Trade-pmr, an ria custodian located in Gainesville, Fla., is not among the most widely recognized names in the custody business. But with the release of Fusion, the company’s new, touch-enabled custodial platform, its profile within the industry is certain to rise soon. I recently tried out a beta version of Fusion, and it is without a doubt the most impressive custodial interface I’ve ever seen. It is the only one to date that is built to take advantage of the new Windows 8 touch screen PCs, as well as all touch screen mobile devices.
Clearly, not all of our readers are using Trade-PMR as a custodian, so why should you care about Fusion?
I’m sure that after reading what follows, Trade-PMR hopes you will become a client, but even if you don’t, please read on. Fusion sets a new standard for custodial platforms, and it represents a new benchmark for custodial platforms in the future.
For those of you unfamiliar with it, Trade-PMR opened its doors in 1998 to service RIAs. Today, the firm is well equipped to handle the needs of fee-only independent RIAs, but it is equally suited to the needs of dually registered RIAs. Over the last several years, the firm has experienced significant growth. At the beginning of 2009, it serviced approximately 300 advisors. When I wrote about the firm in 2010, it was servicing 563 advisors. Today, it serves more than 1,350 advisors, and I expect its growth to accelerate over the next few years. Some of the recent growth was attributable to the firm’s last-generation custodial platform, eCustody, which I’ve mentioned favorably in the past. Since trading and custody have been to a large extent commoditized, value-added services like technology and practice management support are driving more and more custody decisions. Trade-PMR offers some impressive practice management programs, but Fusion takes the firm’s custody platform to a whole new level.
Trade-PMR has a history of using technology as part of its core value proposition. Over the last six years, Trade-PMR advisors have enjoyed the use of the eCustody platform. eCustody includes most of the core functionality that advisors need to run their businesses, including automated fee deductions, block trading, basic CRM capability, performance reporting and much more.
Increasingly, however, advisors and their clients are demanding the ability to work wherever and whenever they want. The emergence of tablets and smart phones has created an opportunity for a rich, touch-based experience that was unimaginable a few short years ago. Advisors have become accustomed to mice and keyboards when interacting with computing devices, but they leave much to be desired. They are functional, but not ideal. Touch screens can add a whole new dimension to usability.
Of course, you can’t just take an existing application and touch-enable it (well, you can, but you won’t be satisfied with the results). In order to gain the maximum benefit from touch platforms, you need to build an application that is specifically designed to interact with multiple inputs (touch, mouse, keyboard). That is essentially what Trade-PMR has accomplished with Fusion.
Trade-PMR’s new Fusion advisor workstation is perhaps the most flexible, easy-to-use custodial platform ever built. Designed as a touch-first application, Fusion is optimized for devices such as the iPad, Microsoft Surface, Android and the new Windows 8 touch-screen computers, yet it still performs well on non-touch computers running Windows 7 and 8 operating systems.
Fusion uses design principles from Microsoft’s Metro user interface to bring focus to the application’s content, not the interface. The conventional interface may expose as many functions as possible, but it clutters up the screen. Fusion, on the other hand, displays only the most frequently used functions and hides the others. The hidden tools are usually just a touch, a mouse click or a keystroke away.
This results in a clean, user-friendly experience.
The Fusion start page consists of a number of interactive “live tiles,” used both to communicate important information and to help the user navigate. The tiles can be resized and arranged to meet the needs of the user. (See Figure 1.)
All the buttons are large enough to be pressed on a touch screen, but they can also be clicked with a mouse. The result is a balance between the power of a desktop application and the portability of mobile technology.
“Rather than build on the existing eCustody platform, we chose to completely redesign our back end as a REST (representational state transfer) service,” says Dennis Suppe, Trade-PMR’s CTO. “REST-style architectures have emerged as the de facto standard for Web-based platforms and are used by sites such as Facebook, Amazon S3, LinkedIn, and many others. The Fusion REST application programming interface (API) runs on a farm of servers in the Trade-PMR private cloud. The end user accesses Fusion either through a Web browser or through a Windows application running on a desktop.”
With Fusion, Trade-PMR has moved all business logic and data access logic to the cloud. Fusion client software (either the Web version or the Windows version) and the firm’s party integration partners share the same API. This allows centralized testing, as well as feature parity across all applications.
Third-party integration is an important factor in any modern custodial platform. Trade-PMR approaches technology differently than some competitors, however. The firm’s philosophy is to give an advisor everything he or she needs to run a practice. This has established a technology baseline that all of the firm’s advisors have access to. At the same time, Trade-PMR understands that many of its advisors require advanced features beyond the core technology offering, so they add third-party software with more functions.
Each vendor integration requires code to be written and tested by both the custodian and the vendor. This can be costly for both parties. With the API, Trade-PMR’s partners should be able to integrate with Fusion much more tightly—without the need for special code. And the API allows vendors to decide just how much they want to integrate.
For example, in the new API an advisor will be able to take a prospect in Redtail CRM and turn him into a client in Fusion seamlessly, on demand.
“In the coming months,” says Suppe, “the Fusion API will be well documented and available to the public, allowing third-party CRM, financial planning, rebalancing and other products to integrate more deeply than ever before. Future applications, whether developed by Trade-PMR or third parties, will share the same REST back end and take advantage of the scale and performance of the Trade-PMR cloud.”
Managing At The Practice Level
Most custodian platforms deal with accounts and households. Fusion introduces the concept of a “Practice.” The Practice consists of clients or households, each of which has one or more accounts. This organizational structure allows functionality such as the ability to “share” a model portfolio across users in a firm. For example, an advisor can create models for various investment strategies and then share them with other advisors within the firm. Baskets of trades can be created by one user for various market scenarios and shared with a trader who will execute those baskets at the directive of a firm principal.
Client information within the CRM system can also be shared with all users in the firm, or it can be made private to the owner. This is particularly useful in hybrid broker-dealer/RIA firms where it is common for reps to share an assistant but manage separate books of business.
Yet another advantage of the Practice views is the user’s ability to access analytics across the entire advisory firm. During off hours, the Trade-PMR private cloud calculates sector allocation, asset allocation, average account values, the numbers of trades, fees collected, assets under management and a number of other analytics for every account, every night. These analytics are displayed on a dashboard that gives the advisor information in an easy-to-consume format.
As markets fluctuate, an advisor can view his asset allocation, for example, to decide if he needs to liquidate some positions and/or establish new ones. Analytics are also provided at the household and account level. These snapshot pages allow the advisor to determine whether the client’s current allocation matches his investment objectives and quickly make changes as needed. When it’s time for a client meeting, the account analytics can be printed, generating a client-facing report that can serve as the basis for a discussion. (See Figure 2.)
Alerts And Workflows
Fusion includes a workflow system that streamlines communication between advisors and the custodian. Common tasks such as address changes and check requests are routed through the system and assigned to the appropriate department. Each service request creates a unique tracking number that allows the advisor to know its progress. Once a request is completed, the advisor is notified by a change in status.
Advisors can subscribe to various alerts, including transfers in and out, deposits, trade executions, account openings, etc. Alerts can be viewed from within Fusion, in an e-mail or even in a text message if a specific type of alert is particularly important. These settings are made on a per-user basis, so each firm employee can optimize the system to his or her communication preference.
The nature of client meetings is evolving. Not all clients want to bother with traffic to travel to your office. They may want to meet in a central location (at their home, for instance), or perhaps they prefer to meet virtually. Fusion can easily accommodate these different meeting arrangements in the future, whatever they may be.
Regardless of the types of meetings you prefer, Fusion can also reduce meeting preparation time. It allows advisors to “pin” documents and accounts to the start page, the same way Windows 8 allows you to pin tiles, documents, etc. This gives the user quick access to frequently used information. For example, an advisor can prepare for a client meeting by pinning statements, performance reports, Morningstar reports and other documents to the Fusion start page. The advisor can then use a portable device such as an iPad, Surface or Android tablet during the client meeting. The same functions would be available if the advisor chose to use a touch-enabled laptop or a touch-enabled large screen in a conference room.
Since all content is stored in the Fusion cloud, the documents are available wherever and whenever they are needed. Of course, pinning accounts is not limited to client meetings. This feature can be useful in working with a client frequently, perhaps during a transition to retirement, when frequent meetings are common. Simply pin the client’s accounts to the start page for quick access, and when the transition period is over, unpin them.
Integrated Social Networking
An increasing number of advisors are coming to understand the potential of social networking, but few have really leveraged it. One of the reasons may be that the right tools have not been available to them. Fusion will change that. It is the first custodial platform I know of that can take advantage of client information residing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social networking sites.
When correctly used, data like life events, photos, and relationship changes can all be used to trigger action by an advisor, improving the level of service provided. In Fusion, friends on Facebook and connections on LinkedIn show up in an integrated “What’s New” timeline within the client CRM record. Information can be harvested and added to the Fusion CRM, or simply be used to get the advisor up to speed on what’s going on in a client’s life. In addition, Fusion will allow the advisor to create alerts for life events like job changes and anniversaries. This affords the advisor a greater level of personalization while giving him additional reasons to stay in touch with clients regularly. (See Figure 3.)
Trading And Rebalancing
The current eCustody advisor workstation offers a robust trading platform. Fusion improves upon it. Model trading now features a cloud-based “rebalance” that can fan out to hundreds of servers in the Trade-PMR cloud, allowing large numbers of accounts to be rebalanced simultaneously. With the power of the server farms, advisors can perform large rebalancing requests in minutes.
Basket trading has also been enhanced. For example, a new “change” basket can be used to modify groups of open orders and change the stop or limit price on a set all at once. This way, the advisor won’t have to modify the orders one at a time. Once the new price has been set, the orders are verified and submitted with just a few clicks.
The initial version of Fusion is due in the third quarter, but it is already apparent to me that it is a great leap forward in custodian platform usability. In contrast to some of the clunky, difficult-to-navigate interfaces of the past, Fusion is a totally modern platform that is built for the 21st century advisor. It is easy to navigate, it is touch-enabled, it looks great, and it is actually fun to use. Don’t you wish you could say that about all the software you use?