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Orion Adds Alternative Investment Platform

Advisors will no longer have to manage data in Excel.

Orion Advisor Services, a portfolio accounting service for financial advisors, has added a tool that tracks clients’ private assets alongside their public holdings.

The development of the Alternative Investment Platform tool began months ago, as more advisors began using alternative assets in client portfolios and those using Orion’s services were asking the company if it could provide a better way track data on them.

There will be no additional cost for the AIP tool to advisors or firms that use Orion.

Orion CEO Eric Clarke said that out of the 1,500 advisors using Orion, about 600 now have clients invested in alternative assets. Advisors using Orion and investing in alternative assets place anywhere between $550,000 to $5 million in them, which is the target of the AIP, but he said “it certainly could be used for account sizes that are larger.”

Clarke said two things have been driving the use and interest of alternative assets. As equity markets have set record highs, advisors have been looking for non-correlated assets for client portfolios. Meanwhile, advisors are also looking for ways to add value that clients can’t get from automated advice platforms and discount brokerages.

But before the AIP tool, most advisors were manually entering data on their clients’ alternative assets into Microsoft Excel. Orion wanted a tool that could do that work for advisors and free up time for them to be doing other things. At larger firms, Clarke said there are as many as three employees whose job is almost entirely managing these types of documents.

Heather Robertson Fortner, the chief compliance officer and chief operating officer at SignatureFD, an Atlanta-based advisory firm with 17 advisors and more than $2.8 billion in assets under management, approached Orion and worked with the company on the AIP. She said her firm has used alternative investments for a long time and out of its 70 employees has one dedicated just to the reporting.

Robertson Fortner said the firm had a clear message for Orion when it approached the company about a solution like the AIP.

“Listen, this has got to be better ... I don’t see this getting any better or easier anytime soon,” Robertson Fortner said. “If anything, people are going to be doing this more.”

She said the mutual fund industry worked in a similar way 25 years ago and that the alt industry “will eventually catch up” with tools like the AIP.

In addition to a place where alternative assets are tracked, the AIP tool offers reporting alongside the public holdings that advisors can share with clients. New Global Valuations and Global Transactions features rolling out with the AIP will also let advisors apply changes to a private investment valuation for entire groups of clients who hold positions in the same product, saving advisors from account-by-account number crunching.

For example, if an advisor has client money in Blackstone private equity funds and those holdings increase in value, the AIP will reflect those changes across accounts, which would normally have to be done manually, said Adam Palmer, a product manager at Orion Advisor Services.

In May, Orion also plans to update the AIP and allow it to integrate with Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation and several other data vendors so that advisors can skip the initial manual data entry, which will also save users’ time.

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