As the wealth-management business gets more complex, and the war for talent and wealthy clients heats up, good, integrated technology systems are becoming more and more important. And wealth managers aren’t too happy with what they’ve got. In fact, about 75 percent of wealth-management executives say they are either frustrated, or very frustrated, with their software tools, according to a recent survey conducted by Northstar, a wealth- and asset-management software provider.
Many wealth-management firms have glued, taped and stapled together technology solutions over the years, and it’s now a mess, explains Vicky Morris, vice president of marketing at Northstar.
A current client of Northstar’s is a good example: “One large firm that we’ve been working with has 208 software applications within its wealth-management business,” says Morris, who says her firm is working with them to reduce that by half. At the advisor level it’s just as bad, she says, citing data from another firm, Business Edge, which has found advisors juggle an average of 12 applications each day—all while trying to serve an average of 300 high-net-worth clients (those with more than $1 million in investable assets).
“According to our data, it takes anywhere from 8 to 16 hours for the average wealth- management advisor to generate a proposal,” says Morris. “Now is that efficient?”
What’s most significant about the software clutter, says Morris, is that none of the applications communicate with each other, reducing advisor efficiency. What do firms need to do about it? Creating an integrated wealth-management platform would be a good start, says Morris, adding that few firms actually have one.
Philip Palaveev, a consultant with Moss Adams, agrees that no one has created a totally integrated model. “There’s a variety of quality out there,” he says. “For instance, the wirehouses have created a great lineup of products and services, but certain aspects need improving—the tax and estate offerings, for example—and the integration of it all is still a work in progress.”
One good incentive for developing an integrated technology platform, according to the study, is recruiting: When asked, “What helps attract and retain top wealth managers?” the study found the second most frequent answer was platform solution, behind only compensation, and ahead of brand and reputation and culture. (Of course, that’s a departure from the results of a survey conducted by SEI last year in which those two items were top priorities. and platform solution was near the bottom of the list. Granted SEI’s study surveyed private banks, which tend to use the technology provided by major banks with deep pockets.)
Another NorthStar survey question indicated that executives may be getting wise to the link between revenue growth and a top-shelf platform. When asked if “a strong [wealth management] platform is critical to growth,” nearly 90 percent agreed or strongly agreed.
Will 2008 be the year of the overhaul? That depends on whom you ask. It won’t be for Mark Soehn, a partner with Financial Solutions Advisory Group, an RIA in Chicago with roughly 50 clients and $110 million. He says he and his partners are satisfied with the firm’s proprietary technology suite despite their years-long search for the all-in-one-solution. “An easy to use, meshed together desktop system? That would be beautiful,” he says. He just hasn’t found anything yet that’s the right fit.
Instead, Soehn and his partners are dedicating most of 2008 to acquiring new clients. “We’re young—our firm is only 5 years old—so we’re in the growth phase. Our tech works well, and we have capacity for a lot of client asset growth, so that’s what we’re focusing on.”