In a move that underscores the increasing importance of distribution in the ETF industry, financial industry veteran Sharon French recently joined emerging ETF and mutual fund platform TIFIN.
TIFIN is a fintech platform designed to assist asset managers with their digital distribution strategy via artificial intelligence and machine learning software. The technology combines investment intelligence, data science and other technologies to build personalized investor experiences, from direct indexing solutions to natural language processing (NLP)-powered search engines.
At TIFIN, French serve as Senior Partner and join the firm’s executive committee, as well as lead its partnerships with its advisory board.
Most recently, French served as the president and CEO of Life & Retirement Funds for AIG. Prior to AIG, she was executive vice president and head of beta solutions at OppenheimerFunds, where she led the strategy, development and implementation of the firm’s smart beta ETF product line, as well as oversaw the firm’s ESG efforts. She also held roles at BNY Mellon, BlackRock, AllianceBernstein, and others.
She is also a board member of Women in ETFs and named one of Crain’s New York’s “Most Notable Women in Finance” in 2019.
Recently ETF Trends’s CEO Tom Lydon sat down with French to ask her a few questions regarding her new role at TIFIN, and how the firm is helping advisors grow their businesses.
Tom Lydon, CEO, ETF Trends: Why did you decide to join TIFIN, after spending years in the asset management arena, most notably in the mutual fund and ETF product space?
Sharon French, Senior Partner, TIFIN: After spending over twenty years in asset management, it became clear to me that, in order to reach a highly fragmented advisor audience that was consuming financial information in a more targeted, actionable way, asset managers would need to embrace advanced technology.
[However, asset managers are] limited both by internal expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), as well as by organizational frictions, [so]the optimal outcome would require partnering with a firm whose core competencies center around these exact skill sets.
Lydon: How does TIFIN help the financial advisor community?
French: TIFIN is a fintech with 12 operating companies with a proven track record of empowering the advisor community through technology, AI, and investment intelligence to help serve their clients better. This is achieved through personalization, and targeted experiences and outcomes. TIFIN’s unique marketing and message amplification technology helps advisors reach new clients and convert prospects.
Lydon: Could you explain the role AI and machine learning plays in the TIFIN model, and how it helps advisors better connect?
French: TIFIN uses AI and ML in two ways. The first is to change the product experience to make it more engaging and intelligent. For example, Magnifi, one of TIFIN’s holding companies, has the capabilities to ask investment questions in plain English. Within seconds, the patent-pending search [function]uses natural language processing to deliver actionable investment ideas.
[Second], the platforms find best matches for advisors and consumers based on a centralized data platform TIFIN has built using its access to proprietary and third-party data.
Lydon: How do you plan to further connect ETF issuers with advisors through TIFIN?
French: TIFIN embeds investment products within its WealthTech offerings that are surfaced when advisors use the platform to make a personalized recommendation to their clients or prospects. We call these ‘embedded investments’: [meaning,] as advisors and their clients use the TIFIN platform, we help ETF issuers with flows and distribution in a way that is client-centric and solutions-driven.
This is especially helpful with the highly competitive thematic ETF space, where sponsoring a theme on our platform has elevated awareness, understanding, and action.
As of now, we are proud that TIFIN has partnered with over 50 ETFs and mutual funds, including [funds from]J.P. Morgan, State Street, DWS, Northern Trust, ProShares, ALPS, New York Life and Aberdeen Asset Management, [issuers]with over $2.5 trillion in assets between them.
Lydon: What new solutions is TIFIN providing to the ETF/asset management space and to the investment advisory space?
French: The financial industry is at a pivotal point right now, as many ETF providers and asset managers realize the way they interact with advisors and individual investors is changing.
In particular, ETF providers spend their marketing budgets buying Internet ads, then try to decipher the analytics, only to wonder if they are really reaching end investors who will push the ‘buy’ button. [But] buying ads and reading the analytics isn’t ‘digital distribution.’
I believe we are on the cusp of a major change, and COVID certainly amplified the realization that asset managers have to embrace a new way to connect with advisors and drive asset flows. There are clear signs that the market is ready for fund managers to start using digital distribution and content amplification technology-based solutions, like machine-learning and artificial intelligence, to market their funds.
Lydon: What’s TIFIN’s commitment to providing better diversity to the investment industry?
French: Anyone looking at TIFIN can see the level of diversity from the executive management team, partners, and [board membership], all the way down to the employee level. Investors want to see themselves represented in corporate America and in the investment world, and diversity is part of who we are at TIFIN.
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The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.