There were a number of announcements that came out of the recently concluded Advent Connect conference, but the one that intrigued me was the news surrounding the next version of Black Diamond’s Blue Sky platform. Black Diamond was a revolutionary product when it first launched, roughly a decade ago. The firm was subsequently purchased by Advent Software Inc. in 2011. Since that time, Black Diamond has made some incremental upgrades, but the platform was due for a major overhaul, and that’s what will be happening in the coming months.

The overhaul will comprise two main components: an upgrade to the advisor-facing portion of the platform, and an upgrade to the client-facing portal. Perhaps “upgrade” is not the right description for this project. It is more like a major renovation.

The renovation will take place in phases. The investor portal will be the first to receive a renovation. It is currently in beta testing with a full rollout expected at the turn of the year. Black Diamond will then turn its attention to performing a similar renovation on the advisor-facing portion of its platform.

We believe that Black Diamond made the right choice when it decided to begin the renovation on the client side. For years, too many advisors have argued that their client portals are not getting the significant adoption that they had anticipated. These advisors have had all sorts of theories about why adoption was low (e.g., “My client base is too old,” “My clients are not that tech savvy,” “My clients prefer personal interaction,” etc.). The only explanation that these advisors never considered: Their client portal was not that good.

In all fairness, Black Diamond’s original portal was better than many. Through more than 300 advisory firms, Black Diamond serviced more than 50,000 end users on its old client platform. But there was room for improvement. Some advisors felt that the old portal did not adequately address the needs of their firms and of their clients.

The rising popularity of consumer-facing sites such as, Financial Engines, robo-advisor Web sites and other new, emerging firms indicates that client-facing portals are being widely adopted and used if they serve the needs of end clients. The software developers that serve the advisor community have awoken to the fact that the end-user experience matters, and they are now in the process of creating software that can effectively compete with popular direct-to-consumer platforms. Black Diamond’s new client portal is a good example of the new breed of technology that advisors can deploy to their clients.

Black Diamond granted me access to an early beta version of its new client portal so that I could experience the new portal for myself. Overall, I was impressed. According to Bjorn Widerstedt, director of product management at Black Diamond, the new client portal was designed with three primary goals in mind. The first was to make it customizable for different types of clients. This makes sense. When it comes to reporting, our experience is that each firm likes to tell its story in its own way. They have different types of clients, and they have different stories. In fact, there are often customization needs within a firm. For example, if a firm is segmented by A, B and C clients, or by type of client, it might want to provide a unique portal experience tailored to the needs of each client segment.

The second goal is what Black Diamond calls the concept of “Beyond Reporting.” By this the company means providing information beyond what performance reports historically provide. This could include enabling two-way communication and sharing of documents through the document vault, or it could mean bringing elements from other applications into the Black Diamond portal or Black Diamond reports.

The third goal, and one that is becoming increasingly popular within the industry, is mobile-first, responsive design. This means, in essence, that there is an expectation that many clients will be interacting with the portal on a mobile device. It also means that the software is smart enough to recognize the device that you are accessing the portal on, so you can optimize the experience for that device. I tried the portal on a desktop PC, an Android phone, an iPad running iOS 8 and even on a Surface RT tablet. I only performed limited testing on these various devices. Although the user experience was slightly different on each device, which is to be expected since it is optimized for each, in every case the experience was highly satisfactory.

Since the application is designed to be mobile first, let’s start by discussing my experience with an Android phone. In the typical phone view, there is a thin bar at the top, a thin bar at the bottom and a “card” in the main portion of the screen. The top bar has an envelope to the left. When you touch or click it, the left navigation bar is displayed. At the top of the bar is the company logo, the advisor’s name and the advisor’s contact information. Below this is a list of notifications. Notifications are an easy way to send short messages with relevant information to clients. Currently, there are three types of notification: highlights, documents and general notifications.

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