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wealthtech on deck podcast - Edmond Walters

The Legends of WealthTech with Edmond Walters

With an innovative approach to financial planning and a commitment to providing clients with a holistic and interactive experience, Edmond’s journey is legendary. The genesis of his brainchild, eMoney, unveils a story of innovation, inspiration, and perseverance, illustrating how a groundbreaking idea can transform into a pioneering company. His journey from concept to industry-altering reality illuminates the boundless possibilities at the intersection of financial expertise and technological acumen.

In this episode, Jack talks with one of the legends in wealthtech, Edmond Walters, Founder and CEO at VillanovaTech. VillanovaTech is a next-generation financial planning experience for financial advisors to use alongside their clients. Edmond was the CEO and Founder of eMoney Advisors, going back to when financial planning tools took off as a crucial and critical driver in helping advisors help their clients make better decisions using the most up-to-date financial planning, guidance, and technology tools. InvestmentNews recently recognized Edmond as one of the “20 People Who Helped Shape the Financial Planning Industry.”

Known for his innovative approach to financial planning and focus on delivering a holistic and interactive client experience, Edmond shares with Jack how the idea for eMoney came about and how he built the company from the ground up. He also talks about the evolution of the wealth management industry and how his innovations revolutionized financial planning. He emphasizes the importance of the advisor-client relationship and the role of technology in enhancing that relationship.

What Edmond has to say

“The advisor is the catalyst in the relationship and also the person that keeps you from making bad decisions. In bad markets, they’re underpaid, and in good markets, they may be perceived as overpaid, but they’re crucial in the relationship.”

– Edmond Walters, Founder & CEO, VillanovaTech, LLC

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this very special edition of WealthTech on Deck. We are now recording occasional special podcasts we’re calling the Legends of WealthTech. This is our fifth Legends of WealthTech recording. And as anyone who listens to our podcast knows, we talk about the confluence of human and digital advice from all angles with a real focus on disruptions, thoughtful strategy, and creative paths that serve to advance investors, advisors, and firms. We also like to add a little historical context and perspective to help our listeners understand how and why things have evolved over time. So today, we will have a conversation with someone who has changed our industry for the better over the past 25-30 years, and continues to do so. Edmond Walters was the CEO and founder of eMoney Advisor going back to when financial planning tools took off as a crucial and critical driver of our industry and helping advisors help their clients make better decisions through using the most up to date financial planning, guidance, and technology tools. Edmond continues to innovate, and I’ll let him provide the update on what he’s up to in just a moment. Edmond, welcome to WealthTech on Deck.

Edmond Walters: Nice see you again.

Jack Sharry: So, Edmond, let’s take a walk down memory lane, if we could. Talk about how the idea of eMoney came about, and how’d you conceive of the idea and tell us a little bit of how you got off the ground?

Edmond Walters: Well, I was a financial advisor from 1983 to almost 2000. It was near the end of the 1990s. And I kept constantly hearing from the high net worth clients that they expected and wanted things from me to provide services that I didn’t have opportunity to provide. And they were, they wanted to see their net worth all in one place. They wanted to see how the big picture of all the assets and their portfolios were being affected by their long term decisions, and acquisitions, gifting, all the various things that I was involved with, with planning. So I went and looked for those solutions, and I couldn’t find any. And then when I went to some of the bigger institutions and said, this is something, it’d be great if you would create, I got push back. So I decided, there’s an opportunity there, maybe I ought to build that myself. And one of the big misconceptions in our industry, really, when they looked at eMoney was they thought it was just a planning tool when it really wasn’t.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: It was a way of giving and delivering service to your clients with advice. And I couldn’t do that unless I had the whole picture. It’s like seeing a doctor, I wouldn’t just want to see part of something, the client and the doctor need to see everything.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: I had to create a holistic view. And that’s when I went after the whole concept of aggregation. So I could see all the holdings and all the investments. And then if I did that, I might as well have a balance sheet. And if I have the balance sheet, I’m might as well tie it into their, their planning and their cash flow planning and their estate planning. And then if I do that, I might as well update it every night. And that’s where eMoney, what it was all about. But the battleground I was after was to give that holistic, transparent view to my customer. And to allow them that peace of mind that I wasn’t collecting a fee because I was a fee planner for today’s plan, it was for a forever plan. And then I also wanted to present myself that I was there for the whole family, not just for the person I was calling on, whether it was the wife of the husband and I wanted to have the whole family as my client. And in doing that, they needed to know I was in lockstep for a long period of time looking out for their needs and their concerns. So that was the experience. I was always trying to create the experience. The other day, I saw one of my old colleagues, who’s still at eMoney. And he was telling me that they’re concerned now about planning being a commodity, and how a lot of it’s going to be given away. And I said, my God, it’s been so many years and they still don’t know what they bought. They bought the experience of what happens in that foxhole with the client and the advisor, and how they’re working together and how the advice is more important than ever. That is not a giveaway. That is it. That’s the it, right? So I would never have given up my planning career for a calculator.

Jack Sharry: So one of things, as I recall, if you’d put a date to all this, when you answer the question, just to give people a sense, because this was…: That’s just math. I was trying to change the way that the advice was going to be delivered, and how long it would be and how closely it would be delivered and what kind of experience. And, to me, it’s all about experience. If you go back to the 1990s, everyone back then was, you put a dot com on the end, you could be a millionaire right away. And they believed that planning was going to be done by calculators talking to our computers talking to clients about their… and giving advice to their plan. That’s when I went the opposite way. And I said, no, the advisor is crucial. And he’s the catalyst in the relationship, and also the person that keeps you from making bad decisions. And in bad markets, they’re underpaid. And in good markets, they may be perceived as overpaid. But they’re crucial in the relationship. They just need better tools that demonstrate their value they bring to bear. And we need to create an experience that’s interactive. 2000.

Jack Sharry: In my recollection, you were the first to really capture all this, and that is that in dealing with the client, I just remember a series of innovations. And I’d love to have you comment on that, things like the vault and all you did around aggregation. Talk a little bit about how that all got started, you started out piece by piece, innovation by innovation. But it was all around a holistic view of the client, not the buzzword, holistic, but like for real holistic, like the real situation. So talk a little bit about how that came about. You’ve described a little bit here. But so how did you sort of… was it all a function of how you then had the conversation with each client, they needed to know more, and you needed to know more to provide better advice? Talk about that evolution.

Edmond Walters: When I started as a planner, I started with a company called Cause of Tiffany, and we were charging fees back in 1983. And we did the whole plan, we didn’t do just like retirement planning, or just the portfolio planning or estate planning, we did the whole plan. And in order to do that, we had to gather every single piece of information. And we did it the hard way, we, we had to get copies of all the statements. And we had to add reams and reams of paper to create it, we called it data, right and there were enormous datas. Then we went back and had it confirmed, all the data, that we had everything. And then we designed the whole plan for the family. Most advisors at the time were not doing that. They were either portfolio people doing the investments, or they were insurance guys doing the insurance planning, the needs analysis and risk management. We were doing the whole, whole thing.

Jack Sharry: Right.

Edmond Walters: And it was that idea that if we had an easy way or an easier way to deliver planning, it would be really advantageous to the whole industry. And then if we did that updating every night, and that’s when we went the idea of having a portal and having a mobile experience too so the client could see their lives at a glance. So instead of the three ring binders, if you remember back in the early 2000s, people would have a presentation and they give you a leather with a logo of the company and it’d be a three ring binder and they’d break it all out in sections.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: I thought it’d be much better to have it where it was electronic. And it would be something that could have update every night. Planners back then, advisors, it would be weeks and weeks and weeks just to gather the data. And then every meeting you had with a client, it would be weeks and weeks to get the updated data to give the updated plan. And if you’re in the high net worth space, there’s multiple advisors and they don’t necessarily want to play nice with you and give you their copy of their information to review.

Jack Sharry: Sure, sure.

Edmond Walters: So all of that friction was in the way of delivering good advice. So the idea I wanted to cut through is, what’s a perfect world look like in advice? And how can I present myself as an advisor with my client to have that experience, because whoever has that experience is going to be the first phone call. Because I’ve got the holistic view. And there’s going to be the first phone call because I have the objectivity and understanding of all different facets of the plan. So that’s where we were going. When I started the company, I had to raise money to do it. So I cashed out my business, cashed out my 401k, put everything at risk, but it still wasn’t enough funds. So I probably saw 20 venture capital firms, got a no from everyone, because it was 1999 and the second half of it and dot coms were falling out of sky and no one wanted to get involved in the dot com. So all my funding other than my own came from the clients that were telling me that they wanted that experience. So they put their money where their mouth was. And that helped me with my seed money to create the first version of eMoney might.

Jack Sharry: Wow.

Edmond Walters: So, they were my original board.

Jack Sharry: So I remember seeing you, I think the first time we met, you gave a presentation in Boston, I’m gonna guess it was around 2008. By that point, eMoney was established and well regarded, well known. And you started talking about this crazy thing called a vault. So one of the innovations that you did, I know for sure, as you just mentioned, is making it electronic on your phone and, or on a computer and moving away from spreadsheets onto what computers can do, and phones can do these days. And the vault is a place to capture all this information. And I know there were other innovations but talk a little bit about so that progression of innovation, all done to digital means, ultimately.

Edmond Walters: Yep, so it was about in 2003 that we decided to build a electronic vault not only to store all the document but also the meeting notes between the advisor and the client, but also we stored audio and video. So the audio idea was to ask your clients about their family history, how they started their business, things like that.

Jack Sharry: Interesting.

Edmond Walters: So they’d have that in perpetuity. And when you start doing that experience with a husband and wife in the room about their family history and, and what the dreams are for their kids, it evolved to their book lists and, and all the things that were important to them in their lives. And to have that forever, like, I have a recording of my mother. And on her birthday, I would never go to a cemetery, I’d much rather listen to her voice.

Jack Sharry: Interesting.

Edmond Walters: Those things are enormously valuable. So that vault became an incredibly sticky item. And at the end, it was storing their passports and their medical information and their medicines and prescriptions, everything. So it was, once again, going back to that comment I made about planning, then it’s, it’s about the experience you’re delivering, it’s not about the calculators. And that’s why it should never be a giveaway, it’s really about the way the customer, the client, interfaces with that advisor is the battleground, not the calculators.

Jack Sharry: That’s really interesting. I’ve been a fan and a, an observer of what you’ve done over time and heard about the vault. But of course, everything I heard about, regarding the vault was all the technical or the detailed data information, not that experiential stuff you just described, which is far more powerful is… talk a little bit about that, because that’s, I mean, that’s what, anytime I do anything that’s important in my life, I want to have that experience, I’m assuming they know how to run numbers and use a calculator. What I really want is someone who has, understands me as a consumer, or me as an investor, or me as someone who’s trying to plan multi generational wealth transfer, all that kind of stuff.

Edmond Walters: When I was young, I always had older men as mentors. And one of the older men used to tell me all the time, he says, “After you meet someone, or you have a relationship, whether it’s in business or anything with someone, they’re not going to remember anything you said, but they are going to remember how you made them feel.”

Jack Sharry: Yes.

Edmond Walters: So I really looked at, and financial planning is that experience is how I’m going to make you feel. I’m going to let you understand. And I’m going to let you see that I have your best interests at heart. And we’re going to do this together, I’m not going to have a paper presentation or lecture to you about what you should do. And then if you don’t do it, make you feel poorly. Or if you do it, I bullied you. Whereas I wanted planning to be this interactive experience, that we together design this plan, me as your advisor and the expert. But you, it’s your plan. And if it’s not your plan, if that experience isn’t real, that it’s we did it together, you’re probably not going to stick to plan.

Jack Sharry: Yes.

Edmond Walters: If it’s your plan, you’re probably going to stick to plan.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: So that was the battleground. I gotta get you away from being lectured to, and it’s presentation, and it’s about numbers, and here are three choices, you’ll pick the one in the middle, and all that BS our industry was doing.

Jack Sharry: Sure.

Edmond Walters: And everything was so product driven. It was all about you kept your corner office if you wrote enough business. I want to be the best damn advisor in the space. And I want to have the best client experience in the space. And I will have more referrals than I can handle. Because there’s a lot of people dying to have someone they can trust, that they can participate in those decisions, especially in the high net worth space, they don’t want to be told what to do, they’re decision makers. This is their lives, and they want to participate in those decisions. They just want to make sure they’re getting the best options. And that’s why even with our calculators we built, version one which Fidelity had at the end with Fidelity was, this is what you’re doing, I’m giving you some options. Where I’m going now is I’m trying to make it so interactive, that the client can start making modifications and changes and, and play with me in designing their future. And they have to. The more… I can’t emphasize enough, if they believe they were part of the design…

Jack Sharry: Yeah, yeah.

Edmond Walters: They will stick to their plan. If they think this is the plan that I gave them, or this is the one they should have, they won’t stick to it.

Jack Sharry: Yeah. So talk a little bit about what you’re doing now. I know you’re doing what I would call more sophisticated, more advanced kind of planning. I’m wondering if that isn’t just code for a deeper level of connection to the client, but explain what you’re doing. It sounds I mean, it’s fundamental to how you operate, is how do you get closer to the client, understand their real issues and concerns. But it also sounds like you’re working with clients with more complex, sophisticated, challenging situations. Tell us about that.

Edmond Walters: Right after I sold the Fidelity, I had a three year non compete. And then at the very end of that non compete, Jud Bergman reached out to me and said he’d like to get involved in advanced estate planning and there’s some other advanced cash flows and things like that, would I be interested? And I loved Jud, Jud and I were good friends. And then we got together in Florida with Bill, Bill Crager, and then we said you know, we can do this. So I started doing the advanced estate planning tool with them. And at that time, they reached out to MoneyGuide and then, since then I’ve sold it to MoneyGuide. So MoneyGuide has that advanced planning tool, they’re calling the studios. But all those tools, I wanted to get to that next generation, which is, the first generation was, here’s your presentation, I designed it last few days, here it is on paper, you should do this. The generation we added eMoney was, here’s the plan we should have and while we’re in the room together, leveraging the technologies, I can make modifications and changes and show you what should happen. This generation is, here’s all your data, this is how it currently is going to work. You’ve got the ability to make changes on your end with me or without me, let’s start playing with this thing. And let’s see if we can paint together the ultimate picture of your future.

Jack Sharry: What does that look like? I hear what you’re saying, but what, what is that experience like?

Edmond Walters: Well, imagine I give you a 30-40 year forecast, and now you’re in the room with me. And whether you want to type it or I type it, you would say you know what, my wife and I are talking about in five years, we’re gonna buy a house at the shore. And we just enter that expense. And right as you’re entering the expense, all the numbers are calculating themselves and redoing your long term forecast. And it’s right on the screen. And then your wife turns around and says, you know what, we’ve got my son, and we got to give him $20,000 a year for the next 10 years, because he’s back in graduate school or whatever, you can do that right on screen. They could do it on the screen. I could do it on the screen. And now they’re designing too. So imagine, first generation I designed and it’s on paper. And if we’re going to make changes, you got to give me a week, I gotta go back and make the changes. To eMoney we had it, I can make some modifications for you right on the screen. Now, they’re participating.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: So it’s taking experience, another phase in our activity. And the speed is phenomenally good. Because technology is every two, three years, as you know, it gets so much better.

Jack Sharry: Yep.

Edmond Walters: And it’s easier to use and the graphics are spectacular nowadays. So it’s all about that experience. It’s all about, it needs to be their plan.

Jack Sharry: And what are you calling the offering?

Edmond Walters: Well, they call it Wealth Studios, okay. And then Income Studios. The Income Studios, I love. I mean, that’s better than the Wealth Studios. Wealth Studios is really good, but like I said, it’s 30-40 year cash flow planning. It’s good, it’s attractive. It’s fun. But the 12 month studio is, imagine taking every one of your investment holdings. And I got this idea from Jud, actually. they built a tool, and I couldn’t find the damn tool, he told me about it. And I told him I need a sherpa, or German shepherd to find the damn thing inside their, their software. But I found it. And what he had was he could show you out for 12 months, what would your income’s gonna look like from every one of your portfolios, the interest in dividends month to month to month all the way through. I said, that is so cool. But you’re, you didn’t do anything about my other income sources like board income or real estate income, things like that. So I said, if I had that, and we put it in your portfolio income like you have, Jud, I can show you for the next 12 months where your checks are going to come from if you quit today. So when you’re thinking about all the baby boomers and we’re all leaving the workforce. First thing a spouse has to say to you is you’re not gonna get a salary anymore, where’s this, how are we gonna pay our bills? Well, with one click, I can show you month to month all the interest and dividends for every one of your portfolios, before and after tax. And I can say here it is, and by the way, when you levelize that all the way out, it’ll show you what surplus we have to give to the kids or give to charity or to reinvest. And it’s all on one screen. And then with a simple toggle, I can change the amount of income I need or, or expenses, or I can add expenses. So it’s an interactive experience to truly understand what my new paycheck is gonna look like. Which could be five paychecks and five portfolios but adds up to one portfolio and it simplifies things. And that’s a great tool. Then, we built a new portal, so that comes out this fall for Envestnet. They had client portals that were they were pretty good, but I said you know, if you’re gonna come out with a client portal, you don’t come out with something good. You come out with blow the industry away good. So it can’t be an eMoney want to be, you got to be better than eMoney by far. And that comes out October-November. We built that right here. And it’s pretty cool. I’m on it now. And I’ve been testing it. It’s really cool. Then there’s a retirement tool we’re building for them by taking some of the retirement assets they have, Envestnet.

Jack Sharry: Them, you’re saying, you’re referring to Envestnet?

Edmond Walters: Yep. So I still have a bunch of engineers and UI UX and, and product managers. And we did some work for MoneyGuide, we did, we’re doing a lot of work for Envestnet. I’m not sure how long that work will go for. If they have more projects, I’ll do more projects. If not, we’ll do projects for other people. But we’re also doing a trust and estates tool for a company called Ascendant. And that’ll be finished in October. And we’re doing a high net worth portfolio design tool that, we’re doing that for the high net worth group at Envestnet. We’ve been showing that to, you know RBC and other companies because everything I build, I don’t build because of the large company telling me what they want, I would never build that way. I build, I say if that’s what you want, I understand. But then I go to the field, I go to the advisors, then I even go to high net worth clients and say, is this what you would use? And this is what you want? Because I think the, the reason there’s so many failures of technologies in our industry is home offices build it for what home offices want. Or for what corporate people tell them they should do.

Jack Sharry: Yep.

Edmond Walters: And that’s doomed. And they all forget about who’s in the foxhole. Right. So I still do fly ins with advisors, I still stay connected with the top advisors. And to me, there’s no greater source for business intelligence than the people that are actually in the field. And I even give them designs to share with their clients and say, is this good or is it not good and, and then I have to keep thick skin because a lot of times they come back and say you’ve lost your mind. And then we we modify it and change it.

Jack Sharry: So, as you look back on what’s really been an incredible career, what are you most proud about in terms of what you’ve accomplished?

Edmond Walters: I’d say the number one thing I’m happy about is that I have been a big part, with all my people, as well as the input from the reps, of changing the way advice is going to be delivered interactively and face to face and not like it used to be in a room where we turn the lights off and put the acetates on top of a projector and looked up at the screen together and you never even saw your clients eyes. I mean, that was just so wrong. I think that was good. I think the other part was, I think I must have trained 50,000 advisors in holistic planning versus packaged planning. So a lot of advisors we had were just insurance guys that we made into more well rounded planners or investment people that we got to understand the other side of the aisle. And that was fun, too. But I think the most thing I’m proud of is how many of the people that were with me at eMoney are so successful now at other companies. So, they were just kids when I hired them. And I think that was the secret of eMoney is I didn’t have, I didn’t hire a bunch of people out of the Ivy League. I hired regular, young, hungry people, and probably put them in positions they shouldn’t have been in. But they all succeeded. And they all did really, really well. And I would say we were more the first generation college graduates that worked their asses off and succeeded than the Ivy League guys. In fact, I wouldn’t even hire Ivy League guys, that was one of the downsides of what people said about me. But I always thought they were too important to be competent. So I wanted the people that would actually work those extra hours and refuse to fail. I’ve always been on those guys.

Jack Sharry: So, Edmond, as we as we look to wrap up, this has been a real pleasure to get caught up with you, excited about the work you’re doing now. And of course, the work you’ve done, years gone by. This is my favorite time for the question around what do you do outside work that you’re particularly passionate about, or excited about, that people might find interesting or surprising?

Edmond Walters: They may find it surprising, but it’s not when you talk to a bunch of entrepreneurs. I probably read 50 to 60 books a year.

Jack Sharry: Wow.

Edmond Walters: And I listen to a lot of podcasts.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: But if you’re not learning every day, you’re not in the game.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: And, I, part of learning is not just your industry. In fact, I’d encourage you to read outside your industry. So things we even did at eMoney, like the videos, I stole that from the pharmaceutical business.

Jack Sharry: Yeah.

Edmond Walters: I looked at that and said those drugs are helping those doctors place those drugs. We need to create content, videos with professional actors to help the advisor message what the solutions are, and not product, but solutions, services and, and making sure you have estate plans and things like that. So I took that from other industries. And I think from reading constantly and studying outside your space, and applying successes in other industries to your space is enormously valuable. And I drink it all up. I just can’t… I probably do closer to 80 books than 60. But everybody I talk to that’s also started a business, they’re the same thing. They’re avid readers. And some are magazines and newspapers, but they just, they’re constantly trying to get better.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. Well, thank you, Edmond. This has been a real pleasure to take a trip down memory lane and talk about how it all got started and how you made it happen over, over many years and continue to do so now. For our audience, If you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please rate, review, subscribe, and share what we’re doing here at WealthTech on Deck, a special edition Legends of WealthTech. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. Edmond, thanks again. This has been a real, real pleasure.

Edmond Walters: Thanks, Jack. Take care.