Most financial advisors reach a point in their practice where they realize that they cannot do it all. Specializing in different aspects of the profession becomes more reasonable and cost-effective when outsource solutions to fill the gaps can be located and employed. If there is one profession that has responded to this need, certainly it is the financial advisory profession. There are tons of outsource solutions and resources for advisors to consider. So much so, in fact, that discerning which ones fit the needs of a particular practice can be difficult, if not confusing.
For the sake of reducing the confusion, providers of outsource services could be divided into two categories. The first might be called niche providers. These would be providers of specific types of services, such as outsourced receptionist duties, financial plan preparation or portfolio management services. The second category might be comprehensive or all-in-one type providers.
Niche providers have gained in popularity in recent years. While there are too many to list in this column, a couple of worthy providers to note might be in the area of portfolio management. Back Office Support Service, better known as BOSS (www.thebackoffice.biz), is a full-service outsourcing firm providing Web-based portfolio management systems, fee billing and client reporting services, daily reconciliation and a host of related services.
President and CEO Mike Kelly describes it this way: "BOSS takes care of the daily data management, report generation and fee billing, so financial advisors can focus on what they do best .... servicing their clients! Our outsourcing model provides an alternative for advisors who want cost-effective expertise for their reconciliation, performance calculations and other portfolio management service (PMS) related tasks. We work in partnership with the advisors to ensure the PMS software enhances their business operations, adds efficiency and provides sound information for their decision making and communication to clients."
BlueLeaf (www.blueleaf.com/advisor) provides simplified client reporting and portfolio management services and provides Web-based client portals for clients to review their investments, performance and details on their holdings, and it offers a collaboration technology for advisors to use with their clients and other professionals.
In yet another area for niche providers, unrelated to portfolio management, virtual receptionist services can potentially save a smaller firm hundreds every month while providing a high quality service. One particular company in this category to note is Ruby (www.callruby.com). Ruby is comprised of a smart and cheerful team of virtual, live receptionists trained to make a difference in your office's operations. From their studio in Portland, Ore., they handle your calls with friendliness, charm, can-do attitude and professionalism. Best of all, your callers will think they work in your office. Ruby answers the calls and then transfers those calls, as applicable, to wherever you may be. With pricing plans ranging from $229 per month to $769 a month, those costs will be far below what you might have to pay for an onsite person.
Another firm worth checking out in this same category is Onebox (www.onebox.com). Onebox is an all-in-one virtual phone solution featuring an auto-attendant, professional greetings, voice mail, online faxing and conference calling allowing you to easily manage all business communications. While not as personable as a live attendant, such as with Ruby, Onebox provides a low-cost virtual solution with prices starting at about $50 per month.
In the area of comprehensive, holistic outsourcing solutions, two (among many) firms might be worth checking out. The first is Focus Point Solutions (www.focuspointsolutions.com). Focus Point allows advisors to outsource all of the following: reporting, trading, billing and even your investment process and research. Additionally, they offer a technology platform, compliance solutions (including RIA formation) and strategic guidance and transition support.
In an interview with Chris Hicks, the president of Focus Point, the question was asked, "What is the new focus of Focus Point Solutions?" Chris replied that in recent years they have focused on rebuilding their infrastructure. And in doing so, they took a step back to look at the client relationship management software that might be supported. They decided, two years ago, to go with a customized version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and have worked hard to develop this customized version for their advisors. In fact, rather than attempt a one-size-fits-all approach, Focus Point has committed to customizing each advisor's version of Dynamics to fit the needs of that particular firm.
In adopting the Microsoft platform, they chose to use SharePoint for document sharing and collaboration. And they integrated the use of other providers such as LaserApp, MoneyGuidePro and portfolio management systems such as Advent. Chris mentioned that the 400-plus advisory firms they support are mainly fee-based businesses and Focus Point has positioned itself as a broker/dealer alternative. The reason, he pointed out, is that broker/dealers have been forced to raise fees and other costs because of the rising compliance requirements, and with potential fines going up, smaller firms are finding it tougher to align with the broker-dealers. Thus, searching for less expensive alternatives might lead them to Focus Point.
A second comprehensive solution worth a look is BAM Advisor Services LLC (www.bamadvisorservices.com). BAM cut its teeth on the CPA markets, working with accountants who were interested in expanding into the investment arena. However, BAM's focus has shifted (or perhaps expanded) to now include RIA-type firms. Consequently, their services have also expanded to include firm development and growth services such as practice development, client recruitment programs and advisor coaching.
Their technology platform continues to evolve. BAM has recognized that the one-size-fits-all approach is untenable in the financial services profession and has embraced a number of supported systems and technologies as a result. BAM also offers a large laundry list of client services, including portfolio management, risk management, retirement plan services and analysis support services and communication resources, such as educational materials, quarterly newsletters, white papers and PowerPoint presentations. They partner with such firms as DFA funds, Schwab and Fidelity to offer choices for advisors.