In 2005, Scottrade launched its Scottrade Advisor Services division, aiming to become a low-cost provider of custodial services and institutional trading to RIAs. Since then, Scottrade Advisor Services has been particularly successful in attracting smaller, state-registered RIA firms. With more than 1,250 advisors now on its platform, Scottrade Advisor Services ranks fifth in terms of the number of independent RIAs it serves, behind Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Trade PMR.
Although Scottrade Advisor Services generally gets good marks from advisors on price and service, it has trailed in advisors satisfaction with its technology offerings. In last years Financial Planning Tech Survey, for example, Scottrade was the only custodian among the top eight (as measured by the number of advisors on the platform) that had fewer than 20% of advisors very satisfied with its technology offering.
In the last year, Scottrade has taken several steps to address its technology deficiencies. For instance, it reached an enterprise deal with Redtail Technology that makes a suite of Redtail products (CRM, document imaging and email archiving) available to Scottrade advisors at an attractive discount. Scottrade also entered a similar enterprise arrangement with MoneyGuidePro, an industry-leading financial planning package.
These deals seemed like a step in the right direction, but they did not address some fundamental weaknesses with the Scottrade advisor portal.
Scottrade is now addressing such issues with the release of a totally new advisor platform. After a period of beta testing with about 50 advisors, it is now being rolled out to a larger audience.
According to Brian Davis, senior vice president and head of Scottrade Advisor Services, this release is only the first step and Scottrade will be adding new features on a regular basis. The major areas of concentration for this first release are trading and the user experience, he says and it shows.
On the usability front, the home screen consists of a number of widgets sitting atop a layout template. You select your layout template, then select and position your widgets on the template and name and save your home page.
The home page shown below is a three-column view. Other view options hold two columns, one that is double the width of the other.
A sample view of the new Scottrade home page shows the three-column layout.
In a Todays Order Status widget, there is a summary of orders open, executed and so on. In the two-column detailed view, a drop-down menu allows you to select the type of orders you want to see. It will then display the details of each order in the group, with ticker symbol, type of order and transaction, and more.
Home page flexibility works well. You can drag widgets around, or collapse and expand them. You can even create multiple home pages you might want a widget with open orders on one version, for instance, and one with executed orders on another.
Links in the widgets let you drill down with a single click for additional information. For example, clicking on an accounts name takes you to its summary page. Here, at a glance, is all the critical account information, including total account balance, buying power and FRIP balance. This last category relates to a Scottrade program that operates somewhat like a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP), but with more flexibility.
The account summary also holds an allocation pie chart and a list of all current positions. Advisors can export data to Excel or initiate trades directly from this page.
Users also can navigate the site using links at the top of the home page screen. Dropdown menus offer deeper navigation; under clients, for example, you can select listings either by individual account or by group. Select one or more clients or groups and then create trades, download statements or manage other activity for the accounts selected. An aggregate summary provides a consolidated view of all your accounts. The query builder allows you to filter all of your accounts by one criterion or many.
The administration section allows you to access forms, process daily file downloads and manage fees; you also can access third-party applications like MoneyGuidePro and Redtail through the single sign-on functionality. MoneyGuidePro pulls client data from the Scottrade platform on a client-by-client basis. Redtail updates data globally. There is also a mailbox that allows advisors to communicate securely with Scottrade when necessary.
The trading workflow has been greatly simplified, with a single link for trading stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and options. Radio buttons let you specify the type of trade, while defaulting to stocks and ETFs.
Block trading is quite intuitive; you create a trade by selecting individual accounts or groups of accounts. You can manually allocate trades, or you can automate the process by selecting a default allocation allocating the trade equally across all accounts, for instance, or by percent of buying power, percent of total cash value or percent of account value.
If you are performing multiple trades for the same accounts, you can copy the accounts, and they will appear on the next trade ticket automatically. You also can save a block trade, which will remain saved until it is removed or executed.
When you create both buy and sell orders for the same account, the system analyzes the trades to make sure you are generating sufficient sales to cover the buys.
Users who prefer to do their block trade allocations after the trade can use a worksheet in the system. To ensure trades are allocated promptly, Scottrade generates automatic alerts to advisors who have not allocated their trades within 30 minutes after the market has closed.
Also, if you purchased a security in multiple lots during the day, the platform can roll up the trades so you can do the allocation once.
Currently, the system does not offer modeling and rebalancing capabilities, although you can upload trades from a third-party tool. Scottrade says it will add modeling and rebalancing technology powered by Advisor Software to the platform this spring.
One convenient trading feature is the ability to create an equity trade and an option trade on the same ticket so you can purchase 100 shares of XYZ and write a call option against it on a single ticket, for instance. You can create these types of trades for a single account or for multiple accounts.
The new platform also offers better statement handling than the earlier iteration. Previously, advisors had to download statements one at a time; now users can download as many as they want, at either the individual or group account level.
Another worthy feature, accessible from anywhere in the application, is a pop-out feature that will create another copy of the page you are viewing in a separate window. This feature is designed for advisors who use multiple monitors, and is very easy and intuitive. Using the pop-out feature, you can populate two, four or even eight screens in a matter of seconds. You can then customize each screen with a unique view.
On the security front, Scottrades platform requires two-factor authentications for access, using a validation system powered by Symantec. Advisor can use either a physical token or a mobile device for authentication.
The account summary page holds all of an accounts critical information, including total balance and buying power.
Overall, our first impressions of the new Scottrade platform are favorable. It is a modern platform that is easy to navigate. Whether you are a Scottrade veteran or new to the firm, you should have little trouble finding your way around although power users may find some training helpful.
The trading functionality also has been greatly improved. And Scottrade has done a good job of making the platform serve a mobile advisor. Every major piece of functionality has been optimized for iOS, Android and Surface Pro devices.
We expect a number of other enhancements to follow soon. One important one involves roles and permissions. Right now, there is no way within an RIA firm to control who can see what but the company says advisors will soon be able to assign roles and permissions. When that happens, firms will be able to limit a users viewing or trading authority to a subset of accounts.
Upgrading a core technology platform can be challenging, but we like what we see from Scottrades latest efforts. Since it tends to serve smaller advisors, who are unlikely to have full-time professional traders on staff, navigation and ease of use are extremely important. And since the advisors are likely to be out of the office from time to time, mobile access is also vital. Scottrade has clearly factored these needs into its development cycle. FP
Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist in Miramar, Fla., is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today 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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