Black Diamond dazzles conference attendees with performance reporting.
At the recently concluded Virtual Office News/NAPFA Technology Tools
for Today Conference, there was plenty of chatter in the corridors
about highly anticipated new portfolio reporting packages from Intuit
(http://portfoliominder.intuit.com/) and Morningstar
(http://advisor.morningstar.com/productpages/intro.asp). But perhaps
the biggest surprise to come out of the event was the buzz surrounding
a virtual unknown called Black Diamond Performance Reporting
"Go check out Black Diamond" one prominent planner told me in the hallway. "Those guys are quite impressive; you've got to write them up," said another. Well, those two planners, and at least half a dozen others who mentioned Black Diamond to me during the conference, certainly piqued my interest, so I decided to see what Black Diamond was up to. I was glad I did.
Black Diamond Performance Reporting is a young firm headquartered in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. The company was founded in 2003 and began serving clients in October 2004. They turned profitable in 2005. Currently, the firm reports on roughly $2 billion in assets, but that number should grow rapidly as RIAs become familiar with it. Clients include Draughn Partners of Savannah, Ga., Old North Advisors of Boston, and Telemus Capital Partners of Southfield, Mich. Black Diamond's average account size is about $250 million AUM, and they target firms in the $50-million to $2-billion-AUM range.
Black Diamond provides a highly customizable, Web-based performance reporting solution built upon the Microsoft .NET platform. Client data is stored in a SQL database. Black Diamond interfaces with 22 custodial platforms, including Bear Stearns, Fidelity, First Trust, FolioFN, Pershing, Schwab and TD Ameritrade. The firm expects to add additional interfaces as their clients request them. In addition, Black Diamond can accept information directly from Schwab Performance Technologies' PortfolioCenter. (This is done at a reduced rate, since the data would already be reconciled under this scenario).
New advisory firms don't have to worry about data conversions, but for veteran advisors, the data conversion process is perhaps the greatest impediment to moving from one reporting platform to another. Clearly, Black Diamond recognizes this. According to Black Diamond CEO Reed Colley: "We perform data conversions for most of our clients, from software applications such as Portfolio Center/Centerpiece, Advent, dbCams, CapTools and others. The costs are dependent on the amount of history and the size of the client. Our basic set-up fee accounts for importing two to three years of history. Anything more than that is charged appropriately, but there is no limitation to the amount of history we can import."
The most striking thing about the Black Diamond Performance Reporting platform is the clean, well-designed interface. Competing platforms such as AssetBook and Orion look fine, but in my opinion, Black Diamond's is the most aesthetically pleasing interface I've encountered to date.
Black Diamond private-brands and customizes the site for each firm. The advisory firm's logo can be displayed prominently in the upper left of the all Web pages displayed, and the individual advisor (user's) name can be displayed in the upper right.
The home page is divided vertically into three columns. Along the left of the screen is a navigation bar that provides links to other areas of the program, as well as a search box. The search box allows the user to search for information by any indexed criteria such as account name, "household," portfolio name, manager, account number, etc. The Quicklinks provide one-click access to a number of useful management reports. These include a money-in report and a money-out report, so the advisor can see at a glance, which clients are contributing or withdrawing from their accounts. There is also a best-performer and worst-performer list, so advisors know at all times what's hot and what's not. Like many sections of the program, this area can be customized to meet each firm's needs.
Like the center column, or "main" part of the screen, the left section varies in function depending upon where you are in the program. For example, when you are in the targets section discussed later, the information displayed in the main target screen can be adjusted from here.
The center section contains the "Advisor View." This is a composite look at all the assets managed by an advisor. The information can be grouped in various ways by simply selecting from the drop-down list of views. For example, you can choose the asset class view, which will display the composite of equities, fixed income and cash. This view contains the market value, percentage of the portfolio in each class, the gain or loss for a given period in dollars and the gain or loss for a period expressed in percentage terms. If you do not like the information columns being displayed by default, you can click the "more table options" link and customize the view.
Each asset class has a plus sign next to it, indicating that it is expandable. If an advisor wants a breakdown by equity subasset class (large cap, mid cap, small cap), it can be obtained by clicking on the plus sign. As an alternative, there is an expand all/collapse all hot link which will either expose or hide all of the lower-level information. Other views include assets (a list of each portfolio holding), managers (if you use multiple managers per asset class), portfolios and styles (portfolios grouped by style).
Below the "Advisor View" is a list of PDF reports that the advisor has created. Advisors can choose to display the most recent five reports, the most recent ten reports or all reports. There is also a link here that allows advisors to create new reports. Clicking this link takes the advisor to a page that displays all of the templates available to the advisor. According to Black Diamond CEO Colley, "These report templates are configured and customized for each firm and can include any data ranges desired."
The right column can contain graphs or additional tables. If the advisor chooses to display an allocation pie chart, a second drop-down list appears with the various chart options. These include styles, portfolios, managers, accounts, classes and assets (holdings). The charts themselves are hyperlinks, so, for example, if I clicked on an asset class chart, another window would appear. This window offers additional information and views, as well as the ability to "drill down" farther into the data. To continue the example, I could click on the "equity" slice of the pie chart, and that would bring up a new pie chart representing solely the equity portion of the portfolio, broken down by subsection. If I clicked again on the portion of the chart labeled large cap, I'd see that my large-cap portion of the portfolio was comprised of six holdings. By clicking on the "table" tab, I could view the same information in tabular format. I could then click on the "transactions" tab, and see a complete listing of all transactions associated with those positions, or I could filter for transactions over a user-defined time period.
Running across the home page horizontally, just below the firm and advisor name, is another navigation bar. This bar offers access to the following sections: advisor reports (exposure report, cash flow report, benchmark difference report, manager/advisor return report), PDF Reports (access to report templates and archived reports), targets (allocation vs. target allocation, return vs. target, be able to run the batch reports themselves.
There are some additional "views" or links I'd like to see added-for
example a direct link to a list of all accounts or all groups-but these
are minor issues that can be easily remedied. I'd also like to see a
wider range of stock reporting templates available, but you can run
many additional types of reports through the Web interface, and most
print out fine, even though there is no template for them.
The platform can accept almost any fee schedule an advisor can dream up, and it can be inputted into the system to create billing reports. These reports can be exported to MS Excel, then uploaded to custodians for collection. Advisors can also manually enter transactional data directly into the Web site if necessary.
Some advisors, upon hearing that the Black Diamond system is "proprietary," will be scared off. This would be a mistake. The data is stored in a SQL database, so it should be portable to another platform if necessary. According to Colley, "At the client's option, we provide monthly snapshots of all of the returns and balances we have calculated on our system for DR/offline/archival purposes. This is typically provided via CD or FTP download. The client reports and original raw data files (to be imported to another system) can also be included. We are absolutely of the belief that the data belongs to our client and we will do everything possible to ensure that they have access to every piece of it."
The firm's short track record may intimidate some, but Colley and EVP Bob Conchiglia, the company's executive vice president, have more than 17 years' combined experience in the performance reporting field, so the management team certainly knows what they are doing.
While not a criticism, it would be nice to see the ability to aggregate "held away" assets on the platform. While such a feature is not imminent, Colley says they are looking into providing such capabilities in a future version.
Pricing is competitive with similar services. There is a one-time set
up fee of $300, and an ongoing asset-based fee of that begins at 2.5 bp
and scales down to 1 bp for larger accounts, with an overall $15,000
per year minimum.
Black Diamond is still new, and somewhat of a work in progress, but for a young firm at this stage of development, their service looks promising. For further information visit www.blackdiamondreporting.com.
Joel P. Bruckenstein is an expert in
applied technology for financial services professionals and publisher
of Virtual Office News (www.virtualofficenews.com). You can contact him
via his e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.