The Advisor’s Advisor: Michael DiFiglio uses his experience at Ayco & Goldman Sachs to help Vanilla customers
Creating a truly remarkable product is rarely one person’s doing. It takes a team of smart, talented, dedicated folks to make it happen – a diversity of experience and perspectives.
At Vanilla, we have a crack team of product designers and engineers who have brought our platform to life and continue to evolve it and make it better. But in addition to dialing in our tech, we need to always keep tethered to the realities of the finance industry – to the needs of advisors and attorneys – and their clients. That means that we all spend a lot of time speaking with customers. And it means bringing the advisor perspective to everything we do. That’s where Michael DiFiglio comes in.
Michael spends his days providing customer support for Vanilla, ensuring that our customers get the most out of our product and that the process is smooth and easy for them. You might say the job comes naturally to Michael, because he spent years as a financial advisor and financial planner himself, catering to higher-net worth clients with complex needs. Michael and the in-house specialists he worked with provided clients not only with investment advice, but also deep tax and estate expertise.
We caught up with Michael to understand how he’s bridged the world of finance and tech at Vanilla.
Tell me a bit about your background. What did you do before joining Vanilla?
Prior to Vanilla, I spent most of my career with Ayco, a Goldman Sachs company, where we provided a financial counseling service to higher net worth clients. We offered the entire spectrum of services, including income tax projection, income tax preparation, investment management, insurance, retirement planning, cash flow analysis – you name it. Estate planning was an important pillar for us as well. As a part of that process, we would go pretty deep on estate strategy and then partner with an attorney at the doc creation stage.
After I was with Ayco for five and a half years, I transitioned to a private wealth management team at Goldman Sachs.
What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your job at Vanilla?
I enjoy connecting with customers – understanding their pain points and what we can do to ease them. In a way, I act as their voice inside of Vanilla. I work cross functionally to make sure that we are always keeping the customer in mind with everything we do. It’s something we care a lot about here. When you’re a young company, there are infinite things you can do, so it’s important to always connect the dots back to the customer.
From an advisor perspective, what are the most difficult aspects of estate planning? How can Vanilla help?
For advisors, expertise is the biggest hurdle when it comes to estate planning. It can be intimidating without being an attorney or having studied law.
Vanilla tackles this problem directly by making it easier to become a holistic advisor rather than just, say, an investment manager. The balance sheet gives a more complete picture of clients’ assets. The estate diagrams show the provisions, fiduciaries and beneficiaries along with the disposition of assets in a really intuitive way.
What reactions are you getting from customers using the Vanilla platform?
They tell me that it’s providing a way to engage with clients in a really different way – to talk about things they haven’t talked about before. That deeper relationship is really valuable to advisors. We’re equipping them to have more meaningful conversations. And the product itself is helping to reduce the ambiguity that sometimes comes with estate planning. Our customers are excited – and they say their clients are too.
What’s your hope for Vanilla in the coming year and beyond?
It’s all about continuing to bring value to our customers – and for our customers to continue to bring value to theirs. Our product is already helping so many people, and it just keeps getting better. Vanilla is empowering advisors to provide a premium level of strategy and planning that would have taken a prohibitive amount of time before, and they’ll be able to do it at scale, for their entire portfolio of clients. And advisors that use Vanilla are going to have a clear advantage.
Interested in joining the Vanilla team? Visit our careers page.
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