SEI announced it has hired Gabriel Garcia as head of RIA client experience, business development and strategy to lead design and development for a suite of technology aimed at supporting growth for registered investment advisors that custody with SEI across all stages of their business.
An industry veteran whose resume includes leadership positions with Charles Schwab, BNY Mellon | Pershing, E*TRADE Advisor Services and Cresset Capital Management, Garcia said SEI’s position as both custodian and financial technology provider is what differentiates it from countless others who have tried to develop end-to-end, integrated technology solutions for advisors.
“You have very competent, capable, leading-edge fintech firms that provide outsourced technology capabilities, but they don’t offer custody,” he said. “And then you have very capable, competent custodians—the big three currently custody about 90% of all RIA assets in the market—but they haven’t really broken through from a fintech solution perspective.”
SEI was founded as a financial technology company in 1968, a time when the world’s finances had only just begun moving toward digitalization. SEI Private Trust Company, the federal savings association through which it offers custodial services, was chartered 33 years later in 2001—and SEI Wealth Platform, the first iteration of an end-to-end suite of technology solutions for advisors that custody with SEI, was available in the U.S. 10 years after that.
Five years ago, according to Garcia, SEI began to rebuild SWP from the ground up. “This is new-age,” he said. “Not built on archaic technology, but very intuitive and digitally minded. And we will continue to evolve and iterate and add capabilities based on feedback from advisors and clients.”
The SEI custody-tech platform provides advisors with a way to consolidate model management, cash management, billing, performance reporting and more, while an open-architecture investments platform allows them to manage their own portfolios, choose from among SEI’s investment solutions or a combination of both, in a unified managed account framework.
As long as the firm is custodied with SEI, said Garcia, any combination of technology is possible.
"We've reached a stage where everyone is looking for a better workflow and a more unified platform," said Dennis Gallant of Aite-Novarica Group. "They're looking for digitalization and access. Every firm, whether you're a wirehouse rep or an RIA, is looking to improve scale and the client experience." Gallant said that RIAs, in particular and especially before the pandemic, have been trailing the field in terms of the tech that can make life easier for both advisor and client.
While SEI’s advisor business division has served the independent advisor market for more than three decades, the goal is to update and leverage that longstanding reputation to position it as a provider of end-to-end solutions for RIAs specifically, as well as a partner that can help them grow their firms. But that doesn't mean other firms can't take advantage of SWP as well.
One of the new capabilities that will be rolled out next month was developed based on client portal technology acquired from Oranj a little more than a year ago. The new SEI Connect portal will offer full aggregation of all client accounts—from credit cards and checking accounts to car loans and mortgages, full performance reporting functionality, a document vault that can be used by both the advisor and client (as well as a segregated vault in which clients can store documents privately), digital account-opening capability, and a live chat feature. SEI had not responded by press time to an inquiry as to which account aggregation providers were powering the portal.
“It’s intuitive, it’s elegant and it has a great UI experience,” said Garcia, referring to the portal’s user interface elements.
SEI will also be launching an advisor growth lab in July, which Garcia described as “a destination for RIAs to go and receive practice management insight, tools and resources through research, video lessons, guidebooks and communities where we bring advisors together to discuss things pertinent to their roles in the organization or their business.”
The growth lab initiative will be available to all interested advisors, he said, not just SEI clients.
“We are supporting the profession of advice and we believe in empowering advisors to protect the futures of the clients that they serve,” Garcia said. “We want to be viewed as a trusted, transparent and aligned partner to RIAs as they look for custody, technology and investment solutions.”
"SEI is certainly putting a lot of resources, time and effort behind this," said Gallant, acknowledging the many competitors in the field. He pointed to the Oranj acquisition as a smart investment for providing an improved user experience and commended the platform's flexibility, both of which he said are increasingly in demand across the entire industry but more sorely needed among smaller and newer firms.
Garcia said the platform is particularly well-suited to firms that are struggling with technology and would prefer a singular, unified end-to-end experience with the optionality of external integration.
“Whether you’re an advisor who is just starting a new RIA and looking for custodial and technology solutions or an established firm that’s been in the business 10 or 20 years and is looking for something to complement their existing custodial technology solutions or a wholesale change,” he said, “we are open for business and happy to engage with anyone.”
As of March, SEI Advisor Business supports RIAs with approximately $29 billion in custody, while SEI manages, advises or administers approximately $1.3 trillion in total assets.