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Portfolio Integration and Connecting the Financial Dots with Eric Lordi & Rose Palazzo

In this episode, Jack Sharry talks with Rose Palazzo and Eric Lordi from Morgan Stanley. Rose heads financial planning while Eric leads efforts across WealthDesk, a place for advisors to manage household portfolios. At Morgan Stanley, Rose and Eric have been instrumental in building the industry’s most comprehensive wealth management platform.

Creating a comprehensive ecosystem and saying goodbye to the more siloed industry standard is no easy feat. Eric and Rose have leaned on their prospective specialties to build a system that scales rather than a system where one person wears 10 hats and inevitably drops a few along the way.

Jack, Rose, and Eric discuss the magic and challenges of account integration, why integration benefits both client and advisor, and the future of financial technology.

What Eric and Rose have to say

“We’re shifting from where advisors have been planning to engage clients, and then being forced to deal with separate experiences and separate tools. We’re trying to bring those together as all singing from the same script – following planning and engagement all the way down the line from the investment proposal to our reporting and trading. This allows us to be super holistic with the client.”

– Eric Lordi, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Hello, everyone. Welcome to WealthTech on Deck. This is the podcast where we talk to industry leaders about the strategies they and their firms are executing around the future of human and digital advice. Today we are talking with my good friends Rose Palazzo and Eric Lordi of Morgan Stanley. Rose is managing director of financial planning. And Eric is a managing director who leads the effort around Wealth Desk, the place where advisors manage household portfolios. Together, they have led one with many other colleagues at Morgan Stanley, they’ve led the firm in building the most comprehensive wealth management platform in our industry. Rose and Eric, welcome. Good to have you here.

Eric Lordi: Thanks, Jack. Great to be here.

Jack Sharry: Excellent check. Yeah, so there’s a clear trend toward coordinating the key elements of a comprehensive ecosystem or platform, I can name 15 major firms assembling what you all have been building and continue to build in terms of the necessary elements to have such a platform. So you both have been working on building this ecosystem for many years. And Rose, if you would start. let our audience know, first, what’s your role? What do you do there? And then Eric, if you would do the same, just sort of fill people in on what you do and the role you play in, in building out the wonderful platform that you guys are building?

Rose Palazzo: Absolutely. So I had financial planning at Morgan Stanley. And that was the development of the platforms that our financial advisors use with clients to help gain an understanding of what’s important to them, and let analysis that align and investment advice that they provide with those holes that our clients have.

Jack Sharry: Great and equity. Talk a little bit about what you do. Sure.

Eric Lordi: So I think Rose and I are kind of brother sister applications that work together. So Rose’s on the planning side, I would say this is the investment, proposal analysis and implementation side of things. So head up the advice platform, so we can implement very seamlessly with it with the planning piece. And then we can drive kind of a single experience for advisors and their clients.

Jack Sharry: Yeah. And if I could, let me expand on what your both are doing a little bit. So for those that are a lot of people that listen to the podcast are looking at doing the same for their firms are busily trying to catch up to you all. Just to give a sense of what a platform might look for look like, you’d need some data aggregation which feeds into a planning tool. The planning tool suggests how to map out the future for the investor, that leads typically to an investment proposal. So Rose’s, the front end of all that with what she’s doing with her team in terms of understanding what people are trying to achieve. And then Eric picks up there with a proposal, what makes sense, given what they already own, what they might want to add to their portfolio, or rearrange or addressing asset allocation, asset, location, household rebalancing over time, and ultimately, withdrawals. So those that’s, that’s a high level, look at what an ecosystem looks like a platform looks like. And the challenge, as you all know, and it Rose, I’m gonna start with you on this. Oh, that’s, that’s pretty complicated. So, talk a little bit about the journey to date planning is far and away the most popular application in our industry, but it’s to what end? In other words, people want to find out what the client wants to achieve. But talk a little bit about how you marry up with the work that Eric’s team does, in terms of doing the plan, and then the implementation. What does that look like? What have been some of the challenges as you’ve been building out? Your side of the equation?

Rose Palazzo: Yeah. So you’re right, that the financial planning tools are popular applications, just in terms of really providing tools that help facilitate those discussions with clients about what’s most important to them, and what the purpose of their money is, right? If you’re, we’re investing for you, there’s a reason for the investment, you should know that and they really helped facilitate the discovery and helping clients understand how investment advice is actually supporting that objective and that goal, and their personal goals. When you when you deal with financial planning tool, which takes it beyond maybe the traditional No, your client questionnaires or resource questionnaires, right? We’re really getting down to specifics and prioritization and things like that. What we found in the past is that those tools were disconnected with the rest of the process. So you might have that discussion with the client about those roles, and then turn right and start investing and that for a client was disconnected, was very much disconnected. So one of the things that we set out to do, because planning is not new to Morgan Stanley or the industry when we started this venture, it was really about creating a connected experience for clients and advisors to say, I’m dealing with a portfolio and a set of goals that I have or multiple portfolios and a set of goals that I have. How do we create that understanding for a client that The investment advice I’m executing on is directly connected to that goal. And here’s how it’s going to achieve that. And that connectivity is important, not just for the client, but for advisors, our best advisors and practitioners, we’re having these discussions, but they have to cobble that story together or re input data or trying to explain why it looked a little different here than it did a plan that you had. So I think that speaks to one of the biggest hurdles that we had, which is in a complex financial picture. Connecting the Dots is sometimes difficult, and keeping things connected can be difficult. And Eric and I, kind of the brother and sister applications, and platforms are doing just that, right, you can start a conversation at a high level, develop a strategy, and then very clearly said, the next thing I’m looking at is that strategy, but with implementation lens on it.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. Eric, I’m going to ask a question in a moment that connects the that brother/sister act that you guys have put together so well. And Rose, I’m gonna come back to you to talk about the retirement income side, because I know that’s something that you’re developing over time. We’ll talk about that in just a moment. But for our audience that may not understand what was just said, Here, it’s one thing to do a plan. But a plan without implementation is only a plan. And these folks know better than probably anybody in our industry that it’s without execution without implementation doesn’t mean much net. Eric, that’s where the baton gets passed to you, you pick up what Rose in the planning side is developed, discovered. And then now you got implements when you talk about what that process looks like, and some of the challenges they’re in that go along with managing a household portfolio.

Eric Lordi: Yeah, sure, for sure. So luckily, I think Rose hit all the high points there. But I think basically, that shift from product thinking where we create these screen experiences based on all those components, you said, Jack, right. So you know, the all these different systems of products, having their own experience for the way that they just the data around the client profile, develop a proposal implement, and really to, you know, answer the call of what we’ve seen to work across these things, because they have all that data, but then they’re forced from that planning step to then go to multiple places to implement, right? So this is really to solve that riddle, you know, planning by its nature, you know, as Rose said, You’re naturally looking across, you’re looking at the goal, it’s at that higher level. Now, how can we reformat our systems to actually scale that thought, so you’re not wearing two hats are multiple hats to implement. So that’s really where the brother sister application concept comes in. So now we’re building scale on the advice side, so that when you’re doing a proposal based on that plan, you don’t have to go to the five different, let’s call them program areas to implement this, you could robustly do it at scale across the household. You know, this includes, you know, proposals, portfolio management, trading, reporting, right, so you’re talking about a lot of reformatting that has to happen to kind of really put the client in the middle. And I think that’s kind of how we try and think of it think about these things and also drive better client outcomes. You can’t do that unless you start connecting these things and looking across. And it’s hard. I don’t think there’s anything easy here. But it really is because you are modernizing these systems at the same time. And then, you know, like, everybody wants to talk about digitization, there is an element to that as well, right? So not only are we cleaning up this FAA experience, but we’re trying to, on the other side of the coin, be holistic with clients have that digital experience that’s been enabled by a lot of the industry forces that are out there. So you know, I think the magic is in the integration, it’s really, how do we scale these things, so that the engagement of the plan is actually reflected in all the downstream systems that are incorporating it?

Jack Sharry: Yeah, as you look at all of the different things, you just both have said in terms of the plan, the proposal, the ongoing portfolio management, lot of that is oriented toward accumulation, at least as described so far, we’re gonna talk about income in a moment. And that’s where really it gets complicated, because this is complex of all those systems, or the you described of data, of plan of goal of managing at the household level on down to the tax lot level, it gets very, very complicated. And basically, and Eric, maybe you could comment on this before we go to the income discussion. How complex is this? And what keeps you up at night without having to know what the challenges are? But maybe if you describe what’s involved with that, because it’s, it’s, it’s hard?

Eric Lordi: Yeah, for sure. And I think it’s, again, it’s very much a partnership with Rose in the financial planning side so that as we work on these enablers, whether it’s portfolio management at the household level, and you wanted to rebalance, or you want to accommodate a tax look through to do things most effectively, where you’re looking at risk across these things. It’s really beyond account numbers. Now, a lot of this is road mapping effectively to understand, in my mind, what is kind of our end state on trading, right? We’ve got multiple doors for portfolio management today. How do we build a resilient foundation where we’re gonna give advisors what they want, which is having this flat view, like Ross these accounts and be able to drive trading and rebalancing from that flat view rather than have to go account by account, and really elevating, modeling and thoughts like that across these things, right. So we’re driving, also insights effectiveness scale, you know, there’s kind of a whole story here on automation to just knowing what the best advisors are doing to guide them at that level. But I really think that’s answering the call. And you know, Jack, we’ve called it UMH in the past and things like that. But I think it’s more real than it’s ever been, I certainly can see it in a very clear path off of what we’ve built. Now, we’re really just entering that next stage of development to have that scale at the household level.

Jack Sharry: And the biggest challenge rows, as you well know. And Eric, as well, is ultimately, why are we doing all this stuff, it’s really to help advisors help their clients maximize retirement income, I think that’s the bottom line of what we’re all trying to do a better job of improving outcome, from accumulation through withdrawal, including during the withdrawal phase, talk a little bit about Rose, because I know that’s part of your purview is the retirement income side where it’s really gets complicated. So maybe talk a little bit about what you’re learning as you develop capabilities around multi account or household level income from all the different accounts and holdings in the household?

Rose Palazzo: Yeah, I think it’s critically important. You know, one of our objectives when we started out was to enhance advice, right. And in order to do that, you need technologies, that advisors can more quickly get to better advice, better outcomes for clients, and not just better for a certain set of plans. But being able to share that advice more broadly with more clients. And this is complex, I think Eric hit on a few of them, right, you’re talking about multiple systems, where for a lot of large firms, we’ve come out of account based, maybe platform or product silos, and you’re really having to pull everything together to understand across that portfolio, how to make the best decisions. And, you know, when we talk about moving from accumulation to take accumulation, it actually really is the time when it’s most important that the portfolio’s working in concert with each other. As one sort of orchestra instead of being managed in pieces. We know that’s really critically important. So the technology to put it all together to take something that can take an advisor hours, right to interrogate tax line information across these different products, all of the roles of the different potential places that these assets are sitting. And to do that for an advisor is complexity. But it’s also where we’re able to improve outcomes for a larger set of clients, just by executing that technology in the right way.

Eric Lordi: I love that orchestra analogy. It’s great. It’s perfect.

Jack Sharry: We’ll expand on that, Eric.

Eric Lordi: Yeah, no, I mean, look, I think goes back to what you’re saying you’re shifting from this kind of where advisors have been working across for a long time, right, using planning as a way to engage clients, and then being forced to deal with separate experiences and separate tools. We’re actually trying to bring those together as all singing from the same script. Right. So I think that makes a ton of sense to me, as far as the, you know, again, following that planning, engagement, all the way down the line from the investment proposal to our reporting to our trading, and being super holistic with the client.

Jack Sharry: So both of you are to use a metaphor borrowed from an old colleague, you’re changing the oil while flying the plane. So you’re changing all this with existing systems in place 1000s of advisors, hundreds of 1000s of clients. So trillions of dollars, there’s a lot at stake here. So Rose, if you would speak to this, and that is that to me, if we were to wave a magic wand, we would be able to tell advisors or using software and using all the smarts that have been accumulated at Morgan Stanley, what the next best thing is to do, and that’s the end state. It’s not here today. I know. But it will be at some point. So describe that objective. Where do you see all this going? What would you hope happens as this platform evolves, and gets stronger and provides more capabilities and is easier to use?

Rose Palazzo: Yeah, I mean, you mentioned that we are changing the oil as we are flying on plane is completely accurate. And I think both Eric and I chuckled a little bit because it adds to the complexity, I think some of what we’ve done is to pick our places and maybe to build alongside of that lane so that we can start to transition people and make that that journey a little bit easier. That transition easier for boats. But to your point as the as you started to automate things for me evaluate how advisors are actually using these tools and finding those pain points and sort of tackling that next pain point. We think the transition becomes easier and easier. And so I think the future this is changing a little bit of the way advisors, you know, we drive a lot of what we’re doing based on what we see the best advisors actually executing on today and trying to make that easier. I actually think some of what we’re talking about right now is going to change the model so much. We’ll be able to offload some of the things that are time consuming for advisors through automation, give them more time to spend doing things that really speak directly to providing personal advice to clients, right, spending more time with clients, this type of technology really access to a place where the future of how clients and advisors interact, will change here.

Jack Sharry: Do you want to comment on the same in terms of that next best action concept?

Eric Lordi: Yeah. And I think just the angle to that we’ve built these new tools, right, that are more connected. Now part of this is also to decommission old tools. Right? So we’ve started to do that. And we do it very slowly, very methodically, lots of lead time, you know, I think we’ve defined a really good engagement model and how to do that. But part of it is to use the software to help us precondition the advisor that something is going away, right. So banners in line training, that’s a part of the software now that helps them and guides them. Also, I think, Rose and I think about design a ton. Right? There is a magic to design, there’s a way to make the complex, simple. We’re really trying to be consistent between these applications, so that advisors don’t feel like they’re learning something new, that they’re actually going from these things seamlessly. And it feels like the same workflow and pathing. And things are in the right places in the same places. And we again, have this kind of overlay of training that sits on top of it. So I think there’s a whole kind of other transition here that happens that we’ve been, I think, pretty successful at to date, slowly decommissioning things like we have a legacy proposal tool. We’re knocking that out this year, because now we have our core investment proposal tool that’s connected to playing that works across accounts, brokerage advisory, external assets, it has all the analytics in one place around risk and tax and performance. Right. So I think a lot of this is there’s a decommission story here too, right? That that we’re using the software in a way that we’re trying to, you know, align the design and make it easier for advisors

Jack Sharry: Rose, if you would comment, if again, we’re waving my magic wand here. What does the future state look like? Three to five years? I’ll talk at the industry level, obviously, we don’t want to share proprietary information. But what’s your view? What is what is this platform of the future, this connected ecosystem? What do you think that looks like? What will become the industry standard, in your view, as you’re grappling with these issues on a day to day basis today,

Rose Palazzo: I do think the level of integration that we’re talking about right now, and that we’ve been able to achieve will be a little bit more standard, more standard, and more common with that, because the idea of connecting the dots in these discussions with clients, I think it’s very critical. If you think about the commoditization of certain types of advice today, personalized advice, where advisors are spending more time talking to clients about those things that you just can’t get from a digital solution. That’s sort of where we’re going, right. And so what that means is that the technology needs to take on some of what advisors are spending their time on today, right. And you know, liquidation is a perfect example of what we just talked about, can take hours to do that. Now, if we can turn that into seconds, where we give advisors, smart starting points, and a lot of the heavy lifting has been done for them, then they’re actually talking to clients about those life events that drive financial decisions that really require a personal interaction around, they’re talking to clients about family situations, and all those things that make finances really personal. So I think the idea that we’re automating things that we find, to be time consuming, and that we can give advisors back that time, that we’re giving them the smart starting points where they’re able to leverage their own sort of skills around that right advice. And then I also think some of the basic advice that we have today will be shared more broadly with clients, some of the financial advice that’s available today is available to a narrow niche of folks. And so some of that will leverage technology to bring downstream and just elevate the type of advice that folks are getting overall.

Jack Sharry: Eric, one of the things that you and I’ve talked about the the key elements of improving outcome, that’s ultimately why all this you’re building all this stuff is to improve the outcome for the investor, ultimately, but coincidentally, also improves the outcome for the advisor. And the firm because you attain more assets or consolidate more assets, you provide a better outcome, which translates into more assets under management, all the rest. And more specifically, you and I’ve talked about cost risk and tax as the key drivers of that improved outcome. You want to expand on that and why that’s so important. And so challenging as Rose has described, that with this highly coordinated ecosystem, it’s hard to pull all that off of cost risk and tax, which ultimately translates into a better outcome.

Eric Lordi: Yeah, now there’s a it’s kind of interesting, it’s almost a convergence story, right? So these are all core analytics that help engage in a conversation with the client around portfolio health and outcomes, right. So I think we’ve tackled the first phase of it, which is put these all analytics in one place, right? So when they’re in proposal mode, or doing a plan they can pull from a core set of analytics and gauge how they think is going to resonate with the client and not jumping again to four or five different places to do that. And also so that these analytics look consistent from an exhibit standpoint. And also, I think there’s an opportunity to digitally transform their right to Rose’s point to personalize for clients. You know, we think a lot about, you know, what is like that bespoke experience to the client? And how do we show them these analytics in a way that hopefully someday kills the PDF. But I think more importantly in rows, I think you’re going here to it’s more about the kind of guidance and automation we’re building now. Right? So we know, yeah, once we get the holdings no matter what it is, right, and what I would note what number of accounts, we can run these analytics behind the scenes, right? Before the adviser ever clicks the menu button, or goes here there to do it. I think we got to do a better job of surfacing these gauges, this guidance to show the advisor the benefit of a particular widget, right? So this analytic is telling us there’s a tax benefit of x, do you want to go further here or this analytic is telling us, you know, you have, you know, a volatility issue, and it’s being driven by this particular security, based on this market scenario, right. So, surfacing this guidance, I think, is the key kind of moving forward. It’s almost we know what the best practices are, how do we automate surfacing that in a way that’s not overwhelming in a way that aligns with the advisors interests and how they’re trying to talk to the client? You know, again, I think the first step is we brought it all together. Now, how do we kind of build this automation? And again, how do you make the complex simple, right? There’s a lot of different ways that can go. But how do we surface these things in a timely manner to help that better client outcome to help that engagement, and really drive that portfolio health concept, Jack to where we are going?

Jack Sharry: So what’s interesting, again, as context for our audience, what’s been described by Rose and Eric, is taking all the different elements that every firm has, there’s nothing new, I’m sure there’s a few things you would argue that might be new or different or differentiated, at least. But we all have data, we all have planning, we all have proposal, we all have portfolio management stuff. We all make feeble attempts that didn’t come, I should, that’s a little bit of a slap, but sorry about that. But it’s challenging. It’s hard. It’s wicked, hard, as we see here in Boston. But ultimately, what it’s about is connecting those dots. And you both have touched on this, but maybe just a final thought before we start to wind down here. How hard is this mean, Rose? This stuff’s hard. I mean, you started many years ago with us working on this stuff. Like my colleagues here in Boston, say, this is wicked hard. So talk about that. Just how hard is this? And what have you learned in that process?

Rose Palazzo: It’s really hard. You know, the devil is in the details, right? And the integration happens on so many fronts. When we started talking about this, I think we focused on data integration, right? Like if you can integrate the data that somehow solves itself, and it doesn’t actually, Eric point into just consistency in the tools to make it easier, right, like this idea that people can 17 different ways to do one function, right, like, and so the idea that when you connect tools from a data perspective, but if people have to learn something new 17 times, it falls down. And so I think that, you know, and I don’t need to pass by the data discussion, because that one is probably where we spend the most time in terms of rationalizing, you know, data is stored from different places, especially when you’re dealing with systems that have been around for a long time. But you’re talking about the data, you’re talking about the experience. And you’re also talking about the client experience, it needs to feel extraordinarily integrated and connected, like we’re speaking from one voice, and that, that one, it makes it difficult as well. So there’s many aspects to that integration, while we kind of use one term. And I think our thoughts initially go to one place there, there are certainly a lot of components to it.

Eric Lordi: Yeah, couldn’t agree more. I think, though, to use an often used phrase, it’s a journey, not a sprint. And I think the hardest thing is to get folks to lift their heads, right? Because especially in a large firm, half the battle is connecting the dots. A lot of folks are working on various facets of that problem statement. And it’s more I think, people coming together to realize we’re actually all working towards a common goal that these things can be multi-channel. In essence again to we said, Jack, right, we’re all climbing acquiring clients from different spots. But really, it’s a very similar journey once they’re in that wealth Hopper, right. So I think it’s it really to me is like connect the dots effort and then having that kind of true Northstar about think platform, first think experience, you know, think multichannel, so you’re not building things three times. That’s tough stuff. But I think it once you start to build a foundation around that you really start to focus more on these experiences and acquisition pieces to be consistent.

Jack Sharry: So as we wind down here, Rose, what are three takeaways, three things you would share with your colleagues in the industry have lessons learned or things they should be remindful of or things you’ve learned that you wish you had known back when?

Rose Palazzo: Sorry, three takeaways for me going through this so that this journey, while we just touched on is around the importance of the experience for our advisors and for our clients. So many times we think if the functionality is, is there that folks will use it, or that it becomes easy and really have to meet people where they are in order to get people there. So that I think that to focus on experience, the integration is key for this relic. If you think about any platform in the future, you can think about capabilities independently. So you might focus on saying, hey, meal planning is an important foundational component to this offering. But if you only think about that, at one time, the integration becomes harder. And really looking across and keeping an eye on me on the integrated picture is really important. I wouldn’t say flexibility is also really important. When you’re changing the oil while you’re flying the plane. I think being able to flex quickly and make some decisions that may not have been in the in the original plan is something that has been an important skill, I think for all of us.

Jack Sharry: Great, thank you, Eric.

Eric Lordi: Yeah, so I think it’s just number one, don’t get too obsessed with your legacy state. Right. So I think that’s a rabbit hole that’s never gonna get to pay you benefits. So I think it’s more of, you know, spend some real time envisioning and collaborating and socialization around a true north end state. At least it always helps with the conversations we have, because at least oriented around, you know, there’s a common goal to build around. And that’s really, really important to for understanding, right? Because then, you know, because everyone’s gonna always point out, oh, well, we do this and legacy, you know, we have to do this in the new state. And I think, you know, to think about things as a new house, or that or that orchestra, it’s probably a better effort to then okay, we can stepping stone to this very logically from that, that envisioning. So I think there’s definitely something to that and taking your time there, you know, my point before to lift your head as much as possible. It’ll pay benefits over time. So making those connections across the organization. So for the buy in, for sure, but also for the benefit in the value and the kind of pro and con analysis. Yeah, and I do think there’s something about, there’s so much complexity here, the more you can make the complex, simple, whether that’s through design, or through prototyping, it goes a long way. It’s for me, though, and Rose, I know, you feel semi, it’s very tangible, right, that this has never been more tangible than I’ve ever seen it in the industry, right, these this coming together, you know, having this integrated flow, you know, these things are not buried in Mega menus and deep workstations. They’re more apparent, the more mobile they’re more automated, the more guiding, like all that is coming in. It’s really the magics in the integration. And I think that’s kind of the takeaways I see it just the philosophy of technology is just fascinating right now, right? So, you know, just being at the tip of that spear is going to be very, very important.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. Well, thank you both. Before we park for now, one last question, if you would share. Rose, we’ll start with you, if you would share what is something that you do outside of work that people might find interesting or surprising

Rose Palazzo: About me is that I am a big opera fan. And when I was younger, I actually performed with an opera company in New Jersey. And more recently, I got a new puppy, and I’m doing training. So I have spent setting all of my free time Puppy Training.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. I did not know that about you as a as an opera aficionado and performer. That’s great. And Eric, how about you?

Eric Lordi: Now we know the orchestra analogy. That’s why That’s great. No, I used to be in a band, the band was called shelf life, which is probably apropos, given as a short, right? It’s pretty out of date at this point, but it’s out there somewhere. If you Google it, what was your role in the band? I was the bass player/keyboardist. And I think it was part of the problem. You know, I thought I was the lead vocal. But the other guy also thought he was the lead vocal. So always competing for the mic.

Jack Sharry: Well, no competition between you two here. One of the things I know to be true of building complex ecosystems is it takes a village or maybe it’s better said it takes a city. It’s hard. And we’re all familiar with the concept of silo. And one of the things that YouTube exemplifies you’ve made it work. Large organizations have silos and everybody wants to do it their way. And you guys have brought it together, and it’s no small feat. So my hat’s off to you. I’ve always admired you both in terms of what you do and how you do it. And no wonder that you’re the leader in the industry, in terms of what you’ve built at Morgan Stanley.

Eric Lordi: Thanks, Jack’s very nice. Take care.