Morgan Stanley Wealth Management is backing a new digital platform aimed at removing the compliance barriers to asset managers promoting content such as thought leadership and product information to wealth managers.
The 4U Platform, a multimedia content management and measurement solution, is set to launch in July after four years of development in collaboration with about 60 investment firms.
T. Rowe Price will be one of the first managers to use the new service, while Morningstar is embedding the service into its practice management offering.
The platform is aimed at creating a user-friendly experience for marketing and compliance teams, relationship managers, product teams, wholesalers and others by providing real time approval for the sharing of seminars, research, fact sheets, client education, webinars, podcasts, videos, and product information.
“If I’m an adviser and I’m sitting at Morgan Stanley, I can’t possibly come up with every partner firm’s website that we’re authorized to use third-party content at,” 4U founder and co-CEO Denise Wypiszenski, a former Morgan Stanley Smith Barney executive turned fintech entrepreneur, told Fund Intelligence. “How much time is that going to take to figure out what they have? This gives … the adviser real-time access to every single piece of content, resource, seminar video, podcast, that’s available and approved at my firm.”
Wypiszenski, who worked at Smith Barney for 16 years before leaving in 2009 to become private wealth COO at Robert Baird, said asset managers spend billions on sales and marketing for such products and services, often with little engagement to show from it.
The platform, she said, eliminates the risks associated with current manual processes — spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls — between asset and wealth managers, and puts approved content, tools and resources at advisers’ fingertips.
“We had no idea that when an adviser is looking for a piece of approved content at their firm … they would literally have to look at an approval spreadsheet line-by-line, and then go back to the investment company, and get the piece of content and the approval code,” Wypiszenski said. “It’s extremely laborious and manual, with emails, spreadsheets, attachments, and at end of day, no one still has any idea what’s available and approved at every wealth management firm on the street.”
4U is coordinating its launch effort with several firms and currently has contracts, or is finalizing procurement, with eight wealth management firms and platform providers.
“We have had active due diligence conversations at another 10-plus wealth management firms,” Wypiszenski said. “We are going live in July … and the plan is to have the majority of the street, on the investment company side, on platform by September.”
Margaret Flynn-Martin, managing director and head of the Relationship Management Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, told Fund Intelligence that the firm worked on the project because its marketing review teams are often inundated with an “inordinate” amount of content on any given day from third-party, asset manager-produced materials that require an extensive internal review and approval process.
“It’s a cumbersome process but it’s a regulatory process and we need to be compliant, of course,” she said, adding that she believes the platform will become an industry standard. “It’s overwhelming at times. We think by using the 4U connect platform, we will actually streamline and speed up the marketing review and approval process for the asset managers and our marketing review teams.”
The platform includes two components: 4U Connect, a client-workflow portal where asset managers can submit all of their product and marketing resources — text, documents, fact sheets, audio and video — for review and approval at wealth management firms; and 4U Engage, a secure and customizable, Amazon-like dashboard for advisers to access approved specific content and corresponding usage analytics, such as ROI information.
For asset managers, that information will help them keep track of engagement and how their content is being received.
“We’re providing a benchmarking metric where they’re now going to have an opportunity on the street to be able to see why is my content resonating more at this firm than that firm, and what content should I be providing,” Wypiszenski said. “It’s really about all the money that’s spent right now to provide these products and marketing resources and not being able to track a real ROI.”
Morningstar will integrate the 4U Platform within its Morningstar Office Cloud, the company’s practice management software offering for advisers, with head of software products Dermot O’Mahony saying it will expand the breadth of information available to advisory firms, “streamlining the way in which asset managers engage with the advisor community.”
Annie Whitescarver Brown, head of T. Rowe Price US Intermediaries Broker/Dealer Distribution, said the platform will allow the firm to deliver its thought leadership to advisers and their clients in a more streamlined, timely, and scalable manner.
Flynn-Martin said that Morgan Stanley plans to leverage one component of the platform, 4U Connect, in order to enhance the streamlining and review of the marketing approval process, beginning in mid-September. She said that the platform will be used as a stand-alone solution and not integrated into any existing tech stacks.
“It’s an industry solution that goes beyond Morgan Stanley,” she said. “It’s not something that was built in a silo for one firm — it’s a solution across the industry for both distribution firms as well as asset management firms. I think it will create an efficiency across both sides of the industry and will pick up adoption.”
Flynn-Martin added that Morgan is in the process of informing the nearly 300 firms it works with about switching to the new platform, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for the service.
“The timing of getting this enhanced system up and running is critical,” she said.