Solution meets need of a market clamouring for more automation in the estates administration process
In 2014, Ari Brojde, then working as a private wealth manager, recognized a disconnect in his role: wealth managers were increasingly expected to act as “financial quarterbacks” by collaborating with the other professionals involved in a clients’ larger financial picture, but lacked the tools to efficiently do so — and in that disconnect, Brojde identified an opportunity.
“I sold my business and rolled most of the proceeds from the sale into building a virtual family office platform, something that would connect the disparate financial, tax and legal advisors around a comprehensive view of a family’s wealth and important financial documents,” Brojde, founder and CEO of Estateably, a platform that streamlines trust and estate administration for professionals, says. “I kept hearing a common piece of feedback: the system you built would be useful for estate administration.”
Around the same time, Brojde’s grandmother passed away owning a simple estate — a modest RRIF, no property and a straightforward will naming her three grandchildren as beneficiaries — but two years later, the estate still wasn’t settled and Brojde learned it was typical for the process to take 2-3 years.
“Combined with the feedback I was getting while selling the virtual family office platform, there was something there worth investigating,” Brojde says.
A strong believer in gathering as much information as possible before diving in, Brojde enrolled in an intro course offered by the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners to learn more about the underlying process of estate settlement, and the next step was to interview as many professionals in the space as possible to get a sense of their pain points. The main issue: they hadn’t seen innovation in the space in two decades, as somehow the fintech wave of the 2000s-2010s that saw a wealth of products coming to market to disrupt traditional business lines or make things more efficient totally passed over the trusts and estates space.
“There was so little automation in the process — they were really clamouring for that piece,” Brojde says. "That’s when we knew we had an underserved part of the market.”
In March 2018, Estateably was founded and development of the actual software began. In June 2019, the team presented what they were building at the STEP National Conference. It was based on a blockchain backbone, a network that connects people to information securely and efficiently, and aimed to solve the external problems they had heard about during their research interviews, Brojde says. But from feedback at the conference, “we made an important pivot and decided to focus on solving the internal problems that exist at law firms and other professional organizations by giving them a tool that helps drive efficiencies in their practices and make them more profitable, and that’s really paid dividends.”
Estateably launched in the midst of COVID-19, with several law firms and trust companies testing it from March to September 2020, and since launching commercially in January 2021 the company has grown its customer base significantly across Canada. The pandemic only accelerated the need for a tool that allowed them to do their jobs more efficiently, Brojde notes, adding he heard from a lawyer at a national law firm who said he’d been clocking 15 hour days but only able to bill for seven or eight because he’d spent half the time driving back and forth to the office getting files. It may sound strange that in 2021, the fact the solution is cloud-based is a unique selling proposition, but it’s true, Brojde says, adding “we lead with the fact you’ll be able to access files remotely from anywhere, and often remark: that’s all we need to hear, sign us up."
Estateably allows professionals to do things like auto-fill forms, create an audit report with the click of a button, track the progress of the estate process and even leverage built in-training components. It also addresses the necessary business network that needs to form between all stakeholders.
“We wanted to build in a lot of cool collaboration features to bring everything online and provide a platform where they can not only share but access the information they need in an efficient manner,” Brojde says.
Brojde and his team aren’t done yet: they aim to circle back to the external problems that exist in the process and address them as well. For example, one major pain point professionals identified is getting the tax clearance certificate from the Canada Revenue Agency. You’re not supposed to distribute assets until you have it, and it can take up to nine months to receive.
“All necessary participants on a private network where they share everything seamlessly and securely, and know it’s coming from a trusted source — that’s our long-term vision,” Brojde says. “We believe we can take the process and get it under a year, to the benefit of everyone. We’re really excited to hit on that.”
Although the Estateably team did speak to the CRA during their research phase, Brojde says it will be more impactful to go back to them, and other government agencies that need to participate, when they have “a critical mass of customers” using the platform. There are currently 200 law firms across five provinces using Estateably, and as that grows they’ll be in a much more powerful position to effectuate the change that needs to occur to make the process more efficient.
“One trepidation I have is I don’t have a law degree, I don’t come from legal background, but sometimes people that are outsiders can take a look at a problem with a new lens,” Brojde says.
As Estateably rapidly rolls out support for new provinces – Brojde says nationwide support will be available before the end of the year – it consults with leading law firms to better understand local laws and any idiosyncrasies inherent in the administration process in order to mitigate the relative lack of practical legal expertise amongst its staff and to ensure that the product is compliant in each new jurisdiction it serves.