eMoney Advisor CEO Ed O’Brien: “It’s important to feel like your work matters and changes the lives of others for the better”
Make an impact. As the old saying goes, “if you love what you do then you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s important to feel like your work matters and changes the lives of others for the better. I love helping people talk about money because I get to drive better financial outcomes for more people.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed O’Brien, CEO of eMoney Advisor.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always loved technology. The introduction of home computers in the late 70s and early 80s really fueled my interest to pursue a degree in computer science. When I began my career with Fidelity about 30 years ago, I relied on my background in computer science to automate important services that made investments more cost effective for the general public. I spent much of my career focused on automation and efficiency, which was great, but I wanted to see how we could use technology to make more of a personal and emotional impact on people. So, it was a natural progression to eventually become the CEO at eMoney, a company that creates technology for financial advisors to deliver both the financial and the emotional elements of holistic planning.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
During the late 1980s, I started my early career as a programmer. I never really loved programming, but I loved applying technology in business, so I felt committed to the role as a programmer/analyst. I made a big mistake in a module that I had been working on, that was just one part of a much larger program. It broke and created a big mess in our production software. In the aftermath, I asked a senior colleague what she thought of my mistake — and she was very blunt. She said that my coding sucked. Although it maybe wasn’t humorous at the time, it was eye-opening. She made me really think about leveraging more of my strengths as an analyst, rather than in programming. So, within the following months, I found my way to an opportunity that was better aligned with my strengths and interests. I’m still friends with her today. And of course, I can laugh about it much more easily now.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our mission at eMoney is to help people talk about money through our technology and create products that enable financial peace of mind for all. Currently, we’re working on new products and services that would bring financial planning concepts and education to underserved groups, which is exciting but also necessary.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?
I was working as Head of Advisor Technology at Fidelity when Fidelity started the acquisition process of eMoney back in 2014. I was heavily involved in that project and realized from the get-go that eMoney had the potential to make a huge impact on the industry. I learned the ins and outs of the software and the company and knew eMoney was really something special. I believed in the people there and in the work they did to transform financial planning to help both advisors and their clients. Once the acquisition was complete and the time came to hire a CEO, I considered going for it. I kind of shocked myself when I decided to put my hat in the ring. I had never set out on my career path to be a CEO one day. I was happy leading the technology side of the house. But I believed in eMoney. I knew I could take it to the next level given my experience. So, I decided to go for it. My advice to people would be to never limit yourself to one role or department or career trajectory. Sometimes the perfect opportunity arises — one you never envisioned — and you have to take a chance to go for it, even if it’s out of your comfort zone.
What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?
a) Make an impact. As the old saying goes, “if you love what you do then you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s important to feel like your work matters and changes the lives of others for the better. I love helping people talk about money because I get to drive better financial outcomes for more people.
b) Make time for family and friends. Having a solid work/life balance shouldn’t be optional — we all need time for family and friends! At eMoney, we offer flexible work options and generous paid time off to ensure we’re able to accommodate for every employee’s schedule.
c) Have fun! Not only is this one of our core values, but we really do practice what we preach. One of my favorite things about eMoney is that we never take ourselves too seriously here — we make time for a quick ping pong break, pie our colleagues in the face during our annual picnic, or go all out with decorations for somebody’s birthday.
As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial advisor, which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?
a) Are they a planning-led advisor? The most valuable financial advice is based on financial planning. Working with an advisor who can provide perspective by evaluating a client’s holistic financial picture can lead to better outcomes and increased client satisfaction.
b) Do they embrace technology and make sure my personal information is always secure? Advisors need to invest in modern solutions and explore how advances in technology can improve the client experience. Embracing tech and using tools that can provide a better service will deepen their engagement and relationship with you as a client. Be careful of working with an advisor that still relies on spreadsheets for reporting/modelling and does not offer client technology that is accessible, easy-to-use and understand, and secure. Always ask an advisor to talk about the technology they depend on and ask about how they know your information is secure.
c) How do they communicate with clients? Communication is key. Advisors that are transparent with clients about where they’re at in their goals will help them achieve better financial outcomes. Find an advisor who you feel comfortable openly talking and collaborating with when it comes to family relationships, spending, your attitudes toward money, etc. Make sure that the advisor’s style of communication (face-to-face, video, text, etc.) matches your expectations.
d) What does the advisor’s team and business model look like? You should understand the advisor’s business model and they should demonstrate how they have your best interests in mind. It’s important to know the key players that you will work with and the backgrounds/experience of those that will be working on your behalf with the advisor. And you should certainly be aware of how much the advisor is paid for the services that they provide to you.
e) Are they committed to Learning and Development? With constant advances in technology and regulatory and investment environments, it’s important that advisors are committed to staying current. Understand how your advisor manages to cover it all. Do they have providers that help them stay current? Do they commit to continuing education? Understanding this provides another level of transparency between the advisor and client.
I think most people think that financial advisors are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial advisor and why? Can you give an example?
There is a common misconception that financial advisors are only for wealthy people — and that’s just not the case anymore. Part of our mission at eMoney is to make financial planning more accessible, and we do that by developing products at scale and delivering more plans to more people. We recently conducted a survey to uncover how people feel about their personal finances, and what we discovered is that there is an underlying need for advice across all spectrums of wealth. Whether you’re just starting to plan for the future or you’ve already accumulated wealth, hiring a financial advisor can be beneficial to you in achieving financial wellness. In fact, we have helped our two oldest of three children (ages 26 & 23) start to work with an advisor that helps them mostly with budgeting, savings, and thinking about future goals — all in a fee-for-planning model.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I entered college as an engineering major because it seemed like a safe bet. But I had two professors at Stonehill College — Louise Hegarty and Ralph Bravaco — who encouraged me to pursue my passion, which was computer science. At the time, it seemed risky because computers in the 80s were not what they are today. It was a newer field of study. Professors Hegarty and Bravaco inspired me to take a chance on something they knew I was good at and enjoyed, which undoubtedly influenced my career path. I am very grateful to have had them as teachers who took a genuine interest in my future.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Historically, financial planning has been a service aimed at the wealthy. At eMoney, we build technology that gives more people access to financial plans. We’re currently working on a solution that helps influence and shape behaviors that lead to financial wellness and peace of mind — for the average person. Inspiring a movement that changes people’s financial behaviors and increases access to financial planning tools is something that motivates us every day at eMoney.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you for all of these great insights!