Eric Clarke: The Integration Evangelist — The 2016 IA 25

Allowing advisors to use the best tools for their firm is key to Orion’s success

Integration is key to meeting advisors' unique needs, says Clarke. Integration is key to meeting advisors' unique needs, says Clarke.

The team at Orion Advisor Services is “hyper focused” on providing advisors with “the most integrated portfolio accounting system available,” said Orion’s founder and CEO Eric Clarke. The reason integration is so important is because “every advisor we work with is unique. The way they deliver value to their clients is very unique.”

Clarke, who founded the firm in 1999, believes “every advisor should have the ability to choose the systems that are the best fit for their firm and will enhance their ability to add value to their client experience.” Orion now serves over 800 advisory firms with $280 billion in assets under administration.

To provide advisors with that broad level of choice, Orion hosts an annual conference with their integration partners.

“They’ll bring their developers, their CTOs, and we spend three days together actually putting the finishing touches on integration work that we’ve been doing with them throughout the year,” Clarke said.

Attendees also “explore new integrations,” Clarke added. “We have industry thought leaders there to give their feedback on what they’re seeing in the integration landscape, and we also bring in some outside speakers to share with us how things are working outside of our industry from a technology perspective.”

That’s important because technology is one area where innovation happens quickly. Clarke said that to make sure they’re making the most of their technology resources, advisors should get their staff’s buy in.

“They’ll be able to see how the technology will help and benefit them. They’ll feel like they have a voice in selecting it, and by being involved in that up-front process of the due diligence of the different providers, it really creates […] success,” he said.

Once the advisors and back office teams that will be using the technology are on board, though, there has to be a dedicated strategy to train them on how to use it.

“The advisor needs to recognize up front that their staff is going to need to not only switch from A to B and all the technology considerations for doing the conversion, but also the training consideration.”

Once the new technology is implemented in the firm and the team is trained on how to use it, Clarke suggests firms identify someone who can act as an “evangelist” for the new system in order to fully integrate into the day-to-day workflow. Whoever that person is, he or she should “not only be the expert” on that system, but every week should “do the things that an evangelist would do: Get out, send an email, promote some wins that your staff’s had with technology or that your clients have experienced. Share best practices, share the positive feedback, because often when you’re doing something new, our minds have a tendency to resist change. Having that evangelist promote and be a center of positive energy is really critical.”

That’s the same process Orion uses when it implements new technology: engage, educate, evangelize.

One of the most valuable benefits of technology for advisors is to reduce barriers of entry for clients, whether that’s through e-signature tools or video conferencing.

“There are lots of ways that advisors, when they look at their business models, can use technology to reduce the friction points,” Clarke said.

For example, some advisors on Orion’s platform are creating video statements, he said. “They’re providing the video commentary, then we overlay portfolio information into that video statement. I think you’re going to see a lot more things like that that are interactive, and yet advisors can do them at scale across their entire client base,” Clarke said.

Another clear benefit of technology: scaling costs as increased regulations make doing business more expensive. “We’re big believers that advisors need to use technology wisely so that they can not only efficiently serve their current client base but also their future clients.”

One of the unintended consequences of increased regulation is that the “smaller investor can be disintermediated. We’re hopeful that we can help our advisors, even in an increasing regulatory environment, serve smaller investors or those that might not be profitable served by a competing firm.” 

--- See the full 2016 IA 25 in the May issue of Investment Advisor, and find ongoing coverage of the honorees, including extended profiles, all month on the IA 25 homepage.

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