Orion Advisor Services LLC is a firm that seemingly flies under the radar of many financial advisors. Perhaps this is because of its Midwestern roots (the firm is headquartered in Omaha, Neb.) or its low-key style, but behind the firm's mild-mannered exterior lies the heart of an innovator.

Orion's journey from a service bureau start-up to technology innovator has been anything but typical. Back in 1989, the fee-only RIA firm that Orion grew out of was faced with a problem: The advisors there were not happy with their portfolio management system. The firm surveyed the market in the hopes of finding an alternative vendor to whom it could outsource portfolio management accounting, data consolidation and client servicing. In essence, these advisors were looking for a portfolio management solution but also a service bureau that could offer them data reconciliation, performance reports, client invoicing and a high level of customer service.

The firm never found a suitable vendor, so it decided to start one of its own. The new technology business began operations in 1999, and it is known today as Orion. Since its early days, the firm has operated as a separate entity, offering a portfolio management system and service bureau to both the original firm and the RIA community at large.
Today, most advisors familiar with Orion think of it for its portfolio accounting and related services. Orion certainly offers these services. The firm has a robust, competitively priced portfolio management and accounting platform that includes, among other things, custom reporting capabilities, client portals, billing, rebalancing and trade order management. All of these tools are solid, but by no means unique.

But some of Orion's more cutting-edge initiatives are less well known and underappreciated.

Custom Advisor Mobile Apps
Earlier this year, Orion rolled out custom mobile apps for advisors. The firm currently offers one app for Android and another for iPhone/iPad users. Although many technology firms serving advisors have rolled out similar apps, Orion goes a step further: Orion will private brand the app for its advisors at no charge and help secure placement in the appropriate app store or marketplace.

The appeal of custom apps should be obvious: The advisor controls the client's smartphone and tablet desktop, so the client receives market news and commentary from the advisor. So when a client accesses the app, it's the advisor's name out in front, not a third party's. The app also makes the advisor more accessible to clients, since clients take their phones everywhere.

Once the client has downloaded the app, he can use the same credentials he uses to log on to his portal. The Orion apps make use of navigation elements customized for the iOS or Android OS, but the content is delivered through HTML 5 technology. This framework allows Orion to store the data on its servers and deliver it over the Web on demand, eliminating the need to store data on the device itself in order to minimize security risks.

Orion gives advisors control over what the mobile app can and can't do. For example, the advisor can limit the type of data clients can view, while giving the advisor a full view of holdings, performance, etc. Advisors can allow their clients to access client statements through the mobile app and then save the statements as PDF files. For enhanced security, advisors have the option of suppressing certain information on the statements, such as account numbers, in case a client loses a phone with the PDF statements on it.

The mobile app can leverage push technology, allowing advisors to send alerts to clients' phones. For example, if there is a big market drop, an advisor could send an alert to clients with links to the advisor's audio market update. The mobile app also allows the advisor to deliver custom slide shows and even video directly to the client's mobile device.

In addition, the app gives advisors handy access to client CRM information. When you click on a client phone number, the app will make a phone call to the client. Click on the client's address, and you'll see a map with directions to the client's office. The app also provides clients with your information, so they can call or e-mail you by tapping a hot link. Clicking on your address will launch a map and driving directions to your office.