The serially successful wrap-program pioneer convinced CEO Mike Sha that he was the right guy to demystify the legacy-robo tech divide to employees -- and close deals

April 26, 2017 — 5:41 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

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Brooke's Note: They say one key to success is a willingness to get lucky. Maybe Mike Sha just did. The young CEO of SigFig has a silver tongue that won him the accounts of Yahoo! and CNN in his startup's early days. But those accounts never got monetized to a significant extent, despite tens of, maybe hundreds of, billions getting analyzed by SigFig robotics. Now Sha has won the accounts of Wells Fargo and UBS and the world is his oyster if he can execute on his sales pitch to automate advice as part of those legacy firms' sprawling, less-than-digital systems. Enter Randy Bullard, who offered his services replete with a world of experience in just the kinds of big-bank challenges SigFig faces. The other thing about luck is that it favors preparation. Sha had to do all the imaginative spade work to get SigFig to where it is -- and in our conversation he alluded to a bunch of experienced hires of late -- so maybe Bullard was really all just part of karma's plan.

In a kind of reverse poach by a seasoned industry executive still craving entrepreneurial adventure, Randy Bullard pitched himself to SigFig Wealth Management LLC and has joined the firm as a full-time employee.

Earlier this month, the Dallas-based pioneer of Smith Barney's famed wrap program and co-founder of Placemark Investments became the new general manager of wealth management at the San Francisco-based robo-advisor.

To do so, Bullard, 49, liquidated his holdings in Placemark, which was acquired by Envestnet Inc. for $66 million in 2014. Placemark develops unified managed account programs for banks, full-service broker-dealers and RIA firms. See: After years of working to stand on its own two feet, Placemark staggers into the arms of Envestnet.

Bullard went after the job in a straightforward way: He'd had his eye on SigFig for a while and after identifying it as the company in which he could effect the most salutary change, he pitched the idea to its CEO and co-founder, Mike Sha. See: The inverted reverence dynamic at The In|Vest event and why Bill Crager is so over it.

Sha said yes. The position was created and a deal struck. Terms not revealed. 

Speaks UBS

Bullard joins a firm in the the loft-like office space near San Fran's AT&T Park in the wake of UBS and Wells Fargo pinning their advice automation ambitions on the small firm. See: What to make of how Wells Fargo and SigFig are cooking up an unprecedented cross-sell of wealth management to retail bank customers.

The gist of Bullard's pitch to Sha: I know my way around the systems of big banks and brokers and am therefore well-equipped to make SigFig's digital technology hum harmoniously with legacy systems. See: TD Ameritrade paves the way for breakaway books of business to transfer intact.

And, Bullard is confident he can help Sha engineer new deals.

"I'm sober but not jaded," he says.

Mike Sha: Sometimes what's scary are cobbled together legacy systems held together by scotch tape and glue.

The pairing makes sense to Mike Alfred, co-founder and CEO of BrightScope Inc., a financial information and technology company in La Jolla, Calif. 

"This is not surprising for young companies," he said during in interview at the Tiburon CEO Summit in New York, earlier this month.

"They have to grow up and put on their big boy pants. It's fun to be young disrupter tech company but then when you have clients to whom you have to deliver results … you need different skill set than what got you there."

Bull in the market?

Bullard's drive can make him a bit of a bull in a china shop, according to a source that asked not to be named. Sha chuckled softly after hearing that. Bullard commented: "I'm not a guy that lacks for opinions."

But Bullard doesn't deserve that crockery-smashing rap, according to Aaron Schumm, CEO of Vestwell Inc., a New York-based 401(k) robo-TAMP. See: Two years after the $199 million FolioDynamix sale, Aaron Schumm jumps back in the B2B RIA game but not to compete -- yet.

"No," Schumm writes. "He's a thoughtful, articulate guy who knows the space and the nuances that come with it."  

Schumm's co-founder of New York-based FolioDynamix, Joe Mrak, co-founded Placemark with Randy 15 years ago. See: Philly buyer lays down a cool $199 million in cash to buy FolioDynamix, the better to put Envestnet firmly in its sights.

Blew 'em all away

Aaron Schumm: Randy ... has his finger on pulse of technology. He can construct investment programs that work well for those clientele.

Bullard was attracted to SigFig because of what it accomplished during its "fun" formative years -- it was founded in 2011 --  when it made impressive inroads on the retail advising side of the business. Though the robo never did rack up impressive managed assets on the website, it was wildly successful in administering assets on behalf of big brands like Yahoo!, CNN and USA Today.  See: Why Mike Sha has a 2015 goal of $1 trillion in robo-assets for SigFig and where Marissa Mayer fits in.

"SigFig signed up the biggest," Bullard says. "I talked to these firms. They blew everyone away."

For his part, Sha sees Bullard helping his 100-person firm to straddle the gap between legacy systems and futuristic automation.

"Sometimes what's scary are cobbled together legacy systems held together by scotch tape and glue," says Sha. "[Bullard] understands the past but sees the future."

Schumm agrees."Randy ran a turnkey platform at PlaceMark and has his finger on pulse of technology. He can construct investment programs that work well for those clientele." See: Betterment's 'call me a masochist' co-founder goes in search of more acute pain and Jon Stein flies solo

Mentioned in this article:

BrightScope, Inc.
Data and ratings for RIAs

Envestnet Inc
Top Executive: Jud Bergman

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Stephen Winks said:

April 28, 2017 — 7:07 PM UTC

Randy Bullard is precisely what the ROBO industry needs to fully flesh out its role in the larger advisory services business. To be effective at advisory services b/ds must unlearn a lot of bad habits that deny professional standing to brokers when rendering advice--which give ROBOs a cultural and technological edge in supporting a prudent expert standard. Randy understands the impediments of legacy brokerage systems and how to overcome them, which is essential to attracting the best and brightest. (1) Treating trade execution as a cost center tobe minimized in the client's best interest, (2) retooling of product menus so they are consistent with fiduciary duty,(3) embracing a more modern approach to portfolio construction in support of continuous, comprehensive counsel required by statute, are major industry redefining innovations available to ROBOs which culturally are not possible in a brokerage format. As the brokerage industry weighs its conversion to advisory services in the client's best interest, their biggest impediment is their culture. Ballard can make a big difference in broaching highly sensitive topics which are within the unique wheelhouse of ROBOs that must be mastered, if b/ds are to remain relevant in advisory services. SCW

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