From the April 2004 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

April 1, 2004

Leveling the Field

The Web not only provides access to data, it allows tech companies to make their applications available cheaply to independent advisors

Ah, technology! The hardware and software and Web applets you rely on for everything from contact management to portfolio reporting to compliance. Perhaps you're comfortable in thinking about technology as an efficient way to level the playing field, to help you compete against the bigger boys and girls. Technology allows you to match Merrill Lynch's presence on the Internet, as IA editor at large and technology guru Andy Gluck is fond of pointing out. But beyond the information highway billboard, you also have to deliver products and services, and that's where larger competitors have an advantage. Right?

One of the most compelling strategic benefits of technology for the independent advisor is that product providers are using technology to deliver services that once were the sole province of institutions to advisors and their non-institutional clients.

Take, for instance, Deepak Gulrajani, CIO of Descartes Capital in San Rafael, California. Gulrajani runs a convertible and credit arbitrage hedge fund, and normally invests in only 25 or 30 bonds, but by using Web-based software called Barra Credit, he can keep track of a much wider universe. "Sometimes, we have blinders on," says Gulrajani, "and lose the big-picture." Developed by Barra, based in Berkeley, California, Barra Credit is a credit risk tool that the company says helps to identify earlier and more accurately the potential default risk of equities, bonds, and derivatives. Mike Waite, Barra's director of product marketing, points out that the credit market is becoming increasingly complex, and with government yields at record lows, credit default rates near record highs, gaining access to Barra's default probability and implied rating models can make a big difference in managing risk.

Okay, so hedge funds are beyond the pale for you. What about separately managed accounts? Can you offer SMAs to your clients when appropriate, and make it profitable for them and you? There's a company based in Minneapolis called GlobalBridge whose raison d'etre is to extend institutional-strength separately managed accounts to individual investors through independent B/Ds, advisors, bankers, and CPAs.

Kelly Thomas Coughlin, GlobalBridge chairman and CEO and its president, Ross Rogers, have institutional backgrounds, but Coughlin notes that being able to provide efficient access to top money managers for the high-net-worth and small institution market has only become possible lately through products like Advent Custodial Data for reconciling data and FIX, the Financial Information eXchange, that looks for best execution of trades through multiple brokers. "Technology has advanced to such a stage that, five years ago, we couldn't do what we can today," Coughlin says. "Now you can deliver true open architecture in all the major areas--custody, trading, money managers," like the big institutions have enjoyed all along.

But let's get even more practical: Are you using Microsoft Word, Excel, or Outlook to make you more efficient?

Probably not, though there are some simple steps you can take to become more efficient using these ubiquitous products, says Kip Gregory. Gregory runs a consulting firm called The Gregory Group out of Washington, D.C., which publishes a free e-mail newsletter ("Kip's Tips"; sign up at www.gregory-group.com), and has just published his first book, Winning Clients in a Wired World (published by Wiley in March 2004 and available through the IA online Bookstore at www.investmentadvisor.com).

Gregory walks the reader through a system that will allow him or her to master that machine on your desk, those Office modules, and the Internet. "Most of us are overwhelmed with a dizzying array of choices," Gregory says, but by using a systematic approach to learning and then controlling your software, you can reach a level of comfort and confidence that you can use to help you learn any new piece of software. You're also not alone, he points out, and suggests how you can efficiently use the resources of the Web, and of your fellow advisors, to get a handle on technology, and thus serve your clients better.

All the product providers in the directory below bring the power of desktop processors and the Internet down to the advisor level, which is good competitive news for the advisor, and good service news for the client.

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