Sign up to receive exclusive monthly wealthtech insights and interviews from our Chief Growth Officer, Jack Sharry. SIGN UP NOW
wealthtech on deck podcast - Craig Clark

The Growth Formula for Wealth Management Firms with Craig Clark

The future of wealth management involves embracing technology and adopting scalable business practices. Having a growth platform that enhances client satisfaction, retains and attracts clients, streamlines processes, and stays compliant helps advisors and wealth management firms succeed.

In this episode, Jack talks with Craig Clark, Chief Marketing Officer at Nitrogen (formerly known as Riskalyze). In this role, Craig leads the firm’s brand team, product positioning, thought leadership, and sales pipeline creation in the wealth management marketplace. A marketing and sales development veteran of the SaaS industry, he has seen success putting companies on a strong growth trajectory, aligning brands and positioning for successful financing and strategic exits.

Craig talks with Jack about the company’s rebranding from Riskalyze to Nitrogen, and how Nitrogen focuses on providing a growth platform for wealth management firms. Craig highlights the importance of having scalable and repeatable business practices that allow advisors to be more productive and effective, and the need for firms to adopt software that supports their growth goals.

What Craig has to say

“There’s a lot of industry consolidation happening. And there’s a lot of pressure to do things in a more predictable and repeatable way. There’s no way to do that other than having software embedded in how you work to enforce that repeatable practice.”

– Craig Clark, Chief Marketing Officer, Nitrogen

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this week’s edition of WealthTech on Deck. I’m looking forward to today’s podcast, we will be talking with one of the senior leaders at Nitrogen, formerly known as Riskalyze. Many of you know, this company is one of the most iconic FinTech companies in our space. And you also know they have made a few changes recently, not the least of which is their name. Nitrogen has been a clear leader in what I call the confluence of digital and human advice. For today’s show, we’re going to talk with Craig Clark. Craig is the Chief Marketing Officer at Nitrogen. Craig, welcome to WealthTech on Deck.

Craig Clark: Thanks, Jack. It’s great to be here.

Jack Sharry: So, Craig, let’s start with you telling us about Nitrogen. You have a new name, Aaron Klein just stepped down as CEO, as we’re recording this. I’m sure there are a few more advances underway. And I’m sure there’s more to come. So please give us an update on Nitrogen and all that is going on there.

Craig Clark: Well, that’s a long story, Jack, let me, I’m gonna take you a little bit back in history, because I think it’s important to the, kind of the thrust of the conversation here. The company, of course, started as Riskalyze. And Riskalyze was founded just over 12 years ago now by Aaron Klein and, and a handful of others. And it was founded on this notion that risk tolerance is just the essence of human financial advice. And at the time, there was just no great way of quantifying that and then more importantly, quantifying it, and also communicating effectively, with your client around that. There were risk questionnaires, to be sure, but they’re typically paper based. And they spat out things like moderately conservative, which is really easily misinterpreted or, and difficult to align around. So Riskalyze was formed. And the famous Risk Number, and the methodology behind the Risk Number was created. And the 95% Confidence Range, and so on. And it’s a software company. So nobody rested on their laurels, kept building. And so built out portfolio comparisons, proposal generation, the concept of risk alignment, check ins that you can deploy out to a client, and get… back from them, that they still have the same kind of caliber of risk tolerance. So the company kept building, and, you know, fast forward, like 11 years, and I stepped into the business and our board chair at the time, Laurie Schultz, who is still our board chair, she had kind of ceded to me, before I even joined, it feels like the company does a lot more than what it’s known for. And I’m a modern, data driven, chief marketing officer. And, and so that led us down the path of doing some research. So we queried our existing customer base. And we kind of asked them, as you can imagine, a ton of questions about how they perceive the brand, the product platform, how are they using it, these kinds of things. And it was just, you’re, you’re a marketer, Jack, you would understand this, it just hit you in the face. A lot of the people that use the software today, they encountered it 12 years ago, when they were a lot earlier in their career, the technology was just not where it is today. And they had formed this opinion, it’s kind of like a risk documentation tool that we use to document a client’s risk tolerance for, you know, sort of “Know Your Customer” regulation. And over the years, we had built out this whole suite of client engagement and communications tools, and we just weren’t known for that. So that led us down the path of considering rebranding. And Aaron Klein had, I think it’s fair to say he had considered that many times over the years, the company’s named Riskalyze, of course. It’s still the essence of what we do. But it kind of puts a thought in your mind, something to do with risk here. And it might not encompass like portfolio generation or portfolio analytics or portfolio comparison or some of these other main features of the platform today. So we got with a branding firm called Lexicon Branding. And you’ve probably never heard of Lexicon before. Why would you have heard of Lexicon? It’s a good name, but why would you have heard of Lexicon? But they are wildly successful at developing brand names that really become icons in their industry, names like Swiffer, the Subaru Forester, Pentium, these are some of the names that they came up with. The Blackberry, they actually came up with the name Blackberry, back in the day so. So, we engage Lexicon and they went through their process with us, understanding what we do, the benefit of our product to a wealth management firm. And they went through their process and presented 40 possible names for the company, and it was our job to qualify out those names. And you can imagine they’ve ran the gamut from totally crazy and there’s no way we’re gonna we’re gonna run with that to very safe names. I remember one night I was, I was sitting sitting at home. And we had just been through one of these naming presentations with, with the founder of Lexicon, David Placek. And they had presented Nitrogen earlier in the day, and at the time, none of us really responded, we’re like “Oh, yeah, Nitrogen. Sounds pretty good.” He had made this compelling presentation about the name Nitrogen. And I remember slacking Aaron Klein, we use an internal communication tool called Slack.

Jack Sharry: Sure. Yep, yep.

Craig Clark: And I said, Nitrogen, starting to kind of grow on me there. And he slacks back to me, I just bought the web domain, I totally agree. And by 48 hours later, you know, I think the name was, was pretty much sealed. And that led us down the path of naming the company Nitrogen and, and really doing a better job in my view of positioning the company as what it is today, which is a growth plan. It’s a, it’s a platform for boosting client satisfaction, lead to paying client conversion. And, and, of course, staying on the right side of compliance without a lot of additional energy expended. So that’s what we do today. And you asked about Aaron. I was obviously drawn to Aaron, as a leader, when I first joined the company. The man is a dynamo, and just an incredible visionary. And, of course, he’s leaving us now. And stepping back to our board of directors, and we have a new CEO joining. It was just amazing to see how Aaron was so careful to put us on the right track for this next chapter in the company’s history before he felt comfortable, kind of stepping back onto the board and, and bringing in a new leader for the company. So, huge developments over the last 12 months here at Nitrogen.

Jack Sharry: So Aaron’s kind of been the brand…

Craig Clark: Yeah.

Jack Sharry: In a lot of ways. You got your work cut out for you in terms of, I read about the incoming CEO, and sounds like he’s got a great resume and all the rest. But that’s a bit of a challenge, woulnd’t you say? Just, Aaron’s just so omnipresent in a good way, in terms of our space. He’s just, he’s iconic all by himself.

Craig Clark: The man is just a, is, like I said, he’s a dynamo. And, and I really can respect his rationale for kind of stepping back from the board. I’ve been with him on the trips. He travels 75% of the time. I really get that, that he wants to step back and spend more time with his family. He set us up well. We’ve got a great name, got a great product platform. Tens of thousands of advisors use it today. And Dan Zitting, I worked with at another organization, I’m very accustomed to work with him. He’s, we did a lot together. He’s a product platform expansion guru. And so it’s, it’s pretty exciting. I think the expansion of what we can do for wealth management firms with our software is just the pace of that is going to pick up and just make a whole new fruitful chapter for the company under his leadership.

Jack Sharry: I wish you well, it’s going to be fun to watch. As always, as the industry keeps moving forward and Riskalyze as a leader in our industry, be fun to watch. I always like to see how transitions and change, what do they, what do they bring about. So that’ll be fun to watch. Craig, if you would, fill us in a little bit around your background. How do you wind up doing what you’re doing? And then we’ll get into whatm where you want to, where you want to head with with Nitrogen in the new version, whatever that might be.

Craig Clark: Oh, well, I was once a janitor, Jack. I started… first jobs. I was a janitor. It was a good job. Cleaned a lot of toilets but, but it was, it instilled a good work ethic, I think, in me. And actually my very first corporate job, Jack, was with a wealth management firm. I, I can’t believe this. I look back 20 years, my very first job was in marketing at a wealth management firm and I’ll never forget, I was starting out in my career, an advisor, I shared an office with him, and he leaned over one day in my… you know, “There’s this company across town, makes CRM software.” I didn’t know what that was. And he said, “They have this job opening, it looks like what you do, you should totally apply for it.” And I realize now that was like a really fateful conversation because I just dutifully applied for this job. And ever since then, I have been working in the marketing department of a software as a service company. And so my whole career has been spent marketing and selling software, software as a service. And that was right around when first came out. And this concept of cloud computing was becoming a real thing. So I really experienced that early on in my career. And then I went to work for a risk and compliance management software company. That company was called ACL at the time and, and made software for auditors and risk management departments of big companies. And I was there for more than eight years. And we rebranded that company as well, and expanded its product platform. And that’s where I actually met the current Board Chair of Nitrogen, a woman named Laurie Schultz. And Dan Zitting, our incoming CEO, I worked with both of them for, for, again, more than eight years at that company, and I really got a taste for the power of quantifying risk at that company, that’s what it did. I mean, it was more of a governance type of product. But I really got a sense for the power of risk. And that’s how I got introduced to what is now Nitrogen. Laurie Schultz called me up one day and said, you really have to check out this company, Riskalyze, and, and meet Aaron Klein. And the rest is history.

Jack Sharry: Gotcha. So what are you in the midst of? What are you excited about? What are you working on? Where does, where does Nitrogen go next? What are some of the things you’re excited about?

Craig Clark: It’s gonna be hard to do more than just, you know, rename a company that’s as storied as as Riskalyze and turn it on its head and call it Nitrogen. That’s going to be a career defining moment, I think. But a guilty pleasure, for me, Jack is our Fearless Investing Summit.

Jack Sharry: Yep.

Craig Clark: I look back through the company’s history, and it started out just a few years ago as kind of a traditional user conference for a software company. And since then, I think, in large part because Aaron Klein, actually, it’s become a real icon, and a major annual industry show. It’s no longer a user conference or a customer conference. It’s really, it’s really an industry meeting point. And so shaping that and taking that Fearless Investing Summit brand to the next level is a guilty pleasure of mine.

Jack Sharry: One of the things I observe, I have not been to Fearless Investing, but I follow it in social media and what have you. It seems to be not just about what risk Riskalyze did, or what Nitrogen does, but more about how to be more productive and effective as an advisor. I, I imagine that’s going to continue? Is that, is that all, where you see this continuing?

Craig Clark: I think that’s a true statement. It’s never been about selling software, it’s, it’s always been driven by that Fearless Investing mission. And in order for investors to invest fearlessly, they need human advice, and we need to make that advisor more valuable to them. And that’s, that’s always been, you know, really the center of the company. I think what you can see, expect to see from us in the future, Jack, is taking the power of what we’ve created, just harnessing the behavioral finance aspects of what we’ve created, and parlaying that into something that scales across the whole firm. We started out like many FinTech companies, and especially in wealth, wealth management, as kind of a product you buy, using your own money to build your book of business as an advisor. And it very much started out as a solo advisor oriented tool. A lot of our R&D and engineering has gone into making that platform valuable to the head of wealth management at a bigger firm, or perhaps the head of compliance at a bigger firm, giving them tools to check up on the whole firm and make the individual advisors, the best practices of the individual advisors throughout the firm, accessible to all of the advisors in the firm. So it’s really, this next chapter of Nitrogen history is about making the power of the Risk Number work across the whole firm.

Jack Sharry: And tell me a little bit, this may be in the midst of formulating with a new CEO coming on who it sounds like is product oriented, platform oriented, sounds like he has a mandate to expand the offerings. What’s the dynamic between marketing and product and, and then of course, operationalizing it all, how does that all work? Where do the ideas come from? How do you guys collaborate? How, tell me a little bit about that?

Craig Clark: That’s a great question, Jack. We are fairly typical of a software company in that we are very passionate about research, and data, and listening to our customers. So we certainly have the concept of like a customer advisory board, a group of customers that we can share ideas with, bounce ideas off of, ask them questions, spend time with them, figure out what they need next, before they can even really tell us. And that really informs our product roadmap. And then Justin Boatman, who leads product for Nitrogen, he’s worked with the company for many years. In fact, he used to be the head of marketing, I stepped in his shoes when he moved over to to become our chief product officer. So he knows market. And he understands that we need to be in lockstep there, we need to be shaping the brand in a certain way, we need to have a cadence of, of making sure that our customers are taking full advantage of what we’ve already built, which is a marketing job for sure. And we work together very collaboratively around the concept of talking to our customers doing research, doing panels, doing focus groups.

Jack Sharry: I’m curious, what, as you talk to your customers, where do they see the world going? What are you hearing from them around what they, what’s missing for them, or what they need to be more productive and effective? And I’m sure that’s, in large part, what it is that they want to tell you and you want to hear.

Craig Clark: I mean, it’s a big part of the way we position ourselves to A, Jack, A, you talk to almost any one of our customers and in a roundabout way, they’re going to talk about growth.: Right, right.: That’s, I mean, it’s an industry struggle, Jack. It’s just the…

Jack Sharry: Sure.

Craig Clark: It’s the nature of the beast. I mean, if it’s like any other kind of, I’m gonna use the S word, sales.

Jack Sharry: We do that.

Craig Clark: You know, it’s, it’s hard to change those habits. I don’t know what the magic formula is, Jack, but we’ve had very good success, leading a horse to water and also getting the horse to drink with the Nitrogen growth platform. It doesn’t prescribe what you do. It just makes what you do sound more polished, be more data backed and feel repeatable, like, feel like it’s a, it’s something that this, this advisor has done many times and it’s confidence inspiring. And that has, has been the magic sauce, you know, the secret sauce for, for getting really high levels of adoption. It’s something I haven’t really mentioned yet, but I’ve been in software for a long time. And I’ve never worked at a company where the level of satisfaction with the actual product is so high. A lot of software companies are pretty guilty of having huge amounts of, of shelfware sitting out there. You know, they’ve sold it, but it’s not getting used. Firms use Nitrogen, and advisors use Nitrogen.

Jack Sharry: So looking out to the future, not only for Nitrogen, but in general, where do you see the world going? It seems to me that what I’m, what I’m hearing, love to hear your comments on this, I’m hearing that you’ve got to a mandate to build out the product capabilities, to leverage your existing presence in the marketplace in terms of people really liking the product. That’s my general sense as I talk to folks. So your users like it, but it sounds like you’re going to be doing more better, faster, cheaper, but maybe not cheaper. But whatever. You’re really about to move things. What does the future hold? Where do you see things going?

Craig Clark: Well, in the industry, broadly, I think… I’m new to the industry, but I’m just guessing here, I’ve seen this happen in a few other industries. Again, I feel like wealth management is a bit late in terms of embracing the power of scalable processes across multiple people. And so, you’ve seen this happen every day, private equity is very interested in wealth management space, they’re big believers, typically in repeatable processes and scalable business practices, you know, so that’s an influence for sure. But I think there’s a lot of industry, industry consolidation happening. And whether you’re an RIA that wants to build valuation and one day sell the business, or merge with another or acquire other businesses, there’s just a lot of pressure to do things in a more predictable, repeatable way. And in my experience, there’s no way to do that, other than having software that’s embedded in the way you work, to try to enforce that repeatable practice, whatever that practice might be, whether it’s CRM software that’s causing you to go through this motion, to bring a new client on board or portfolio management software, doing things in a certain way. Certainly for ourselves, ascertaining the risk tolerance of the next generation, and developing a proposal for them and on down on to landing them as a client. That’s all very repeatable and scalable across the whole firm. So you’re gonna see technology companies trying to support the firm-wide adoption of technology. And you’re gonna see all the stakeholders of wealth management firms demanding it. And I really feel like that’s a big process change for this industry.

Jack Sharry: Terrific. So, this is, I’ve enjoyed our conversation and learned a bunch about, not only you, but certainly Nitrogen and all that’s going on there. It sounds like you got some exciting plans. As we look to close up for today’s session, what are three key takeaways you want to leave with our audience?

Craig Clark: I think I really only have one. And I’ve mentioned it a couple of times here, Jack.

Jack Sharry: Sure, sure.

Craig Clark: Whether you’ve just started an RIA, and you’ve kind of broken away, or you’re the head of wealth management at a really big one, or perhaps some kind of supervisory role in, in a big broker dealer. Everybody’s going to be watching you to develop and adopt and I’m going to use the word enforce scalable business practices, repeatable business practices. So whatever it is you do, look for your technology vendors to help you do that. And look for ways to get adoption from your advisors to follow those processes, because that is, that is really going to define the firms that are successful over the next decade. And the ones that are maybe acquired by a bigger firm for a reduced valuation.

Jack Sharry: So, Craig, it’s been a pleasure to catch up with you. Now, for my favorite question of our podcasts that we do. What’s something you do outside of work that you’re particularly excited or passionate about and that people might find interesting or surprising?

Craig Clark: Well, thanks for asking, Jack. I don’t have a huge amount of spare time. We’ve been up to a lot of things at Nitrogen, that’s for sure. And I have two little kids that keep me on my toes to be sure, but I’m probably in the minority of chief marketing officers that drive a tractor on the weekend. Several years ago, my wife and I bought the family farm we literally bought the family farm, which was a, an apple orchard at the time from my my mother and father. And we have since converted it into a vineyard.

Jack Sharry: Wow.

Craig Clark: So we’re in the grape growing business.

Jack Sharry: Wow.

Craig Clark: On evenings and weekends. So I drive a tractor.

Jack Sharry: That’s great.

Craig Clark: Grapes.

Jack Sharry: And just grapes, do you make the wine as well or do you sell that to…?

Craig Clark: At this point, Jack, that’s like the next level scalable business practice…

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Craig Clark: Is moving into the winemaking business. But we certainly live in a, in a wine region and we, and we sell our grapes to full blown wineries.

Jack Sharry: It’s great. Love it. Always fun to get the different answers that we get. Good fun. So, Craig, thanks very much. It’s been a great conversation. Appreciate you sharing your point of view on it all. So for our audience, if you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please rate, review, subscribe, and/or share what we’re doing here at WealthTech on Deck. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. Craig, thanks again. It’s been a real pleasure.

Craig Clark: It’s been my pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation.