As custodians compete to draw advisors into the fold, they often tout the superior quality of their technology. Many RIA advisors already have software programs to handle their financial reporting, portfolio management and client relationship management (CRM) needs. But the problem has long been getting those applications to talk to each other. In the months ahead, FAs can expect to hear more from custodians about platforms and technology that will allow for integration of various tech functions.
At its annual Impact industry exhibition in Boston next month, Schwab Advisor Services plans to demonstrate new CRM systems that can be integrated into its platform, says Neesha Hathi, vice president of technology solutions. Schwab says it will have a model ready for advisors in the second half of 2011. Last week Fidelity Investments announced that Black Diamond Performance Reporting’s new BlueSky portfolio management and reporting platform is being integrated into Fidelity’s WealthCentral technology platform. Meanwhile, TD Ameritrade has said it will launch an interface for technology vendors this fall who want to integrate their solutions with TD’s Veo platform.
“One of the things that you’re seeing in the marketplace is that integration all of a sudden has become quite a buzzword,” Hathi says. Clients have an average of five or six systems in their offices, and they find it challenging to get them to synch with each other. They’re not interested in new systems, Hathi says; they’ve already invested money in their existing programs, as well as man-hours in training staff. “Doing a data conversion is never fun for anybody. What do you think about getting a new cellphone? ‘Oh yeah, the next thing I want to do for the next two weeks is convert my data,’” Hathi says. “Or in the case of a more complex application, it could take months.”
About 80 of the 600 registered investment advisors on Fidelity’s WealthCentral platform are using Black Diamond’s BlueSky now, says Edward O’Brien, senior vice president and head of technology at Fidelity’s Institutional Wealth Services. Previously, advisors on WealthCentral who were using BlueSky had to open BlueSky as a separate application; now it’s on WealthCentral’s menu, “literally a click or two away,” he says. Data is transferable, too; client groupings that are created in BlueSky are created in WealthCentral as well. “It gives the advisor back hours of time setting that up and maintaining these different data sets,” O’Brien adds. The web-based system does not require the installation of new software, he said.
Lucille Mayer, managing director at Pershing and head of technology products and services, says the company this October will start beta-testing a workflow program to be integrated with its NetX360 platform that was released in the summer of 2009. Among other things, the program tracks separate office tasks that are needed for various functions, such as preparing for client meetings. “We certainly want to offer as many best-of-breed providers as there is demand for,” Mayer says, but adds, “I’m not going for volume. We have to know that our customers want to use these solutions.”