Stop buying advisor technology like it's the 1990s

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Remember when bundling your home internet, cable, and telephone services was the best deal going? Pairing these services to receive a discount not only saved you money, it also saved you the hassle of shopping around.

But these days, if you’re anything like me, that same bundle deal is now just a waste of money. How often do you use the landline at home? How much extra do you pay for your video streaming service? And when was the last time you watched all 300 cable channels?

The way we consume these services has changed. The same thinking should apply to the technology you use to power your business. While all-in-one bundles once made sense both economically and based on the capabilities available, it’s simply no longer the case in a market now defined by customization and choice.

Working with advisors for over two decades, I always remind my team that when you’ve met one independent advisor, you’ve still only met one independent advisor. Each advisory firm is unique with regard to how their firms are structured and how they add value to their client relationships.

But at wirehouses and larger broker-dealers, advisors often have little choice in what’s included in their tech stacks — the home office decides and implements a single, one-size-fits-some solution. This black box technology is often slow to adjust to emerging trends or doesn’t integrate well with their other third-party software solutions. Moreover, it doesn’t enable to advisors to tap into the exact technologies that accentuate their specific value proposition.

Take Inspired Financial, which just celebrated its 15th year in business. They specialize in offering financial guidance to recently widowed or divorced women. Their client needs shape their business model to look differently than those of firms that primarily work with other niches.

Being independent frees firms like Inspired Financial of constraints and creates opportunity for them to build a tech stack from the ground up, integrating its components seamlessly to work more efficiently and differentiate their firm based on their unique strengths and goals.

Each RIA is so unique. As a result, they can make best-fit decisions about who they work with; how they interact with other professionals serving their clients; how they add value to the client relationship; how they manage portfolios, do planning, and charge clients; their geographical makeup and whether to outsource elements of their service offering. I could go on.

It’s hard to imagine that the requirements — and preferences — for financial planning, portfolio accounting, CRM, and other software are the same for each firm. Yet many off-the-shelf, all-in-one technology providers assume just that.

Still, I’ve heard some advisors say it is too difficult to build a tech solution tailored for their individual needs. They’d love to, they say, but buying off the shelf is “just easier.” That may be a fair point for some. After all, when faced with an abundance of choice, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by options. And certainly, there are software vendors who have become very good at convincing advisors that custom tech stacks are just too difficult to assemble and integrate.

But today, embracing choice empowers savvy firms to look for tech partners who go beyond buzzwords. To demand they demonstrate the infrastructure, resources and culture of innovation necessary to stay on the cutting edge for the long haul. And to seek partners who recognize the value of collaboration with other best-in-class providers, to benefit their advisors.

Not to mention, (and remember this when evaluating your options) we live in an age where web-based application programming interfaces and open source platforms are the norm. Free from the closed architecture of a self-contained tech offering, these services can talk to each other far more effectively, enabling RIAs to create a tailored stack with greater integration capabilities, at a lower cost.

Or, RIAs can cross their fingers, pick a prearranged bundle of tech and hope for the best.

Those who go down this road, much like advisors back at the wires using last-generation technology, may come to regret their decision. When you’re running on the same preassembled software as everyone else, generating the same reporting and offering the same portfolios as everyone else, it becomes more difficult to make the claim that you’re serving investors better than your competitors.

My advice is, don’t settle for bundle deals packed with features that don’t make sense for your business model. Accept nothing less than custom-built, open API solutions that will save you time and help you provide a best-in-class experience that exceeds your firm’s and clients’ unique expectations.

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RIAs Practice management Portfolio management CRM systems Accounting software APIs Workforce management