From developer to CEO, how Ali Zahedi built Infinite Investment Systems into a top tech provider

Infinite Investment Systems’ CEO and founder Ali Zahedi sits down with David Kitai from Wealth Professional to talk about what advisors need from their tech platforms today and how his background as a developer has helped make Infinite Investment Systems one of WP’s Top 25 Wealth Tech Providers.

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Narrator  00:00:02 

In this episode of WP TV hear how an ex-developer turn tech leader is helping advisors navigate a highly volatile market. 

David Kitai  00:00:10 

Hello and welcome to this special edition of WP TV where we are celebrating the WP Top 25 Wealth Tech Providers of 2024. My name is David Kitai, Senior Editor at Wealth Professional. Today we are pleased to welcome Ali Zahedi CEO and founder of Infinite Investment Systems. Ali began his career in 1998. As a developer for a Canadian wealth tech firm. He co-founded Infinite in 2004 and has worked for years to develop and market harmony Infinite's flagship software product. Today he is focused on the growth of the business and his future endeavors. Ali, welcome to WP TV. 

Ali Zahedi  00:00:46 

Thank you very much pleasure to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.  

David Kitai  00:00:49 

Of course, it's a pleasure to have you. So let's start with your company's name on this list, what do you think earned Infinite Investment Systems a spot on the WP Top 25? Well, tech providers listen. 

Ali Zahedi  00:01:02 

I mean, I think it's a number of factors to that. I think we you know, we live and breathe this industry, we're very focused on on this specific industry and in Canada. And we're constantly trying to add the new modules, new features, new products, we have a very strong team. And when we're continuously growing the team by bringing on great team members, we're participating in all kinds of industry events and invest back into the industry in store programs and initiatives to nurture the talent in the industry. So we're very committed to the product to the team, to the talent and to the industry itself. So I think all of those combined, have helped us have this opportunity. 

David Kitai  00:01:50 

I like that you focus on commitment. And sort of in the intro, we ended up one of your biggest commitments, which has been harmony, your kind of core product. So So tell me a little bit about harmony. And how has it evolved up to now? 

Ali Zahedi  00:02:02 

Harmony is a portfolio management system of though I'm probably slightly biased, in my opinion, I do believe it to be the most comprehensive portfolio management system in the industry is quite wide to us. And you know, when we first started the harmony, it was very much portfolio value wishing portfolio management system with a lot of the core modules that typically go along. And over the years, we've expanded to include a lot of new modules, a lot of new functionality and products, as the demands of the industry have grown. You know, when we first started about 20 years ago, most of the systems and applications will offer it inside of us. And yeah, that was a common, you know, setup for most firms. Whereas now everybody's looking for highly integrated solutions, you obviously want to have as much data stability, scalability, transparency, you don't want to sort of do anything manually if you don't have to cut down mistakes, everything of that nature. There's a lot more that clients do with their clients that are all electronic that might have been, you know, done with pen and paper before. So generally speaking, we've had to expand what we offer in our application and what we offer to the clients and the clients of the clients. And we've had to get a lot better than at working with other firms and other companies and integrating within their solution. So there's a whole lot of things that have grown in the system in terms of functionality, features, modules, new product lines, integrations, and also again, always go back to team just making sure that the harmony as an application strong as it may be, cannot be decoupled from the great people behind this system who a continue to nurture it and grow it but also supported on a day to day basis. 

David Kitai  00:04:01 

No that's a great answer. And it's interesting always to hear how wealth tech firms are developing and expanding and coming up with with new ways to meet client needs and meet advisor needs. So, to that end, what are you hearing from advisers about what they need now from their wealth tech firms from the firm they choose to partner? 

Ali Zahedi  00:04:22 

That's an interesting question because there's there's probably multiple things that that we can touch on here. And so the first thing is you want to you want to everybody wants to give their clients a more seamless experience. So everything from opening the accounts to updating their their, you know, annual KYC know your client forms, to sending them the statements, everything. Obviously, everybody wants that to be a seamless, integrated, easy process. So there's a lot of emphasis on front facing applications. Were there again, for account opening or for KYC suitability for reporting portals are everything and anything that allows the the advisors and the portfolio managers to communicate and service their clients better. That's a big piece. And it's a big part of the demand. But at the same time, even though like those demands are on the front facing part of the equation, the back end is also at a point where it needs to be enhanced, because now with the emergence of AI, with the increased scrutiny on security and scalability and stability, the back end and the infrastructure that supports the system, and the clients, the advisors needs to be equally focused on and you need to strengthen it to make sure the data is solid, that there's a, you know, harmony in the data and everything that comes together, that it's secure, and scalable, everything that you need to send to other applications received is done in an efficient way. And so we sort of at the same time, we're very focused on both sides of it. So focusing on on creating that end to end solution and integration that we can talk about that, you know, whether you build or your partner with other firms and things of that nature, but that that overall experience is key. But then the back end, the infrastructure, the stability, that's also important. And that also sets us up for some of what's coming down the pipeline. Again, like with AI, you know, it's very easy to see a future where, as an advisor, you can work with the system to say, Hey, I'm going to visit my client up in this corner, the, you know, the city, who can I see on my way there, I cannot draw paint as I'm taking an hour long trip to see, you know, John Smith, but there's going to be a bunch of people along the way that maybe I can make this into it. So for the system to come in and help you through that, or to get involved in adding to your research and analytics, and all of those things, through the usage of AI and all the emerging technology that's out there, that relies on a very strong back end and strong data infrastructure. And that really is as much as we do a lot of work on the front, I would say our true bread and butter, our strength is in the back and the data and all that stuff. And we've done a lot to build a strong data team, do AI projects, make sure we have great people that set us up for that future. So that was a very long answer to your question, but it was shown to be as wholesome as they can. 

David Kitai  00:07:49 

No, it was a great answer. And it led very neatly into my next question, which is interesting, because you talk about the back end, and in some ways your career started at the back end. And you began as a developer.  

Ali Zahedi  00:08:00 


David Kitai  00:08:01 

So what does your background as a developer mean for infinite investment systems and the way you manage as it as it CEO, and for your clients and their ability to trust Infinite? 

Ali Zahedi  00:08:12 

I don't know if I mean, in some ways, maybe it's like a player who then becomes a coach, and they have a sense of what it's like to play the game, I definitely have a sense of what it's like to develop the application and then have to support it and, you know, grow it, I think I'm probably a little bit more realistic, in my understanding of what is possible, what's, you know, what's gonna happen in the next six, six to 12 months versus what's going to happen in 12 to 24 months. But one of the things that I think is the most important truly is how much I appreciate and recognize the talent and the strength of the individuals that that work with us and are at and where and how we need to build the team out so that we're ready for the future because I understand the different sort of skill sets like as much as I am, for instance, not as strong infrastructure person, my technical background tells me that we need strong infrastructure people so because I have a sense of what it takes to build applications and and understand the technology. I think I'm very appreciative of the skills that we need to have in house and what we need to nurture. So I think I understand what it takes to build applications because I have been building applications. I understand what it takes to build a great team that needs to be in place to build those applications support it. And I think I'm pretty realistic about what we can target and what we can accomplish and where the future you know, plans may may take us and lastly, I think If I'd like to think I'm a lot more efficient with how fast we get there, and with how many people we get, I mean, if you have no sense of the what it actually takes, and somebody tells you, hey, we need 14 people to do X, Y, and Zed, you're like, well, we need 14 people. But when you have a bit of a sense of what it takes, you might be able to say, Well, look, maybe a strong team of eight people will be better than 14 people, how are you building this team up? Who's going to do what? And so having a bit of a background there also helps me again, now, I will say we have extremely strong technology, individual CTO heads of products, we're far better than me. But at least I can speak their language and we can come up with good plans to get.  

David Kitai  00:10:50 

So that's a fascinating perspective. And I can't tell you how many different industries I've spoken to where that, that idea of basically being in the weeds having done the work, and then moving on to leadership informs that leadership so well. And I like the player manager metaphor. Do you think there's any similarities between you and Pep Guardiola or  

Ali Zahedi  00:11:08 

Man, you know, a lot of people have done great things that I don't dare compare myself. But you know, if, if playing the game is going to help you become a coach, or a manager. I think in our world, also, being a programmer, and being on that side helps you run the business and and be in a more sort of a business oriented role.  

David Kitai  00:11:38 

Absolutely, absolutely. So now, in this leadership role, as you're, as you're driving things forward for your company, what are some of the sort of pieces and that's a technology that you're working on now that advisors should be aware of?  

Ali Zahedi  00:11:52 

So what we are developing a lot of the front facing tools more than ever, like I said, and we're also considering a lot of partnerships with great companies that that can provide our clients with complimentary applications and services. We're also quite focused on the back end, as I mentioned, we've been building that team out a lot, working with great clients as well that are supporting us in that. And so I think what the clients can expect to see is great new user experiences coming out not only in harmony, but but various other products that we're putting out there, make sure that, you know, we stay current and some of the older pieces of technology, get the facelifts and the new user experiences, while being mindful that there's a lot of legacy users who are very used to the application. So So you know, find that balance. But also, I do think as much as like with every new technology, there's a bit of a hype, and you kind of have to separate that from the real life applications. But I do think there's a lot of great tools that we can put out there based on AI. And there's a lot of cool new features and functionality that we'll be introducing in the coming years that people can take advantage of and have a real interactive experience with the system and get a lot more out of the data that they have on. 

David Kitai  00:13:18 

So advisors are facing a very volatile market environment. They have been for maybe the past three, four or five years. But volatility seems to be this constant watchword now. And a lot of advisors look to their tech providers to help manage that volatility for themselves and for their clients. So So what can your tech do to help advisors in this volatile market environment? 

Ali Zahedi  00:13:40 

I think you know that the most important thing that we can do is to be stable, as a company, as an application, be reliable. Make sure that when you want to log in, you can log in and get what you need out of the system. I also think it's important for us to have really great people who are there for the clients so that if they have new needs, if they have any challenges that they can voice, those concerns, bring it to us, we really do pride ourselves on a real partnership mentality. We want to be close to our clients, again, the amount of time we spend in trying to put events on for our clients, connect with them, sit in front of them, have FaceTime with them, to hear what their concerns are, what their needs are, what they want to get from us. I can tell you, it's we spend an enormous amount of time on it. We're constantly hiring great new talent to nurture that part of our business. So I think for us to have to be that stable part of their business that they can rely on is important to be a partner that can always be there for them through the evolution of their business. Look, we've worked with a lot of firms that started managing $100 million that are now managing 10s of billions of dollars and they've grown their businesses by staggering amounts and Still, we're there that we're working with them. And to me that that is wonderful to see. And it shows that we're committed to the evolution of their business. So volatile as their business may be, we can change the markets, we can change the volatility, all we can do is make sure we're the stable people in the back, we're helping them through that volatility. And beyond that, you know, like I said, try and introduce new features, new functionality to move forward with the times, but But first and foremost, be there, be stable, be responsive, and make sure they get what they need out of the system. 

David Kitai  00:15:38 

So, Ali, you mentioned how much you've spent time in front of your own clients, talking with advisors talking with firms about about what they need, what are you hearing that they hear from their clients? What are what are the pieces that the end user client, the advisors client seems to be demanding now that you want to work on you want to build out? 

Ali Zahedi  00:15:58 

I think we're at a point in history now where there's an enormous amount of data and formalities and forms and information that needs to go back and forth, whether it's client communicating to the advisor about their needs, their families, structures, etc, etc, whether it's the adviser communicating to the client, about their their portfolios, and the positions and various reporting mandate. And we haven't fully gone away from pen and paper, but we haven't fully created a beautiful, harmonious, simple, you know, electronic environment, either. A lot of it is disjointed. A lot of it needs to sort of come together, you know, a lot of people have a lot of documents, across a lot of different platforms, a lot of usernames, a lot of, you know, passwords. And I think there's a lot of companies that are trying to centralize this and create one wholesome solution where everything ends up. There's a lot of logistical issues with that there's a lot of ego issues with that there's a lot of security issues with that. So I think we're working through all those challenges. But I would say as a, as a client, you probably have a lot of emails going back and forth, a lot of notifications, a lot of portal access, it's a lot of, well, if you want this, it's here, if you want this, it's here and then twice a year, you get this email now four times a year, you get this mail now, and five times, you know, if five forms that you need to fill out for this, so that I feel like there's a whole lot of administration and data maintenance, and so on and so forth. You know, if you fast forward to a magical 20 years, in the future, I would imagine a lot of this stuff has been streamlined, there's probably a process around that there's probably ways that that this will be a lot simpler. But I would say at this moment, it's still not super easy to open a new account, it's probably not super easy to make certain transfers of funds and exchanges and so on and so forth. And a lot of it for good reason. Look, there needs to be certain scrutiny certain security in place. But, you know, you look at it, like going through the airport, you know, is that fully streamlined right now, can you fly through? Can you can you depend on 100% efficiency? No, you know, sometimes there's there's but but it's one of those things that as air travel gets, you know, more and more common, everything in line with that needs to get streamlined and better and easier. And I think as we have been moving to this electronic world, again, all of that, all the pieces around it with the data with the with the forms with the with the various actions that different parts need to take needs to become a lot simpler, a lot more streamlined. 

David Kitai  00:19:06 

Excellent, well, with that, le unfortunately that is all the time we have. And so all I have left to say is thank you for your great remarks and fascinating insights into the world of wealth technology. Congratulations again to yourself and the whole team at Infinite Investment Systems. 

Ali Zahedi  00:19:22 

Thank you very much. It was a pleasure and I again I really appreciate this opportunity. Thank you. 

David Kitai  00:19:27 

Of course for WP TV I have been David Kitai. Thank you so much for watching and have a great rest of your day.