I've written extensively recently about the technological enhancements taking place among the custodians serving independent RIAs, but it is difficult to ignore the fact that a similar technology arms race is taking place within the independent B-D community. As is the case with the custodians, independent B-Ds are providing more intuitive interfaces, greater integration, improved work flows and scalable models that allow their advisors to work more efficiently.

These improvements, if widely adopted, should allow advisors to free up more time in front of existing clients and new prospects instead of toiling with computer software at their desks. Below, I offer up a few examples of how various firms are leveraging technology to help their advisors prosper.

Raymond James
Raymond James recently rolled out the latest enhancement to their Advisor Access technology platform. Advisor Access is the central interaction point for all advisor technology. Interactive menus and search technology allow advisors to instantly locate the relevant information when a client calls. This new platform is device-agnostic. Advisors can access the platform with a PC, a tablet or even a smartphone.

The latest addition, Goal Planning and Monitoring (GPM) is powered by MoneyGuidePro, an industry-leading financial planning application. Patrick O'Connor, senior vice president of wealth management at Raymond James has great respect for MoneyGuidePro (MGP). "We love the genius behind the tool. We think it is very intelligent software." O'Connor and his firm decided to build upon what MGP offers to provide a unique solution to their advisors. "We wanted the flexibility to incorporate our own intellectual property onto the MoneyGuidePro software." And that's exactly what they are doing.

One way that Raymond James incorporates their own intellectual capital into the existing MGP technology is through the proposal-generation process. GPM uses MGP: G3's new risk assessment tool to evaluate client risk tolerance. They do not, however, use MGP's asset allocation models or capital market assumptions.

Instead, advisors can choose to use a wide range of proprietary Raymond James asset allocation models, or they can use their own. GPM maps a client to a model portfolio or a range of portfolios with the appropriate risk/return characteristics for the client. Advisors can then access the Raymond James database to select product that will populate the model. The database includes managed accounts, ETFs, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, UITs, closed-end funds and other products.

The integration process is still ongoing. Soon, advisors will be able to implement plans right from inside GPM, and they will be able to monitor plans for drift, changes in projected plan success and other factors. When GPM is fully built out later this year, advisors will be able to create a plan, build an investment proposal, execute a plan and monitor the plan all from right within GPM. In addition, some MGP client-facing capabilities will be built into the Raymond James client-facing portal so that clients can track their financial plan, as well as their investments, through the portal.

Bob Curtis, CEO of PIEtech, creator of MoneyGuidePro, says that GPM has been an instant success. "We are excited to be part of the Advisor Access platform. I personally attended the Raymond James national conferences this year and was extremely impressed by the enthusiasm shown by advisors for Goal Planning and Monitoring. It is clear that Raymond James and its advisors are committed to providing the highest-quality financial planning experience to their clients."

Securities America
Like Raymond James, Securities America is also putting greater emphasis on planning. A brochure for their Managed Opportunities-NextPhase Retirement Income Distribution Solution points out that the biggest concern of the boomer generation moving toward retirement is their financial health-the threat of outliving their assets and unreliable retirement income. By 2015, there will be more than 45 million U.S. households with people from 51 to 70 years of age, so the market for retirement income solutions is enormous.

Managed Opportunities is the Securities America investment platform powered by Envestnet. It is the advisor's one stop shop for risk profiling, proposal generation, investment policy statements, research tools, investment solutions and reporting. The Securities America Managed Opportunities platform allows advisors to combine separately managed accounts (SMAs) and mutual fund portfolios in one unified managed account (UMA). It was also the first firm to use UMA technology to combine multiple mutual fund wrap portfolios in a single brokerage account, eliminating the need for multiple sets of paperwork and multiple 1099s.