Always one move ahead, Envestnet CEO Bergman revolutionized fintech
Envestnet CEO Jud Bergman could hold court on any of the technological disruptions affecting financial planners, having co-founded the technological services giant for the wealth management industry.
But few things could animate him more than the mere mention of chess.
“I recently had the privilege of moderating an event panel that included Jud, and I’ll never forget someone pulling me aside and saying, 'I’ll bet you anything Jud finds a way to talk about the game of chess no matter what question you ask him,'” said Riskalyze CEO Aaron Klein.
“Sure enough, it wasn’t more than an answer or two into the panel that he started talking about how chess strategy could teach us something about where financial services was headed."
Bergman, 62, and his wife, Mary Miller-Bergman, 57, were killed in a car collision in San Francisco on Oct. 3, the company said in a statement. The couple were in a taxi that was hit head-on by a Volkswagen Cabrio going the wrong way on northbound Highway 101, according to The Associated Press. The woman driving the other vehicle was intoxicated, the AP said.
"Today, our entire industry mourns this devastating loss. Jud’s vision and innovation forever changed the face of the financial services industry, and will continue to do so for years to come," Klein said.
“Looking back, I’m not sure there’s anyone who has made quite as many chess moves in financial technology as Jud has, and each move has driven the industry forward and elevated the profession of financial advice.”
Envestnet’s board appointed Bill Crager, president of Envestnet and chief executive of Envestnet Wealth Solutions, as interim chief executive officer. It also appointed Ross Chapin, the lead independent director of Envestnet’s board, as interim chairman of Envestnet’s board.
“On behalf of our board of directors, management team and employees, we extend our deepest sympathies to Jud and Mary’s family. As Envestnet’s founder, Jud was a remarkable leader whose vision, brilliance and drive built the foundation for Envestnet’s success.”
Miller was the founder of Hanover Hill Wealth Advisors in Chicago.
Under Bergman, Envestnet underwent a remarkable trajectory of growth, from startup in 1999 to a tech provider able to repeatedly execute multimillion-dollar acquisitions, many leading brands themselves. The stack of technology Bergman assembled has become so formidable some predict the company will become a custodian.
Financial planning software firm MoneyGuidePro was among the latest. Envestnet purchased the Silicon Valley data aggregator Yodlee in 2015 for $660 million.
At the time, industry leaders questioned the strategy behind the acquisition, says Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital. Envestnet stock fell after the announcement, but Bergman was willing to endure short-term pain to improve his company and the advisors it supports, Duran says.
"He knew what advisors needed and was determined to shift the company to support a really complete suite of services," he said.
Duran too recalled Bergman's love for the game of strategy.
“We both play chess, but never got the chance to play together,” Duran says. “I suspect he would have beaten me.”
Industry leaders were stunned by the news and many sought to convey just how much Bergman did for them on a personal and professional level.
“I have watched him grow Envestnet from a startup to one of the leading firms in the industry,” said Joel Bruckenstein, founder of the Technology Tools for Today conference series.
“Despite his many achievements, he always had time for others. He was extremely kind to me. He was an industry visionary and leader. His intellect was impressive as was the breadth of his knowledge. I will miss him as an industry leader, but more importantly as a friend.”
Orion CEO Eric Clarke expressed a similar sentiment. “Jud and I had dinner on several occasions and I always had great respect for the business he built and the way that he built it,” Clarke says. “Jud had an unprecedented ability to see things that others just didn’t.
“Envestnet is in great hands with Bill [Crager], but the entire industry will miss Jud terribly,” Clarke says.
Bergman was leaving behind a legacy of leadership in technology, says Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of fintech consultancy Ezra Group.
"How many different ways can you say innovator or visionary? How can you explain how one person changed our industry in ways that we're just coming to understand? How can you talk about one CEO who changed how every wealthtech firm approaches the market? There are no words."
Many took to Twitter to share their thoughts.
“This quaint, intimate community in which we work is never more evident than times like this; when we suffer the unfortunate loss of one of our own, and this one is profound,” wrote Brian Hamburger, founder of the Hamburger Law Firm and consulting firm MarketCounsel.
Earlier this year, Bergman acknowledged in an interview with Financial Planning that his chess analogies probably needed an update, reflecting on the challenge that chess champion Gary Kasparov undertook when he played against IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue.
With the technological changes happening on multiple fronts, the best advisors were now engaging in a game of 3-D chess, Bergman said.
“Experts plus machines deliver better outcomes than experts or machines alone,” he said. “This is a framework from which advisors, we think, ought to look at how they render advice, how they manage portfolios and manage client relationships going forward.
“What are the areas that computer software can do better and what are the areas that the human expert can do better? This is what Gary Kasparov understood and what the best advisors understand. There are some things that humans do better than computers and vice versa.”