, you know, a compliant tool that could really help them with that risk mitigation. And it was a way to allow advisors to be more productive. And so it resulted in a better experience. And we like to say 4U, the user, regardless of which seat you sit in, so we just continue to work with those folks to evolve the platform. You know, we don’t do custom work, we really try to focus on listening to our clients about what’s important. Next. You know, we just recently a couple of months ago, launched another new kind of product, where the wealth managers can now load their own content, their sales contacts, their calendar events. So if I’m an advisor, and I search for, say, inflation, I’m going to see all that third-party content rise to the screen. But I’m also going to see what does my firm have alongside of that. So it really does give them that full purview.

Jack Sharry: And what’s the business model who pays for this?

Denise Wypiszenski: So the way that we operate is we always think about who’s the content provider. So in the case of, you know, for you connect, it’s the asset managers, the insurance carriers, the content owners and providers that are submitting the content. So they pay a flat annual fee, based on the size of their company, which indicates how many users are they going to have, and the amount of content that they actually are loading into the platform 4U Engage is free for everyone, because we don’t want to stand in the way of engagement. But we do then have an analytics package that can also be subscribed to. And then obviously, as a wealth manager becomes a content provider. That’s a paid subscription. But it’s really just who starts the content transaction if you will.

Jack Sharry: I’m blown away. I love it. Love it. I didn’t know a little bit about your background, but how did all this get started? What’s the backstory?

Denise Wypiszenski: Well, so I started in the industry a long time ago. 30 years ago, January 4 1993 as a financial advisor trainee at Smith Barney Harris Upham in Omaha, Nebraska. So as the name, I haven’t heard in a while, yes. And it changed many many times since then. Oh, sure, sure. And I was fortunate to do well as an advisor. So I got a call one day moved on to training advisors, branch management, ran recruiting for the firm, and then ultimately, was in a COO role. And then, you know, left corporate after way too many family moves, and then shifted gears, you know, did consulting work in a variety of areas from practice management to platform development. And then through that work, it really seemed like there was an opportunity to drive engagement with wholesalers and advisors. And so as we thought about that more, you know, we built a prototype, we shopped it to a lot of asset managers, and we got some feedback. People loved it. But they said, We were thinking way too small, and we needed to think bigger across the entire content spectrum. So once again, we took another step back, and we said, okay, let’s find some technology to help meet the needs that people are telling us about that we’re hearing. And when we couldn’t find it, we basically said, Let’s do this, let’s hire a development company. And we build it and it being 4U.

Jack Sharry: So I love the story. And I love how it evolved, where you uncovered, discovered some things that you had no idea you were going to uncover and discover. So talk about a little bit about that process, that learning process, I keep hearing the term listening the way you listen to your customers, you found out what was missing, you filled some gaps. Talk a little bit about your process, and then we’ll get into how it’s going. Now it sounds like it’s going great. But I’d love to hear what led to that it sounds like you really paid close attention to what was missing and what was it be an opportunity for all.

Denise Wypiszenski: So you know, over the years, because it’s taken a long time, you know, we were in procurement for many years at many firms. We said, you know, we don’t have all the answers, we grew up in the wealth management side of the house, right? And so there was a lot to learn from the asset management side of the house. So we just continued to talk to people, take their feedback, and we actually, when we launched, one of the reporters that talked to us said, you know, it’s interesting because it sounds like technology isn’t really your innovation, the collaboration is the innovation. And so we just continue to build advisory groups or discovery groups of people who sit in various seats. So what’s the job to be done? And then how do we actually pull those people together, listen to them, and then figure out what’s important to make their job easier? You know, Jack, having grown up in the industry, we’ve been in the industry, you know, most of us 30 or more years, never before had we seen like literally 15 to 20 wealth management companies get on a phone together. And you know, us ask questions or share information and then be willing to participate. But when they saw that that collaboration was actually working to their benefit, because we gave them a seat at the table, and we listen, and then we built that’s been a key to our success.

Jack Sharry: Wow. So you just in my mind had a grand slam home run with this notion of collaboration. It’s something that as a trend watcher been around this business, dare I say it even longer than you by a decade or so busy, I grew up as a wholesaler in the business and national sales manager along the way and CMO along the way. What I always found was effective and frankly, my secret sauce, and frankly, my competitors didn’t seem to understand is this notion of collaboration, that if you listen to your customers, you find out what’s missing. And then you talk among yourselves because I’m sure the people don’t want to hear more about this. But I’m sure the people you’re working with your clients, your constituents, they’re all doing the same thing. And they all have the same issues. And actually, the people that are at other firms are closer to what they do day to day than people even within their own firms. So I’m sure bringing them together to collaborate among them one another, as well as with you, and in the way that you can pull them together and actually translate that into action with software and all the rest of it. I’d love to hear about more about all this is that I’m seeing this notion, this trend toward collaboration as more than just a pretty word that people say and feel good about. But collaboration seems to be where our industry is headed. Not it’s not its legacy, not its habit, not its tradition, but seems going up. I’d love to hear more about what you’re finding as you collaborate with all these different constituents.

Denise Wypiszenski: Yeah, I would say that collaboration is, as you said, really, really important. And as we continue to talk to more and more folks on the street, it’s really about I think, just keep going back to how do we help people with their job to be done, make it easier for them to do that job. So it’s not only about us collaborating with our clients, but it’s giving them the tools and the resources to collaborate amongst themselves. So how can folks at the wealth management firm or an advisor team collaborate amongst themselves? How can the folks at the asset manager collaborate with their team members? Because you have marketing, you have compliance, you have wholesalers. And then how do we give them the tools and resources to collaborate with each other through for you, you know, collaboration is important, as you said.

Jack Sharry: I’d love to get a sense and you don’t have to share particulars or share to whatever to get you comfortable. But where are you in your process? It sounds like you have a lot of players. Where are you in that process? What are your growth prospects feel a sense of where you are in your journey?

Denise Wypiszenski: Yep. So you know, it’s not been all roses all the way through?

Jack Sharry: Really? The stuff startups are hard? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Denise Wypiszenski: Yes, yes, so we’ve learned a lot along the way. But we’ve been super fortunate, Jack, you know, we launched in September of 2020. We were supposed to launch in March of 2020. And we all know what happened in March of 2020, the pandemic hit, you know, we were put on ice. And, you know, concerned about what was going to happen as everyone was, you know, in general. But with the pandemic, everyone realized that this is why people need 4U more than ever, everyone was in a remote work situation, they couldn’t find what they needed, so on and so forth. So we launched in September of 2020. Here we are two and a half years later, we have 17 wealth management firms using 4U. 4 others working through the process, we have nearly 300, what we call investment companies. So as I mentioned, everyone from asset managers to insurance carriers to GAs to alts, to ETFs, etc, submit their content through 4U. And we’re currently on the desktops of well over 100,000 field users and counting, with new firms turning on 4U engage each month, everyone does a day one, day two, you turn on 4U connect, you get enough content into 4U connect, and then you flip the switch to the field. So that advisors have these resources. And the advisor feedback has been very positive. You know, they’re saying where it would have taken us, you know, well over an hour to find something in the past calling people searching in less than a minute, we can surface what we need. So that’s kind of you know, what’s happened so far, and we’ve been super fortunate. And certainly, our goal is, you know, we literally want to be on everybody’s desktop, we want to be the industry standard for this particular use case. You know, a lot of FinTech companies facilitate tasks, we do, too. But besides facilitating those tasks, we really want this to be a better experience for you, the user, regardless of what seat you sit in. So, you know, we’ve talked a bunch about collaboration 4U is really about industry connectivity and collaboration. So think of it as a many-to-many platform where everyone can work one to one.

Jack Sharry: And so how do you sustain that collaboration? I think I have a good idea based on everything I’ve heard. Describe that because your power is collaboration. Yeah, you’ve systematized things you’ve made, for sure, great user experience, all that kind of stuff. But ultimately, you’ve got a good ear to the ground of what’s missing. What are opportunities? How do you facilitate that? How does that it sounds like you also do a fair amount of data and analytics around it. So you have some meat to share in terms of what’s working, what’s not working trends, and all that kind of stuff to talk about that if you will.

Denise Wypiszenski: That’s right. We are constantly talking about and facilitating, I’ll just call them work groups. It could be a Discovery Group, it could be an advisory group, and very specific, and I keep going back to the role that is using that particular piece of the platform, you know, so right now, we’re really focused on what we call collections, or bookmarks of content. So you know, you’re an advisor, and you’re getting ready to meet with a client and you generally use certain types of materials. So how do I find those resources? How do I create them into a kind of collection? How do I share them with my team? So we have a lot of folks who have volunteered or that we’ve gone out there super users and said, Hey, would you be interested, right? And so we pull people together regularly. We have another group, we just went out to every client on the content provider side, so on the investment company side, and integration is really important to a lot of these companies, you know, they don’t want to have 10 different tools. They want to have 10 tools that are integrated. And so we put out a survey, if you will, to all of our clients the nearly 300 on that side. Got an extreme amount of feedback, and looked for consistency, because we don’t want to do something that’s not going to be a big lift for a big amount of clients. Right? That’s what we, that’s what we’re really focused on is, it has to be helpful to many. So now we’re working with a working group on integrations. So what are we going to do there to help get the greatest lift for the most people? And we just keep doing that over and over, when we launched 4U Engage, we had six of the largest asset managers sit on our advisory group, we didn’t pay them, we gave them a Yeti. And, you know, they were super happy to sit at the table, because they had a seat at the table to participate in what we’re building.

Jack Sharry: That is great. So tell me about the split. I’m curious. It sounds like I hear a lot of sort of big national firms. sounds like to me regional firms sort of thing. How about RAs is that part of your purview?

Denise Wypiszenski: So we do have wealth management firms who obviously have in many cases, employee advisors, you know, the wires and a lot of the IBDs. We also have some of the platform providers or more aggregators that serve the RIA space, we still have some work to do in onboarding a few more of those folks. But we do serve not only the wires that IVDs, but also some of the platform providers for RAs.

Jack Sharry: Gotcha. So that sounds like a growth opportunity to me.

Denise Wypiszenski: Yes, yep. You know, and the reason that is, is because if you think about RAs and the firms that are really focused on the independence that are as the what’s approved, were isn’t as important, if you will, meaning they don’t have that same compliance review process, there is a process but it’s not apples to apples when you look at the wires. So to them, 4U Engage in giving those advisors all of those resources in one place is far more important.

Jack Sharry: So what’s next? Where does this go? It sounds like your opportunity to expand your current footprint. But where do you where do you see things going over the next 2, 3, 5 years?

Denise Wypiszenski: So you know, we just as I mentioned, continue to listen, and continued to build, and our roadmap list of request items is so big, that we have a lot of work to do in the next two to three years to just continue to expand the use cases that can be built can be monetized can be shared with the industry to continue to make those jobs to be done much easier.

Jack Sharry: Could you give an example though? Could you give an example just a little more concrete?

Denise Wypiszenski: Yeah, two things like teams. Teams is really, really important. And, you know, having come from the industry, sometimes it’s really hard to know, you know, not only what’s happening with each advisor, but then what’s happening with that unit, because, you know, if you and I are a team, you might be doing some things I might be doing some things. So maybe we’re tracking things differently. But collectively, we’re you know, we’re aiming towards the same thing. So we’re doing a lot of work around helping the wealth managers, the asset managers be able to capture information on a more holistic level with teams. We have, you know, the compliance piping in place. And right now, we’re doing that around, you know, product and marketing content. But there are numerous other use cases around different forms around different documents that are being passed from firm to firm. So if we can help streamline those processes, because we already have the piping in place, that will be something else that we could do.

Jack Sharry: Sounds like you don’t lack for opportunity in terms of helping the industry.

Denise Wypiszenski: I was gonna say, and they’re not all ours by any stretch of the imagination.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, yeah, I get it, I get it. It seems to be, I guess more to confirm this observation, is that if I’m a national sales manager, which I’ve said that chair, and I’m looking at your data, I’m looking for opportunity. I’m looking for gaps, I’m looking for what I might do that our industry tends to be a me-too copycat kind of industry. But if I want to do something new and cool, I’d say on teams, or whatever the topic of du jour might be. Is that how you’re seeing some of your investment companies operate? Are they starting to look use the data to help inform their innovation?

Denise Wypiszenski: Absolutely. So you know, another example there is, I alluded to it, I think at the beginning, where we keep showing all of these investment companies that they keep submitting so much product content. And the greatest number of tags on content is product oriented. That’s being submitted yet, what advisors are searching for, is predominantly practice management value, add type content. And so there’s this definite disconnect. And so we try to help these investment companies see that and to think about the fact that I think we would all agree it’s not about more content. It’s about the right content. Yes, sure, you know, so if you’re submitting 300 pieces of content a year, and advisors are only using, you know, 100 of those, it’s probably time to put the 200 to rest and maybe redeploy those dollars.

Jack Sharry: So having grown up on the both Asset Management and annuity side and sales management roles and CMO roles, I’m not surprised to hear people, or less, that companies are pumping out the product info when the clients want excuse me when the advisors want the thought leadership, the program, the business generation opportunities, seems like a no brainer. But I’m not surprised at all to hear that it continues. But your data now is showing that maybe you need to do more of this other stuff. Is that fair to say? Yeah, yep, exactly. Totally. Wow. Well, Denise, I had high hopes that this would be a fun session, but you’ve exceeded my expectations. Love it, love what you’re doing, and wish you all the best for continued success. So as we look to wrap up, this has been a wonderful conversation, I’ve learned a ton. I have a bunch of ideas we’ll talk about afterward. But as we look to wrap up are the three key takeaways you’d like to share with our audience about what we’ve been talking about?

Denise Wypiszenski: Yeah, absolutely. So one, I would say data is key, you know, beyond using insights to improve 4U. And for investment companies and wealth managers to improve their experience, you know, we believe 4U is potentially able to literally affect change in the industry, as we continue to identify the trends in those advisor behaviors. Two I would say, and we talked about it, a great deal is collaboration is really the innovation of 4U, you know, our connectivity allows for more collaboration across the board. By helping the teams within the Investment Companies collaborate helping the teams within the wealth managers collaborate and then helping them collaborate with each other. Three, you know, for you creates a better experience for you, the user, regardless of which seat you sit in, if you’re the advisor, the wholesaler or the market, or the compliance person, you know, it just really creates much more efficiency and ease of use, regardless of your seat. And I know you said three things, Jack, but I’ll just close on four, go for it, you know, 4U has really become and we hear it over and over again, the record of truth for the street, on what’s approved where and it’s never been simpler to be able to sort search filter in seconds to know what you can actually use where and the approval code, which is always hard to find.

Jack Sharry: With a name like 4U, of course, you would have four key takeaways. So congratulations.

Denise Wypiszenski: We couldn’t help ourselves.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, go for it. I love it. Love every bit of it. So our final question, which we love to ask each time, what do you do outside of work that you’re excited or passionate about, that people might find interesting or surprising?

Denise Wypiszenski: Well, those might actually be two different things, you know, interesting or surprising? You know, my husband and I both grew up on dairy farms in Green Bay, Wisconsin, we met in high school. I chose my College, the University of Nebraska at Omaha because he got a wrestling scholarship, probably not the right way to choose a school. And here we are, you know, 38 years later with two adult kids who are 26 and 28. And then, you know, outside of work, nothing too crazy. I love to spend time with my husband and kids. We play some not-so-competitive golf. We like to travel. And every time we travel, we explore craft breweries. So that’s it. Nothing crazy.

Jack Sharry: Well, I happen to be doing this podcast from Warren, Vermont and we have a lot of breweries we have to get out here that craft brewers that some argue this is the capital but I think there’s a few arguing about that topic, but very good stuff to know. So, Denise, this has been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed our conversation and learned a ton I’m sure our audience has learned as well. So for our audience, if you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please rate review, subscribe, and share what we’re doing here at WealthTech on Deck. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again Denise this was a lot of fun.

Denise Wypiszenski: Thank you so much, Jack. I really appreciate it.