At Fidelity Conference, Optimism and Pledges to Support Advisors

McColgan promises to triple technology investment in Fidelity's RIA custody arm

The Fidelity Executive Forum brings together under one roof the top executives and clients of several disparate parts of the Fidelity Brokerage Company. One of those parts is National Financial, which considers itself no longer just a clearing firm, but a provider of "integrated brokerage solutions," for its 350 clients, including correspondent broker/dealers with more than 65,000 brokers and more than 70 institutional clients; the other is Fidelity Registered Investment Advisors Group (FRIAG), the RIA (and third-party administrator) custody arm of FBC.

FRIAG President Bill Carey said at the meeting that the firm has $208 billion of assets on its platform from 3,100 clients, including RIAs and TPAs. As of the end of March, RIA assets stood at $195.3 billion, up 48% over the prior year, while the number of FRIAG clients stood at 3,134, an 18% increase.

FBC's president, Ellyn McColgan, greeted the nearly 300 attendees (about 130 each from the B/D side and the RIA side, according to Jeff Cathie of Fidelity's communications department) of the 8th Forum in Scottsdale, Arizona, on April 24 by laying out the fortunate demographic circumstances for advisors, since the "the need for guidance will grow" as the baby boomers approach and experience retirement. She also voiced a warning, however, that with 76 million boomers retiring over the next 25 years, "everything you think you know about this business will change."

McColgan also admitted that Fidelity needed to improve its service offerings (the second year in a row that she's made such a pledge) while promising to "triple" the company's investment in FRIAG. When asked to clarify in a separate discussion with the press, McColgan said that FBC is increasing overall technology spending to $950 billion, $240 million of which goes for new product development.

"We've probably spent about $10 million a year on technology just for RIAs," she said. "We're going to bring that up to $30 million this year, and for the next two or three years I expect we'll be able to sustain that level of spending."

Fidelity made several announcements at the meeting, including a data aggregation program for brokers via National Financial's Streetscape workstation through an alliance with New York-based Miningham & Oellerich, and Reuters Station, a Bloomberg-like market data and transactional workstation.

On the FRIAG side of the house, FRIAG tech guru Pat Jancsy demonstrated enhancements to its Advisor Channel platform that will include online cashiering and customer service requests, and the ability to pre-fill new account applications and other forms using data gathered from existing Fidelity customer data and third-party CRM systems using Microsoft's .NET technology. Those enhancements will be rolled out in stages, with the new account and online customer service features available this summer, and online cashiering in the fourth quarter.

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