A Closer Look
A number of leading broker-dealers are helping advisors stay ahead of the technology curve.
The technologies that drive advisory practices and the technologies that advisors use to interact with their clients are rapidly evolving. Many advisors rely heavily on their broker-dealers to ensure that they have the technology tools they need to stay current and competitive. Here’s what a number of leading broker-dealers are doing to help their advisors stay ahead of the technology curve.
Cambridge Investment Research Inc.
Cambridge Investment Research recently launched a major initiative in the retirement plan space. Retirement Center is a comprehensive, online resource for advisors. It offers instant access to multiple technology subsystems and industry-leading providers. The goal of Retirement Center is to enhance advisors’ retirement engagement to efficiently and effectively provide essential retirement plan tools and expertise.
The Retirement Center’s disclosure and data aggregation tool delivers a customized disclosure process while also forming a data foundation with periodic data feeds from 50 different record-keepers to give advisors a snapshot of plan assets so they can help analyze plan trends. A custom search feature enables advisors to identify the best fit for client needs based on the services and features desired.
In addition, the Retirement Center includes access to a dashboard of client retirement plans, automated daily transfers between participating vendors and customizable subsystems, retirement plan and individual participant data mining, more than 50 participating record-keepers, investment analytics, fund monitor reports, fee benchmarking tools, targeted educational messaging, a knowledge bank of resources and best practices, support for fiduciary plan sponsors and a dedicated team of support personnel.
Ryan Reineke, Cambridge’s senior vice president of technology and operations, highlighted new additions to Cambridge’s advisor workstation. The platform now includes turnkey asset management wrap account solutions with model portfolios managed by nationally recognized investment strategists as well as asset management account solutions managed by rep-advisors. This complete solution integrates proposal generation, account process, investment model management, trade order management, fee billing and performance reporting.
Looking ahead to 2016, the big initiative is an effort to provide digital advice through the Investor Center. Cambridge currently does not have an investor portal, so the Investor Center will fill this gap in the Cambridge technology offering. Although he provided few details, Reineke says that the goal of the initiative is to wrap work flows into the client experience.
Commonwealth Financial Network, the nation’s largest privately held independent broker-dealer, has long had a well-deserved reputation for technological excellence. Darren Tedesco, the firm’s managing principal of innovation and strategy, who started with Commonwealth in 1994, has spearheaded the firm’s technology efforts since 2000.
The firm’s latest major technology initiative was the rollout of its new proprietary CRM solution. Previously, Commonwealth advisors used a customized version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM that Tedesco characterized as “too slow, too clunky and not integrated enough.” According to Tedesco, his preference would have been to buy a CRM solution rather than build one, and the firm spent months evaluating potential candidates. Ultimately, only one candidate came close to meeting Commonwealth’s needs, and even that one was lacking in a few areas, so Commonwealth built its own.
Tedesco says Commonwealth’s new CRM system is the fastest he has ever used. He offered an example of one process that required 40 clicks in his previous system. Commonwealth has reduced it to five. “We are very happy that we decided to build our own CRM application,” he says.
Other enhancements to the Commonwealth platform include the addition of household investment modeling: You can now assign a single model across multiple accounts in a household. This allows for asset location optimization.
Commonwealth has also rolled out native mobile apps for its advisors. The firm released its first mobile capability in 2006, but it consisted of a mobile website, not apps. The advantage of a mobile site is that it allows the developers to create a single platform. This allows for more rapid upgrades and economies of scale. It also means that a site can be compatible with multiple mobile operating systems. When it is not apparent who the dominant mobile players will be, or when advisors are experimenting with multiple providers, mobile web is a reasonable approach. There are disadvantages to it, however. The primary one is that not all systems can access all of a device’s functionality without an app. So, for example, to interact with a device’s camera, which is necessary for mobile check deposit, an app is a superior solution. According to Tedesco, 81% of the interactions smartphone users have are with apps, not with mobile sites. As a result, Commonwealth developed apps for Apple and Android.
Looking ahead, Commonwealth will launch a new streamlined account opening process early in 2016. There will be one master agreement for all account openings, not multiple individual ones, as is the case today. The whole process can be completed digitally, without the advisor and client meeting to complete the documents. Tedesco credits Fidelity’s National Financial clearing arm for being progressive and cooperating with Commonwealth on this new approach to account opening.
Commonwealth also plans to launch a new website builder by year’s end. Commonwealth has been hosting advisors’ websites since 2003, but the new system will allow it to move away from template websites so it can offer true custom websites to its advisors. The system will also allow the company to bring new sites online much more quickly.