Q&A With First Rate CTO of the Year Finalist
First Rate recently announced that we have been recognized as a finalist in 5 different categories for the “Wealthies” Industry Awards program. These categories include many of our new and innovative AI and reporting solutions. As a leader in the vision and creation of building the innovation lab First Rate’s CTO, Bo McWilliams, was also recognized as a finalist for CTO of the year. We decided to sit down with him and discuss his vision, execution, and the why behind many of the nominated solutions.
Q: What is your background professionally and at First Rate?
“I worked at a number of different firms before coming to First Rate, including Texas Instruments, H.D. Vest, and Wells Fargo. I started my career working on systems to support manufacturing and defense divisions before finding my fit in Financial Technology. During that time, I held every role from programmer to director of technology and helped to build many of the products that financial services firms use today, including CRMs, proposal generation tools, trading/rebalancing platforms, client reporting solutions, and commission and billing systems. When I came to First Rate, I was looking for a CTO role but was hired on as General Manager of the Professional Services team. After several years in that role as well as heading up the Managed Hosting team, I have settled into my dream job and I am excited to help lead our technology team into the future.”
Q: What was your vision for our innovations and solutions when you stepped into the CTO role?
“My vision was and is for us to create solutions that use modern technology to empower our users. As part of that vision, we have upgraded our DevOps tools and cybersecurity protocols. We have moved to a microservices infrastructure and rebuilt our front end using modern frameworks to support a modular dashboard that can be curated to the needs of end-users. With all of those changes, we have maintained our focus on our clients and walked through each click in the user journey to ensure that we are improving the user experience. We are working with industry experts and partners to make sure that our users have access to all the tools they need and they don’t have to sift through content that doesn’t add value. Out of all of this, my hope is to see our users getting recognized and promoted for their unparalleled productivity and I want all market verticals that move onto our platform seeing their reach and impact grow so that they can help more and more people navigate the complex economic landscape we are living in.”
Q: How are you executing that vision?
“A key part of our execution has been to onboard a new offshore team that brings deep wealth management experience in the institutional and private bank markets. Each team member brings decades of experience in both Finance and Technology. But more importantly, they bring a unique approach to development that marries those two worlds. We also have made significant investments in our R&D (innovations) processes where we conceive, prototype, and market-test new products and services prior to making full product development commitments. The process has generated robust new conversations with our clients and prospects about their business plans and use of technology to serve their clients more effectively. We have seen this process lived out most recently with our application of Artificial Intelligence, which has been slow to gain traction in some parts of the wealth management world because of the fear that it is a “black box” that lacks transparency and is difficult to control. We feel we can circumvent those fears by building applications that are centered around industry best-practices and using AI tactically where it makes the most sense such as Natural Language Generation. The result is that our technology feels like it is handing you a scalpel rather than stepping in to do the surgery. There are several other examples of how our team blends technology with best practices in the finance world, but the overall theme is that our obsession with holding clients first is borne out in our technology, which seeks to empower people rather than replacing them.”
Q: What is your vision for the 5-10 years at First Rate?
“My vision is that in 5-10 years, First Rate will be the most trusted player in the space. When I look around at First Rate’s impact on the industry, I think it’s trust and commitment to service. There are plenty of vendors with impressive technology and robust offerings and we certainly want our users to trust that we will lead in those areas. However, we want it to go beyond that to where our users trust us to put them first, delivery on our commitments, and to support them as they serve their clients. With the WealthTech vendor landscape in constant flux through mergers and acquisitions, it is hard to find a partner that you can trust to stand by your side. My vision is that we will continue to earn the trust every day for the next 10 years and beyond.”
Q: How do the culture and values of First Rate fit into your vision for our new solutions and innovation processes?
“In many ways, it is the other way around—the vision is driven by the culture and values. I feel privileged to work for a company that values generosity as a guiding principle, where love and service and employee diversity are deeply ingrained into the fabric of the company, and we are encouraged to enjoy and revel in what we are creating. In a sense, I feel a burden for our team to create products that reflect those values of love, give, serve, and enjoy. As we think through everything—from the strategic direction of our products to the nuances of certain design elements—we constantly asking ourselves how it all fits into the First Rate ethos. It is exciting to think of new ways to do things better, faster, and cheaper, but if we lose ourselves in the process, it will all be for nothing. I think the key to our success so far is that our teams are made up of people on three continents with very diverse ethnic, social, faith, and racial backgrounds. They embody our values at work and in their personal lives in order to impact clients, their communities, and co-workers. We’ve brought together teams of people who embrace our culture and values, and our products and services have become a natural extension of that.”
Q: What is the impact you want First Rate to make through the vision that you have with technology and innovation?
“If I were to put it into a word, I would say clarity. Nearly 8% of our GDP goes to financial intermediaries, and a big part of their job is to help clients see through the haze and complexity of the financial world. That almost creates adverse incentives though because the more haze there is, the more expertise is required to see through that haze so those intermediaries can charge higher fees. However, by delivering solutions that allow advisors to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, it is easier to align those incentives. Advisors can take on more clients at a lower fee, they can give their clients a clearer picture of their financial situation, and their services would be available to broader swaths of the population rather than being concentrated with the affluent. If we can provide solutions that help clear the fog and give investors confidence that individuals can retire, pay for college, fund a mission, leave an inheritance and institutions can fund future obligations, etc., I can’t think of a better impact than that.”
Stay tuned! We hope to find out the results of the awards soon enough. Click here to learn more about Bo McWilliams.