For independent advisors, Wheeler knew there would be difficulties transitioning to this kind of service. On a practical level, Wheeler says, communications between an advisor, attorney and CPA of a single client can be time-consuming. That results in the client taking the lead in coordinating everyone, when that should be the role of the financial advisor, Wheeler says.

One of the aims of the FamilyOfficeNetwork, in fact, is to have the advisor play an active role in helping clients chose other financial service providers. "The typical advisor response is what I call the three-card referral system," he says. "That's where the advisor says, 'Here are three cards of insurance agents. Give them a call and see which one you like.'"

Knowing that strategic partnerships were probably the only viable alternative for small independent advisors, Wheeler went looking for software solutions to the communications problems. What he found, however, were products that facilitated communications between advisors and clients, but nothing that helped advisors communicate and share documents with other professionals. Making matters worse, Wheeler was looking for something that would facilitate communications among a multidisciplinary group of advisors.

"We're trying to provide connectivity between very different types of practices," he says. "There was just a lack of products that provided a good cohesive work flow."

So Wheeler decided to pursue his own solution starting in 1999, when he incorporated Synergy Financial Services, the precursor to FamilyOfficeNetwork. From that point, the challenge was finding a software developer willing to take on the job of developing a highly secure file-sharing platform for advisors and their clients.

Wheeler ultimately inked a deal with ScheduleOnline, a San Diego-based software development firm, in January. Four months later, the company produced a finished product. The company also hosts the network on its servers. A third version of FamilyOfficeNetwork, which will provide expanded messaging capabilities, is currently in the works, Wheeler says.

Wheeler, meanwhile, acknowledges some issues still have to be put to the test as the network grows, such as the way in which network coordinators select members. He also screens the coordinators himself. Once selected, he says, their job is to find "quality people" as members of the local group. This includes checks for any disciplinary actions and making sure they're property licensed and certified. Because members will be from the same locale, Wheeler also expects coordinators to pick people they know.

But he acknowledges that depending on personal familiarity has its drawbacks. He notes that if someone applies to be a provisional member of a network, all other members are notified and have the right to reject an application. The coordinators would have the final say in such a situation, he says.

"Most of it comes down to a reputation issue," he says. "That's a tough one to work with, and so far we're small and it hasn't become an issue. But someone is going to get upset about it eventually."