Natalie Wolfsen made industry headlines when she succeeded Orion Advisor Solutions Founder and CEO Eric Clarke in October 2023, to join the wealthtech and services provider as CEO and lead its team of more than 1,300 people. Wolfsen also is a member of the firm’s Board of Directors.
Her distinguished career has encompassed financial analysis, business planning, technological innovation and strategy to help fuel growth for advisor firms of all sizes and large global financial institutions. Her experience includes directing domestic and international product, marketing and strategy teams who collectively developed more than 50 financial services products, platforms and programs.
She spoke with WSR in December when we chose her as Person of the Year for our second annual WSR Wealth Exemplar Awards. This award goes to someone who, at an individual level, has exhibited exemplary vision for transforming the wealth management industry and has taken significant concrete steps to do so. This award also recognizes the year’s standout distinction as part of a broader career that has shown consistent vision and boldness.
Our in-depth Q&A with Wolfen follows this brief professional biography. Orion, which had $3.8 trillion in assets under administration as of June 30, also is a winner of the WSR Wealth Exemplar Awards Asset Management Platform of the Year.
Wolfsen’s rise began in 1995, starting out as an analyst for Douglas Smith Management Consulting. She then became a Senior Marketing Manager and Senior Marketing Analyst at American Express. Her next major move was joining Charles Schwab as a Senior Marketing Manager. From 1999 to 2009, Wolfsen advanced there to become Vice President – Equity Product Management & Development. Her leadership achievements at Schwab included driving growth for organizations ranging from startup enterprises to $500 billion divisions.
Next Wolfsen became Managing Director, Head of Product Management & Development at Pershing, and eventually Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing & Product Development at First Eagle Investment Management.
From 2021 to September 2023, Wolfsen served as CEO of AssetMark, where she worked for nearly a decade beginning as Chief Commercialization Officer & Executive Vice President. At AssetMark, she helped drive all-time highs in both net-promoter scores and advisors served, as the firm created $2 billion in enterprise value and assets increased fivefold through innovations in corporate strategy, digital product and solution design, and business line launches.
In addition, she has served on a range of public, private and nonprofit boards.
These have included sitting on the Audit & Risk and Independence committees at Wealthsimple; holding nonvoting board member roles on the Audit, Risk and Compensation committees at Orion; as well as previously holding nonvoting board member roles on the Nominating, Corporate Governance, Audit & Risk and Compensation committees at AssetMark.
She also previously served as Board Director and industry advocate for the CFP Board, where she chaired the Governance Committee, and sat on the organization’s Compensation & CEO Oversight, Audit & Risk, Investment Oversight and Nominating committees.
And now for our Q&A with Orion CEO Natalie Wolfsen.
WSR: How did your career leading up to joining Orion as CEO prepare you for this new role, and why did you decide to take the position at Orion?
Wolfsen: For nearly 25 years of my approximately 30-year career, I’ve been working with independent financial advisors in many capacities, including as a custodian, in asset management, in technology, in business consulting services and in marketing.
Orion does extremely well in these areas (excluding custody), and has an incredibly talented team of 1,300 professionals working on helping independent financial advisors and the enterprises that serve them succeed every day. Because I have that experience across those areas that so perfectly match what Orion does, I thought it would be a great opportunity to work with the team and take Orion to the next level.
I personally believe, having competed against Orion, that we have an incredible suite of technology that’s perfectly positioned to help advisors solve one of their primary challenges. That is the amount of time they spend trying to understand their clients and switching between several different systems while attempting to reconcile those systems.
One of the biggest challenges we have in financial services, especially for independent financial advisors, is advisors getting the utility out of the technology they use so they can spend time talking to clients about goals and financial plans and how to achieve lifelong dreams.
Orion has all the wealthtech pieces, and I’m working with our team to bring together a uniform client experience that allows advisors to capture time back in their day and use the insights to serve their clients better.
WSR: What are your top business priorities and goals for Orion heading into 2024?
Wolfsen: The first priority is to begin to share what Orion’s client experience is. The digital team here at Orion has been working with financial advisors and getting input from them about how financial planning, risk management, compliance, investments, portfolio accounting and reporting can all come together in one client experience for the advisor and the investor. I’m excited to begin sharing the output of that research, and the progress against that research, with clients, soon.
Second, I’m excited about being able to help advisors at every part of the outsourcing spectrum. If you are a large independent financial advisor or a large enterprise, and you need technology outsourcing, we can provide that all the way through to the financial advisor who wants to outsource investment management. We can provide services there through our TAMP, and through our Brinker solutions and everything in the middle. All the trading outsourcing, the diligence outsourcing, everything. So I’m excited to bring that solution to the market.
Third, we also have an opportunity at Orion to add to some of the business services that financial advisors and enterprises need, like practice management consulting and behavioral finance – which is something that Orion is well known for providing.
There’s also a big opportunity for the whole industry to use AI to upgrade the service experience, by building much more effective knowledge centers. We’re doing R&D for AI in multiple places. We believe that we can use AI to enhance our code quality, and there are all sorts of ways that we can help financial advisors leverage AI in their businesses.
WSR: How has the wealth management and wealthtech landscape changed since you entered the industry?
Wolfsen: It’s changed fundamentally since I joined the industry, in some very profound ways.
It used to be the case that financial products and technology were separate, but now they’re blended together in investment solutions. In the past, people had to purchase a mutual fund or an ETF to get access to the market. Now you can create your own index through custom indexing, or create your own overlay or more effectively manage individual securities through a tax management solution.
The bundling of technology and investments, to create better outcomes for advisors and their clients, is extremely important. This is something that Orion will continue to invest in, to benefit our advisors. For example, our outsourced trading offering for advisors allows their clients to own individual securities in a highly effective way.
In some ways, the emergence of robo-advisory platforms several years ago accelerated this process. As investing and technology started coming together, robos gave much smaller sized investors access to advice. Although robos ultimately were not that successful on their own, they did transform the industry by making custodians and asset managers think differently about how they serve their clients, as well as by advancing the industry toward financial planning and helping large players rethink how they engage with and report to investors.
It also used to be the case that financial advisors had to piece together their technology solutions, some from their custodian and some that they bought individually. They were a financial advisor as well as a CTO or CIO. Now financial advisors have great tools from companies that provide more holistic solutions to advisors, so they can spend more time with their clients. Orion is one of those companies. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the industry, too, which means you have great innovation as well as the appeal of comprehensive solutions.
Finally, financial advice is now centered around the investor’s goals and less about the financial instruments themselves. When I first started, it was highly common for financial advisors to show the performance of their investments based against benchmarks. It was very much an investment conversation.
Now it’s much more common for financial advisors to have a conversation that’s less about whether to choose Investment A or Investment B, and more about a client’s goals for their life, children and retirement, and how to build a plan together for the client to reach those goals. As a result, investors are getting more comfort from their relationships with their financial advisors. I think that’s incredibly important.
Chris Latham, Managing Editor at Wealth Solutions Report, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org