Getting back into the wealthtech game

After success with NaviPlan, Dr. Mark Evans wants to revolutionize the digital financial planning space one more time

Getting back into the wealthtech game

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Film aficionados will likely recall Al Pacino delivering that line as Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III. In one of the movie’s pivotal scenes, Corleone realizes that despite his efforts to shed his mafia reputation and become a lawful member of society, the people from his past aren’t going to make it easy.

Dr. Mark Evans, the founder of EISI and leading mind behind the industry-defining NaviPlan financial planning platform, is one of the last people you’d imagine having a criminal background. But that quote substantially captures what he was thinking in 2018, in the middle of what he thought would be just a normal night out with former colleagues and employees.

“After we sold the NaviPlan solution to Zywave in 2011, I thought I’d be riding off into the sunset and leaving financial planning behind,” Evans told Wealth Professional. “But then they got to talking about how we should try and get back into the space, because it wasn’t really changing very much in Canada or the U.S. with the incumbents.”

Building a new advice platform

Evans was cold to the idea at first. If they wanted to build a second-generation platform, they’d have to do it from scratch with access to nothing but their experiences. Given the massive home run that EISI had managed to produce before, they would also probably be facing at least some pressure from high industry expectations.

But they managed to wear him down. After a few brainstorming sessions spent at his home, he too became excited at the thought of what they could do with a second at-bat.

“I and the other founding members of EISI wrote the first prototype of the NaviPlan solution on DOS using Microsoft c.5.1 in 1990, and migrated it to Windows later on,” he said. “When we started playing around with the technology of the day in 2018, we saw how much more quickly and effectively you could build things compared to 30-year-old technology.”

In 2018, they started their second official financial-planning software venture with Conquest Planning. With Evans as president and CEO, the company spent its first year operating under the radar, building prototypes and socializing them with some key contacts in the U.S. and Canadian marketplace. By 2019, they had closed a $3-million financing round with Portage Ventures and Fidelity Eight Roads, which is today known as Fidelity International Strategic Ventures.

At that point, they were also in discussions with Jeff Carney, then-CEO of IG Wealth Management. Evans’ history with the company goes as far back as 1995, when EISI landed IG Wealth Management as its first commercial partner to adopt the NaviPlan solution.

“He was very interested in supporting what we were doing, and was able to fast-track a partnership between Conquest and IG,” Evans said. “We signed a contract with IG in May last year, and had launched fully to their field force by the end of 2020.”

An ideal wealthtech partnership

In the five or six months between the contract signing and platform launch, Conquest and IG went through a process of integrated development. It was an ideal partnership, Evans said, as the IG Wealth Management platform had a number of components that the Conquest team wanted to be able to bring into their solution. And as a pre-eminent leader in the Canadian wealth space, IG provided an ideal sandbox for Conquest to conceptualize, execute, and refine their ideas.

As Evans tells it, Conquest’s partnership with IG has allowed it to accomplish in a year and a half what EISI needed eight years to do – and more.

“Our major thesis in how we re-architected our solution is trying to eliminate ‘trial and error planning,’” he said. “The incumbent tools are great at simulating what might happen if you took certain actions, but we wanted a tool that would actively suggest strategies for the client. We also wanted the platform to help the advisor refine those strategies in a very quick, easy-to-understand manner that clients could follow in real time.”

With the increased interest in digital wealth technology catalysed by the events of 2020, there’s no shortage of industry demand for that type of solution. From its initial focus working with IG Wealth Management, Conquest has expanded its list of partnerships to include Investment Planning Counsel, Purpose Financial, and Canada Life. The company also has a pipeline of deals that include key enterprise opportunities as well as a number of other smaller organizations.

“We’ve also built an international version of the tool. We’re aiming to go into the U.K. market later this fall, and the U.S. next year,” Evans said. “We’ve got around 60 people now, and we should have around 90 people by the end of the year because we’re in another growth mode right now.”