Forget high-tech. What financial advisors are looking for in computer work stations these days is smooth tech, the ability to simplify the complex and sometimes mind-numbing tasks that are part of their daily lives, according to executives at Morningstar and Thomson Reuters. The latest upgrades in the work stations of the two rivals promote one-click features, file-sharing, and other functions aimed at removing daily drudgery.
“We spend a lot of time talking to advisors in the field and are continually surprised by the number who have to use spreadsheets for proposals, in addition to the number of manual interventions they need for reconciliations and multiple systems that data is kept in,” says John Fennelly, global managing director of wealth management at Thomson Reuters. “We’re fixated on making our offering very intuitive and easy to use.” Scott Brennan, head of equity research at Standard & Poor’s, agrees that efficiency is a bigger priority for advisors when considering technology. “One of the things that hasn’t changed with advisors, and likely never will, is the fact that they don’t have a lot of time,” he says.
This week, Morningstar launched Advisor Workstation 2.0, the first major upgrade to the platform in its nine-year history. Among the product’s features is the ability for different advisors in the same office to more easily share files on the same client, a boon for small independent offices where shared responsibility is part of the office culture. The company says it is one of the features most requested by advisors.
Morningstar says that one out of every four financial advisors uses its work station. The company reports deals with wirehouses and all the top broker-dealers. But it is looking to bolster its standing in the independent business that is being swelled by breakaway advisors, says Alois Pirker, research director for wealth management at Aite Group. “Morningstar clearly owns the RIA space and part of the independent broker/dealer space as well,” Pirker says. “Thomson clearly owns the wirehouse space.”
Thomson says the two largest wealth management firms in the world use its products (the company doesn’t identify its clients,) but it may be looking to grab a larger share of the RIA market. In February, it released Thomson One 5.0, and come May, this new underlying technology will support its Wealth Connections work station product. Fennelly describes it as a simplified offering for RIAs who may not want the full product suite.
Other hot work station features that the two rivals promote include modules that help advisors create model portfolios with fewer steps, and hypothetical portfolios that show how performance varies depending on changes in investing strategy. Businesses that serve the tech needs of financial advisors are finding that those needs are changing, says Stephen C. Winks, principal at Senior Consultant in Richmond, Va. The earlier demand was for ways to learn about investment products, he says, while the new emphasis is on process within the advisor’s practice. “It’s what you do with the product that adds value. It’s not the product itself,” he says.