From the September 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

August 21, 2012

How to Evaluate All-In-One Systems

Comprehensive systems can streamline your business, but how do you choose between them?

The technology products available for advisors today offer more features and solutions than ever before. Until recently, advisors’ only choice was to purchase several distinct products to address each of their technology needs. For example, one technology company would provide advisors’ CRM solution, another would provide their portfolio reporting solution, another would meet their trading needs and perhaps even another was required to handle the task of rebalancing. In the best of situations, these systems would share data with each other, but it was uncommon for an advisor to select one technology solution that addressed all of these needs. Now, however, the number of “all-in-one” systems, or comprehensive technology solutions, is growing. How do you decide if a solution is right for your firm?

As you review a comprehensive technology solution, you should have high expectations for how the data is shared throughout the program. It is ultimately one product or client database. Therefore, specific client data and attributes should be easily accessible and connected regardless of the features that you are currently using in the program. For example, when you make a change to a client’s asset allocations, it should be applied throughout the entire program; that is, trading, portfolio reporting, CRM and billing should all line up again after making a change. If you must update each program separately, then you have lost one of the key benefits of a comprehensive solution. Create a list of the common tasks you perform and the workflow procedures followed at your firm. They should be more efficient and streamlined when your firm utilizes a comprehensive solution.

One of the main challenges for a comprehensive technology company is providing a reliable program and being “cutting edge” with each of the core capabilities offered by their system. You can argue that it would be easier for a technology company to be the best in their market if they only provide one technology. It’s not impossible for a company to achieve consistent excellence in all aspects of their product, but it is a high bar when you consider the inherit complexity with each distinct system that an advisory firm utilizes. Given this situation, you need to decide which features are most important to your firm. Zero in on what are truly your requirements and identify the solution that excels in those features.

Some advisors seek individual “best-of-breed” solutions to address each technology need at their firm, partly because of a desire to have flexibility and choice in case they decide to switch providers in one category or another: for example, if their portfolio reporting system remains stable but they want to switch CRM systems. However, you don’t have to use all components of a comprehensive solution. You could use one company’s trading and performance reporting features, but utilize a different company’s CRM solution. Your options depend on the specific integration capabilities offered by the comprehensive solution and the benefits such integration can produce for you, compared with the inefficiency of using a number of stand-alone products. The stand-alone products may be better at specific tasks, but if you spend a lot of time getting all of your systems in sync, you may want to consider some compromises.

In addition to the features offered, you also want to fully evaluate the support and training provided. Attend a couple of their training webinars, call in to their support desk and ask general questions, and speak with other advisors using their solution before you write the first check to get an idea of how they approach customer support and training.

Comprehensive solutions can address common problems and issues experienced when you use separate systems. However, they can create their own set of new challenges as well. Be smart and thorough as you evaluate how they might meet the needs of your firm. For every technology solution, I know advisors who are satisfied and unsatisfied—and sometimes the reasons are exactly the same.

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