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.

Advisor Spotlight: Jason Park, Margo Park Financial

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?

Honestly, I never intended to be an advisor. My dad was an advisor and he always wore starched white shirts and a full suit—that wasn’t my style. 

In a very roundabout way, I ended up starting my career as an insurance agent and wearing a suit and tie everyday. I became a very good salesperson in that role and, when the company offered to sponsor securities licenses, I thought why not? I saw it as a means to increase my insurance sales.

I quickly learned that I could offer far better client services if I were running a fee-only advisory practice. Going independent just made sense. I could do the same work, but be in full control of the client experience. 

When I left my firm to go independent, I was nervous to tell my clients—but every single one of them came with me. I'm so grateful for that.

Having my own RIA has been extraordinarily rewarding. I feel very lucky to have stumbled upon this business. I never take it for granted that I get to help people and make a difference in their lives.

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 so simple to just put yourself in a client's shoes and ask, what would you want? But providing a delightful experience to the end customer 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 clients, they never talk about a great experience. Nothing stands out.

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

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

I hesitated when I first heard about Betterment and its automation. I remember advisors being afraid of disruption in this industry and asking, are we going to be put out of business?

A lot of our jobs can be executed by software—which is excellent—but certainly not everything. We will always need a human element in the financial planning industry. So, at first, I was admittedly afraid, but 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.

When custom model portfolios for advisors were released, which brought Betterment’s automation into my own custom models, I remember thinking, this is really getting close to unicorn level.

Since I signed 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 in which this platform simplifies onboarding and my day-to-day practice operations, completing any task, is noticeably different from other custodians. I also 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 certainly 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?

Technology’s value is in making things less complex, and I think I’ve tested every tool out there.

Today, my firm’s main client portal is Blue Leaf, where you can sync accounts from any custodian. I also use Riskalyze because their risk questionnaire is incredibly thought-provoking and practical. Clients and I always walk through it together, and I continue to find that, as much as this industry is about quantitative metrics, it's also really about people and feelings.

Aside from this core stack, we’ve built out our own household 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 an order of magnitude better than any existing legacy custodian platform.

When chatting with a prospective client, my style is to get to a familiar, informal cadence as fast as possible. After connecting and deciding to work together, onboarding is so simple. I first send the client an invitation from the advisor portal. An email is sent to them, from which they can set up their own 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 clients accounts in Blue Leaf 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. With Betterment, it’s just two steps: send the invitation to open up the account, and 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 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. Being able to foster and maintain relationships is critical in this business.

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

Remote work hasn’t changed much about my business. I think people underestimate just how much you can get done virtually. If anything, going digital and keeping up with the technology of being virtual has just 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 and help you let go. 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