Over the last several years, the four major custodians have done a good job of enhancing their technology platforms. While there are some clear differences across the industry, it is fair to say that todays platforms are far superior to what was being offered a few years ago.
Thats important, because the challenges are greater, too. The rise of online advisors has exposed weaknesses in the user experience across the industry, while the proliferation of digital tools has increased advisor demand for simplified, integrated solutions.
I visited technology executives at four major RIA custodians recently and came away impressed with the advances that these firms are delivering (or are about to offer) to advisors.
Pershing Advisor Solutions is working on multiple technology initiatives, but the one with the most immediate impact for advisors and their clients is the new NetXInvestor portal for the end user. To help advisors successfully meet the challenge coming from Web-based advisor firms, Ram Nagappan, Pershings chief information officer, and his team have developed a vastly improved NetXInvestor portal, which is currently being rolled out in phases.
NetXInvestor sports a clean, modern design. The landing page provides a summary of a clients total holdings. At the top of the page, the portfolios total market value is displayed in large type, along with the days change in both dollar and percentage terms.
The concept is that clients can get a good overview of their current financial status from a single page containing several widgets. On a typical clients home page, you might see an asset allocation widget, portfolio movers, a recent history of all transactions, open orders, recently executed trades and news.
If a client or household has multiple accounts at Pershing, the view can be changed from all accounts to a single account (or a group of accounts). When this is done, all the widgets on the page update to reflect the change.
Users can then drill down for more information. For example, in the asset allocation section, you can click on equities for a view of all stocks in the accounts specified. The client can even buy, sell or write a covered call on a security from within this expanded view.
A very nice projected-cash-flow page lets clients drill down for details about fixed-income securities within the portfolio.
Pershing promises that NetXInvestor will continue to improve. One expected enhancement is the creation of an API to let third parties integrate with NetXInvestor. The first integration, with Albridge Solutions, will let clients can view a limited number of Albridge performance reports without having to call the advisor.
Later, as other third parties are included, clients should be able to track their progress toward their financial goals, better assess their portfolio risks and receive a holistic picture of their total financial situation.
The initiative with the most far-reaching impact from TD Ameritrade Institutional is likely to be its new Veo advisor dashboard slated to be the first open, fully customizable, deeply integrated custodial dashboard.
While some of the other custodians offer deep integration with select third-party providers, Ive yet to see anything like the dashboard demonstrated to me by Jon Patullo, TD Ameritrade Institutionals managing director of technology product management, and Chris Valleley, TD Ameritrades director of technology solutions.
The dashboard, which is being rolled out over the coming months, aims to give advisors a unified experience across all their tech operations. Advisors can select widgets provided by TD Ameritrade or third-party providers and place them on a home page. The dashboard also includes smart searches limited to the Veo environment in the initial release, but expected to expand to third-party data as well.
The intuitive design gives advisors one-click access to Veo alerts, their tasks and their calendars. Each widget can be minimized to save screen real estate and then expanded as needed.
Part of the power of this dashboard is the ability to designate the data source that delivers the report to a widget. If all of an advisors assets were held at TD Ameritrade, having it serve up those numbers would be fine but if there are a lot of 401(k) assets and other held-away assets to account for, a third-party provider such as Orion can provide a more comprehensive data set. In that case, the advisor could designate Orion as the data source.
A client center will provide all relevant information about a client relationship. A summary page will give advisors access to CRM data, financial planning data, portfolio management data and, soon, iRebal data.
The initial selection of widgets will mostly be sourced from TD Ameritrade, although the company expects the library to expand as more third parties participate. One TD Ameritrade widget that should be available at launch is a cash activity widget a heavily requested feature that will let users see all recent money movements.
The initial rollout will feature three deeply integrated partners MoneyGuidePro, Orion and Redtail with more expected after launch.
Deep integration with Redtail will allow advisors to make edits to a contact within the Veo environment and have it reflected in Redtail. Advisors can also create a note within the Veo dashboard and have it posted to Redtail. There is even some drag-and-drop capability, letting you drag an activity from a Veo screen right into a Redtail calendar or task.
Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of advisor services technology solutions at Charles Schwab, tells me that Schwab Advisor Services is in the midst of a number of incremental enhancements to its platform.
When we spoke, some 5,000 of Schwabs advisor clients had access to eSignature electronic authorizations and she said all remaining Schwab advisors would have electronic signature capabilities shortly.
Currently, electronic authorization is limited to wire transfers, but Schwab says it will extend the capability to checks, journals, address changes and other actions that now require a signed paper authorization. And adoption has been off the charts, Hathi says. In the first month of operation, the first group of 2,500 advisors processed 30% of eligible transactions electronically.
Another enhancement is trading integration with Schwabs Portfolio Rebalancer and the Tamarac rebalancing tool. Once an advisor has rebalanced a portfolio in one of these applications, the trades will automatically be populated in the Schwab trading application for execution. This should result in significant time savings.
On the integration front, Schwab recently announced the addition of Morningstar Office to its OpenView Gateway offering, following the MoneyGuidePro integration.
And Schwabs much awaited PM2, the next-generation portfolio management system, is expected to be in the beta testing phase by the time you read this. The vision behind PM2 is simple: Because the processes driving most of todays portfolio management solutions are outdated, Schwab intends PM2 to increase efficiency by providing a portfolio management system that directly accesses custodial data and proactively highlights important information and action items. This should eliminate the need to download and reconcile Schwab custodial data.
Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services is also making incremental improvements to existing platforms. According to Tim Morello, vice president for product management at Fidelity Investments, advisors using the companys Streetscape and WealthCentral tools can expect a number of new features in the second half of 2014.
On the CRM front, Fidelity will introduce new account-opening integration with Redtail and Skience for Salesforce, as well as real-time access to Fidelity positions, balances and transaction history. Fidelity will also begin integrating portfolio data with Salentica.
Advisors using WealthCentral for order entry will benefit from a redesigned multi-order ticket, which will now include built-in account summary, quick quote, account position and unsent orders.
Fidelity will also make it easier for advisors sending bulk mutual fund orders generated from the Orion Advisor Services platform.
Tamarac users, meanwhile, will soon benefit from single sign-on from WealthCentral, as well as new order import capability. Tamarac users will get new integrated access to Fidelity intraday account information (such as positions, balances, transaction history and account profile).
Advisors using MoneyGuidePro and NaviPlan for financial planning will have the ability to import and refresh positions for clients using several Fidelity services including Fidelity Brokerage Services, National Financial Services, Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, Fidelity Life Insurance, and Fidelity 403(b), nonprofit 401(k), 401(a) and 457(b) accounts.
Finally, Fidelity is continuing to work to bring its two advisor platforms (Streetscape and WealthCentral) together by introducing integrated account access through Streetscape.
These enhancements will benefit advisors affiliated with a correspondent client of National Financial that also manage account relationships with Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, Fidelity Family Office Services, or plan participants on Fidelitys 401(k) and 403(b) platforms. These advisors will gain access to a set of critical account data for these relationships using their Streetscape ID and password.
Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist, is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today newsletter, conference series and technology guides for advisors, including Technology Tools for Todays High-Margin Practice. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FinTechie.
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