Bella Allaire understands the best technological tools are the ones you notice the least. Her work at Raymond James is using technology to bring clients and advisors closer together.
Some firms chase the latest technology for pure bragging rights, an opportunity to show off the bells and whistles to impress advisors and clients alike.
But to Raymond James’ executive vice president of technology and operations Bella Allaire, that’s a zero-sum game. “We don’t do technology for the sake of technology,” she says. “We don’t chase.”
Instead of talking about “platform integration,” Allaire’s vision seems more inclined to simply facilitate better integration between humans—the advisor and the client.
She oversaw the firmwide rollout of Raymond James’ “Goal Planning & Monitoring” program, designed to bring clients deeper into the planning process by giving them interactive tools to set goals and monitor progress, stress-test different investment scenarios and long-term plans, all with the advisor and in real time. Instead of fearing that a client with access to equal levels of information will prompt questions about the advisor’s value, it actually brings them closer. “It’s a game changer,” said early adopter Kevin Sletten, an advisor in Peoria, Ill.
Allaire’s road to the usually male-dominated intersection of technology and financial services is a classic immigrant’s tale: She was born in Soviet-controlled Ukraine in 1953 shortly after her father was released from a Siberian prison camp. He served a three-year sentence for attempting to leave the country in the wake of World War II.
She earned a degree in computer science from Lviv University. Her parents eventually did make their way to the United States, but Allaire remained behind. “I had my life, all of my friends, I didn’t want to leave,” she says. It soon became clear that her parents’ transgressions limited her prospects. “I was told very clearly that my career was over,” she says.
She landed at New York’s JFK Airport in February 1977, with little English and no job. She moved in with her family and after four months of English classes landed a job as a junior programmer with Bache & Co., the predecessor firm to what would become Prudential Securities.
She spent the next 26 years building up the company’s trading systems and technology, eventually earning the title of executive vice president and chief information officer.
Wachovia purchased the firm in 2003, and Allaire spent a few years in Silicon Valley and UBS before joining Raymond James in 2011. “With all the turmoil on Wall Street, a lot of financial advisors started looking at Raymond James,” she says. “Technology needed to catch up.”
It seems it has. The planning platform won the 2012 Bank Insurance and Securities Association technology award. “Raymond James had been very innovative,” says Joel Bruckenstein, an industry technology consultant and fee-only financial advisor. “They have made great strides over the last few years.”
What’s next? She’s looking at “big data,” the vast and continually growing sum of information on clients and markets. “The whole industry missed the power of data. We’re sitting on a wealth of information, we know everything about our clients,” she says. The best advisors, after all, research clients’ birthdays, childrens’ graduations, etc… What if this kind of information were automatically ingested into a planning platform without requiring the advisor to do the heavy lifting? “I like to say it’s like cloning your best advisors,” she says.