Simplifying practice operations and designing a better client experience with the right custodian

For this advisor spotlight, we chat with Jason Park about building a delightful client experience and using technology to create more meaningful, human connections.

For this advisor spotlight, we chat with Jason Park about building a delightful client experience and using technology to create more meaningful, human connections.

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Advisor: Jason Park

Firm: Margo Park Financial

Why did you decide to become a financial advisor?

It was more of a natural progression or evolution. I interned at two huge financial firms then became an agent at an insurance company. When that company offered to sponsor securities licenses, I took my exams and became a financial advisor—but the conventional, old-school kind that sells products for commission. The added licenses allowed me to advise on the client’s entire financial picture, but it was admittedly just an extension to insurance sales.

Then I learned I could eliminate commissions altogether (and the conflicts of interest they come with) if I were running a fee-only advisory practice. This is the only setup I know of that puts me squarely on the client’s side, by design. If I make an investment recommendation and earn zero dollars in commission, that’s the only way to know for certain that it’s my best, unbiased thinking. Going independent just made sense.

When I started my firm, I was so nervous to tell my clients—but every single one came with me. I'm so grateful to my foundation clients for that.

I feel very lucky to have evolved into this business model. I believe it’s the most ethical way to be a financial advisor—and my clients feel that, too. Having my own RIA has been extraordinarily rewarding. I never take it for granted.

What do you think is the least understood aspect of your job?

I think that advisors can sometimes miss out on creating a great client experience.

It seems simple to put yourself in the client's shoes and ask, what would I want? and make that happen. But providing a delightful experience to the client is something that I believe is woefully missing in this industry. And I think that clients, sadly, have become accustomed to it. When I meet prospective clients who have worked with an advisor before, they never describe having had an outstanding experience. Nothing stands out.

Carefully designing client communication or choosing technology that purposefully offers a great client experience, I believe, can really enhance an advisor's value.

Why did you choose to partner with Betterment for Advisors for your practice?

Well at first, Betterment scared me. I remember when Betterment came out (only for retail clients) with all its automation and we advisors were afraid of disruption in the industry and wondered, are we going to be put out of business?

So when Betterment for Advisors came to market, I was thrilled. I figured I couldn’t beat Betterment’s portfolio automation, so I’d take advantage of it instead.

Then additional investment options were added for advisors and custom model portfolios were released. I remember thinking, this is really getting close to unicorn level.

Since signing up, I've slowly been using Betterment for Advisors as my core custodian. Aside from one-off, niche situations, I place every client in Betterment. The experience is so simple, fast and easy.

The way this platform simplifies onboarding, my day-to-day practice operations and completing any task, Betterment is noticeably different from other custodians. I care deeply about, and am very sensitive to, the client's experience and Betterment really is the best experience I've ever found for clients (and for me as an advisor).

Other than using Betterment for Advisors as your go-to custodian, what does the rest of your tech stack look like?

I think I’ve tested every tool out there because I’m always looking for anything that might make the client experience better. Even if it means more work on our end, if something makes things easier, simpler or better for the client in a meaningful way, I’ll add or switch to it.

Today, my firm’s main client portal is Blueleaf, where you can sync accounts from any custodian. Every week an email is sent to the client that reports on all of their accounts—the client doesn’t need to log into anything, and the emails are simple and clean. I also use Riskalyze because their risk questionnaire is incredibly thought-provoking and practical. I always walk the client through it and I continue to find that, as much as this industry is about quantitative metrics, it's also about feelings and preferences.

Aside from this core stack, we’ve built our own household-level asset location calculator and, for very specific client scenarios, we’ll use Pontera to support managing externally-held 401(k)s.

Can you walk through what the typical onboarding experience looks like for a new client, and how Betterment for Advisors might fit into that onboarding flow?

Onboarding is where Betterment for Advisors excels—it’s truly an order of magnitude better than any existing legacy custodian platform.

When chatting with a prospective client, I try to get as familiar as possible, as quickly as possible (I think most people prefer an informal style). After
connecting and deciding to work together, onboarding is so simple. I first send the client an invitation from the advisor portal—an email gets sent, from which they can set up their login and verify all the information themselves. The process makes steps that other custodians force you to take look utterly superfluous—Betterment for Advisors is ten times simpler and faster. From there, we sync all of the client's accounts in Blueleaf and use Riskalyze to handle the risk questionnaire.

I was reflecting on how onboarding used to be with other platforms and it makes me so tired just thinking about it. As a real-life example, I was guiding a couple through multiple forms at a legacy custodian and it took two full hours—and this was using DocuSign, which is supposed to be fast and easy! They were so gracious and thanked me for my patience and I kept thinking this would literally take 10 minutes with Betterment. With Betterment, it’s just two steps: send the invitation to open up the account, then send a transfer request.

At a legacy custodian, you have to find all of the relevant forms and manually type in all the information. It utterly pales in comparison to Betterment.

What is one critical lesson you've learned from your clients?

Clients are real people, and they like to talk to real people.

Often, clients don't even want to discuss business—they want to connect personally and talk about what’s going on in their lives, which is great! And everyone has their own things which are important or significant to them—no one is the same, everyone is an individual. This interests me to no end. So I’ve found that this personal connection is vital in this business—and in life in general.

Has a remote or hybrid work environment changed your client relationships? 

No, not much. I think people underestimate just how much you can get done virtually. If anything, going digital and keeping up with technology has continued to make communication feel real and familiar for clients, which is my goal.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for advisors today?

Creating a better client experience. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to connect with another human being.

I often think about companies that have exceptional customer service. There’s this adage about Zappos, for instance, that they’re a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.

I feel the same way about this industry. What comes first is the connection with another human being—and that's the fun part. Creating an exceptional, delightful, important experience for the client is the biggest opportunity for advisors today, and for anyone else interacting with the end-client directly.

If you could only give one piece of financial advice, what would it be?

Time is on your side.

Whatever alpha value an advisor might bring, the biggest driver of returns is time. Even my retired clients are often surprised to realize they still have decades left to grow.

Realizing time carries so much weight can be calming. With more time, you will have a better investment experience. Obviously, there's no guarantee, but we do have a century of historic data to reference. Taking a step back and focusing on this long term process can help you put things in perspective. It can give you much-needed clarity, and might ease some anxieties about investing or retirement.

Jason Park, Certified Financial Fiduciary®, is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer at Margo Park Financial. Discover more Advisor Spotlights from Betterment for Advisors here