Market volatility and political uncertainty—how many times have we heard that answer to the question, “What are advisors’ biggest concerns?” A lot, but it was Will Clemens’ follow-up that caught us off guard.
“These are smart people, and the investment management business is a good business,” Clemens, CEO of Zephyr Associates, said. “They’ll figure out a way to make it work and be successful; they just have to know the math. With all the volatility and uncertainty, they’re understandably anxious, which is why vendors need to step it up and work that much harder.”
And “step it up” he has. Since taking over the research and analysis division in January 2010, Clemens has doubled the size of the firm’s support and consulting staff. More surprisingly, it’s not as if Zephyr’s growth exactly warranted such a move.
“Business has been good—not great—for a lot of our customers,” he noted. “It has a ripple effect. But as a boutique service provider, it’s at a time like this that I want to provide even better service and differentiation.”
Zephyr was founded in 1994 and is headquartered in Zephyr Cove, Nev. (how cool is that?), with additional offices in Memphis, New York and London. The RIA market currently comprises 16% of their total clientele and is their fastest growing segment. Clemens took time to speak with Investment Advisor about the firm, its offerings and the benefits of providing more with less.
Let’s start with the obvious question; what makes your research and analysis tools different from the gazillion other providers out there?
Let me start by saying there are no perfect research and analysis tools available. Each has their strengths and areas of specialization. What we offer are tools that can be customized so the advisor “can do it their way.” Secondly, they can choose the source of the data they’re using. For instance, if they have a trusted source for mutual funds, but a different source for hedge funds—heck, even for something like art collections—if they’re able to be monetized, they can incorporate all those data sources. So those two factors really set us apart.
So what, specifically, can you do for RIAs?
We have three main product offerings. Almost all of our clients use StyleADVISOR, which is the core product, and the others are built off of that. StyleADVISOR is comprehensive performance analysis software, which advisors use for risk analysis, peer group analysis, style attribution, manager search, asset allocation and custom reporting. AllocationADVISOR is our asset allocation, optimization and portfolio simulation software.
A simple way to explain it to the layperson is that StyleADVISOR relies on historical performance and AllocationADVISOR puts you over to the future and relies on your forecasts. The last piece, Zephyr OnDEMAND, is designed to complement StyleADVISOR with Web-based reporting tools.
Who uses what?
At a large firm, StyleADVISOR and AllocationADVISOR would be used by a portfolio manager. At a smaller firm, they’d be used by a CIO. For the CIO specifically, both products help them “bushwhack,” a nontechnical term meant to describe someone who might not really know what their looking for in the analysis until they find it. We help them simplify the process.
Zephyr OnDEMAND is more for the client-facing employees: the CSRs and salespeople. It has templates and disclosure that can be added to every page. It’s simple to use so the individual can take it right into a meeting, pull it up on an iPad and break down the analysis right there with the client.
With the breakaway broker movement, specifically, continuing and even increasing, our software bundles a variety of products for them in one package, so it’s very popular among that crowd.