What’s Working in Tech: 3 Advisors Share Their Stories

‘You don’t need to have a cutting-edge tech environment to be a high performer,’ says Fidelity's Hitchcock

Firms don't have to be on the cutting edge of technology to thrive, Fidelity says. Firms don't have to be on the cutting edge of technology to thrive, Fidelity says.

While taking a wait-and-see approach to social media, three advisors at Fidelity’s InsideTrack event in Washington Tuesday said they were, however, honing their internal and external technology strategies.

During a session with tech guru Bill Winterberg as moderator, three advisors noted that while their firms were “strong” adopters of technology, they wouldn’t classify their firms as being on the cutting edge.

Cynthia LaRue, chief operating officer of SOL Capital Management, said her firm was definitely an “aggressive” adopter of technology. “We’ve gone through a number of [technology] stages rapidly,” with a focus on “maximizing the ROI” of technology,” she said. “Now we are optimizing and integrating platforms to achieve a much more seamless approach, internally and externally.”

Like LaRue, Jordan Smyth, managing director of Edgemoor Investment Advisors, and Peter Jespersen, portfolio manager with Solamere Advisors, are focusing most of their tech efforts on customer relationship management (CRM), portfolio management and financial planning software.

Fidelity’s 2013 RIA Benchmarking Study found that most advisory firms were dissatisfied with their CRM and that the highest performing firms appeared to take a pragmatic approach to technology, “reporting strong, but not cutting-edge” technology environments.

As Mathias Hitchcock, vice president of practice management and consulting for Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, noted during a separate session on harnessing technology effectively, the benchmarking study found that only 12% of high-performing firms said they invested “aggressively” in technology and that their technology environment was “cutting edge.” Instead, he said, 74% of high-performing firms described their technology environment as “strong.”

Said Hitchcock: "You don’t need to have a cutting-edge tech environment to be a high performer."

When asked what prevents their firms from leveraging technology, Hitchcock said Fidelity’s benchmarking survey found firms cited a “lack of people to support the technology” as well as “lack of skills and training” around technology.

LaRue said during the panel discussion with Winterberg, titled “Tech Trends in Practice — What’s Working Now,” that SOL Capital’s goal “is to continue to make CRM more robust, making CRM a hub for the investment team and client service so that we see systems processes from end to end.”

Jespersen of Solamere Advisors noted that his firm implements technology “as it pertains to our business needs — we don’t have to be on the bleeding edge.”

One big technology “win” for his firm, Jespersen continued, is migrating its services to the cloud. “We’re moving everything out to the cloud to be as virtual as possible,” he said.

Jerspersen also offered this piece of advice to attendees: “If you’re still hosting your own email, your life would be easier if you let someone else do it.”

Indeed, Smyth noted that Edgemoor is “moving from server-based applications to the cloud.”

He urged other advisors in attendance to not underestimate the time it takes to “pull off” adding a new technology. “Researching Black Diamond” as a cloud-based portfolio management platform “was a four-year process,” he said.

Smyth also recommended that firms “get the buy-in” on new technology from “all levels of the organization.”

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