Chatting Financial Management with Co-Founder & CEO of Onist, Brad Kotansky

When you think financial management, you might not jump out of your seat with excitement, but financial management is the tool by which individuals can make or lose vast quantities of ones wealth.

Bottom line, it is incredibly important and yet the many small family offices scattered across the US and Canada still lack a level of sophistication to enable them to perform at peak level.

Put it this way, think of a sales person working without a CRM. Crazy right? And yet that is essentially what financial management offices are currently doing. Enter Onist, the CRM of financial managers. The tool that is going to solve some of their key customer challenges. Exciting days are ahead, check out my conversation with Brad, Co-Founder & CEO of Onist below to learn more...

CL: Brad, you have always dabbled in the world of asset management, and venture investing. Now you are trying your hand at building a financial management platform for professionals and consumers alike. So why Onist and why now?

BK: The core of what Onist does is around connecting families with their financial data and documents as well as their financial professionals. The seed for Onist came from a personal need for me in 2014 when my dad was having difficulties with his health and we had a conversation about me taking over his finances. We were living in different cities and I quickly realized there was no technology or tool that would allow me to help him – without access to his data and contacts helping him was time consuming and also painful.

I got in touch with my best friend from childhood, and now co-founder Ari Brojde who was working as a financial advisor, and we decided to create a solution for this problem. The real pain point is getting access to everything and everyone who needs it. Over time the idea morphed from just managing finances into something bigger –  managing entire households and securely housing important documents related to people’s finances and estate plans.

CL: For those who don’t know, how do you define Onist as a business?

BK: We connect people – think family members, extended family and their professionals – to their household data and documents. We are the first SaaS based financial management platform that empowers true collaboration around a family’s entire financial picture.

CL: What are some of the key pain points you are helping to resolve on the business side?

BK: For our enterprise customers, we solve 3 main pain points: acquisition, engagement and retention.

First, Onist helps with customer acquisition. Professional and financial service firms are plagued by tremendously high costs of customer acquisition. By helping to visualize and understand their customer’s existing networks, Onist can help reduce the costs associated with finding new clients, and do so more profitably.

Second, we help with customer engagement. Onist offers firms’ clients a platform they can call their own. Forcing clients into your environment has been a poor strategy for enterprises as client usage of portals is very low. Firms need to engage with their clients in the client’s world, not force them into theirs. Onists’ sharing and chat features also promote greater collaboration on all sides.

Finally, it’s a well known fact that retention rates in the industry are low. Part of the problem is that professionals often only serve their client or an account for their client. Letting them see and engage with the client’s entire household, a spouse and the next generation of adult children, increases their ability to retain clients and keep the household within their management. This also opens the door to upsell opportunities.

CL: From a customer standpoint, do you have any metrics around the amount of time you can help save on laborious tasks for financial planners to help them to spend more time on actual financial management?

BK: We are starting to get some good metrics around engagement, but it’s still early days for us. The most consistent feedback is that enterprises ranging from small to large publicly traded organizations really have very little visibility into the household, which is shocking. And if they do have the data, it is sitting in various systems, none of which are connected. What ends up happening is that consumers get a very disjointed experience dealing with their advisors, and professionals end up missing out on client experience and revenue generating opportunities.

For instance, my family may have my wife and I as separate records, not even know we are together, and won’t understand who I am and what my household network could mean to the firm. With Onist, financial planners can see all of this information and save time digging around through siloed systems when they’re looking to better understand and upsell clients.

CL: What measures does Onist take to ensure a high level of data security for its customers?

BK: This is one of the most important areas for me. We think of security and privacy as 2 separate things. We ensure all data is inaccessible and illegible to potential hackers by using industry best practices, firewalls, server hardening, secrete keys, passwords and access controls to make sure data is only accessible to the people you intend to share it with.

We use SSL certificates and 256 bit algorithms and go above and beyond the security practices of most fintechs by deidentifying and encrypting all personal data and storing it separately from your financial data.

Additionally, we work with global leaders in data security to ensure that user’s information is always safe. Our security practices have been audited by KPMG and our privacy practices have been verified by TRUSTe and all our vendors adhere to rigorous security standards and are trusted by millions of end users worldwide.

CL: Is the B2C play by Onist a way to develop a referral program to professional organizations or do you plan to pursue both markets with a similar level of energy?

BK: We are currently working on a larger distribution model on the enterprise side that takes time. On the consumer side, where our thinking started with Onist, we feel everyone should be able to connect around their finances. Allowing consumers to share their account with their professionals helps them collaborate around their finances and the happy consequence is that it brings more users into Onist to share and collaborate around their personal, or their client’s, financial picture.

CL: While many think that technology is going to take away jobs from the financial arena, others feel that technology will only empower financial employees to provide a better level of service. Where do you stand on the matter, and how does Onist fit into that viewpoint?

BK: At Onist, we are strong believers that at least for the foreseeable future, humans + technology is a winning strategy. If your job was just as a broker of securities, I would say your career is at higher risk. But for those firms that truly act as the financial quarterbacks of their clients, if they are equipped with technology to automate mundane tasks and give clients better experiences, the future is wide open for them.

CL: As more tools like Onist proliferate the SME financial planner market, do you think we will see more growth in the SME financial management space?

BK: There is no question. Technology is forcing everyone to really ‘up’ their game. It’s no longer about just being a salesman, you really need to understand and service your clients – and technology is the enabler that allows you to grow your practice by automating mundane workflows so you can focus on your client.

A good way to think about it would be to think about ridesharing companies like Uber or Lyft. You wouldn’t even dream anymore of having a taxi driver roaming around looking for clients today. Now it’s a seamless experience where you tap a couple buttons and are matched with a driver in an intuitive easy manner.

The same thing is now happening in the wealth management space, which means financial planners shouldn’t restrict their customer base to their office location. They should be able to access and find customers anywhere across the country and technology is now allowing for that.

Those financial planners who embrace automation tools and tech will gain access to new distribution channels for acquiring new customers and retaining existing customers, which will lead to increased market share in the coming years.

CL: Staying on the topic of the broader financial markets, lets chat about consumers. What are some of the key struggles you see in the world of personal financial management, and what can we do from an education standpoint to help improve this?

BK: This is a big topic and I think the answer may be different for different demographic groups. The millennials are already giving the keys to their finances to algorithms. Whether its robo advisors investing your spare change in an personal finance portfolio, or an algorithm automatically pulling money out of your checking account and saving it for you, millennials want this stuff. They don't want to have to create a budget themselves.

The needs of my generation are different though. There are some baby boomers that are very tech forward and use all these tools. But we are married, have kids, mortgages, and most interestingly, aging parents. Aging parents who may have a lot of wealth, or aging parents who may need caregiving both physically and financially. It is this market that we are primarily focusing on. Its a massive market, growing by the day, and has some significant pain points.

The education component is key and hopefully we are working on strong content and partnerships around this area.

CL: From a monetization strategy, is the plan to charge like a SaaS offering?

BK: For now, we are deploying a freemium model where the consumer is free, and enterprise pays. We do believe that there will be new features we will release in the future that we would charge consumers a monthly fee for, but we are not there yet.

CL: Will other entities such as lawyers pay to access Onist as well or will this just act as a portal to better enable financial managers to interact with these individuals?

BK: For us, the key is to find the financial quarterback be it the wealth advisor or lawyer or accountant. It’s the quarterbacks that will be the power users that pay to get the benefits Onist provides.

CL: On the B2C side, what types of customers do you see signing up for your service. Does it tend to be a super user type of individual or someone with little knowledge of their finances?

Great question. Initially, we started out serving need for adult children to help manage their aging parent’s finances. We quickly learned that users were using the software for other solutions, for example spouses sharing their accounts and providers to get the whole family on the same page. Business owners who’d never been able to clearly see their complete net worth including personal and business finances. Basically anyone with complexity in their financial lives and wants an easy, simple way to organize their financial lives.

CL: I was surprised to see that you have offices in Toronto, Montreal, and Scottsdale Arizona. With a geographic spread what are your plans for US and Canadian expansion. Are there certain markets you are pursuing first?

BK: Our main office is in Toronto, that is where product, marketing and development primarily sit. We also have a smaller office in both Montreal and Scottsdale.

But we just removed Onist’s waitlist and opened the platform to the public a few weeks ago and plan to make a real launch later this year and into early next year across North America. The demographic trends and market needs are similar on both sides of the border, so will are treating both sides of the border with equal excitement.

CL: Are you currently looking to raise capital, and if so how will the funds be deployed to execute on your strategy?

BK: My co-founder and I are discussing capital right now. The key for us is to find the right partner. We aren’t looking to take in capital from anyone, in an ideal situation we will find the partner who sees our vision, understands the challenges that will come with achieving it, will help throughout the process and add expertise in the areas we are lacking. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

CL: Will you be attending any events where readers can find and speak with you?

BK: We recently spoke at Finovate and Hack your Tomorrow, and my co-founder Ari and I will be presenting at Money 20/20‘s ‘Startup Pitch’ in Las Vegas this coming Monday, October 23rd. We’ll be demoing the platform too at booth S44 in ‘Startup City’ if anyone wants to come say hi to Ari and I!

The Minute Rundown with Brad Kotansky

CL: If you could provide one tip to someone considering starting up, what would it be and why?

BK: You will learn more about yourself and your team during the trying times than the good times.

CL: Since you are in Canada, which of the Canadian hockey teams is your favorite?

BK: I was born and raised in Montreal so when it comes to hockey, my heart will always be with the Habs. But my favorite sports are soccer and basketball.

CL: If you could model yourself after one founder who would it be and why?

BK: Instead of giving the typical Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk answer I will give a slightly different answer – Peter Hultz and Mike Krzyzewski (Peter is owner of the San Antonio Spurs). Their ability to build a quality organizations where all parts of the system, from coaches and trainers to the players, all buy into a common goal and consistently deliver peak performance, and with class. That’s something I admire tremendously.

In closing:

As you can see Brad is a seasoned finance guy as well as an entrepreneur, and investor. He and his team are filling in a need within the market that is sure to bring about meaningful value for its customer base.

If he can help optimize financial managers in their daily work Onist will have the power to create massive value. Sophistication is the name of the game in financial management. The key is Onist.

Brad and team, thanks for investing in truly Simple.Innovative.Change

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