If you want to understand how technology can make advisors of all kinds more efficient, talk to Stuart DePina. If you want a model for how a technology partner can better serve its clients, listen to Stuart DePina. If you want a vision for how an entrepreneur and his entrepreneurial firm can thrive after an acquisition by a larger firm, look at Stuart DePina.
DePina is a serial tech entrepreneur whose mostly RIA clients embraced Tamarac’s portfolio and client management software that welcomes third-party applications as well. And it’s kept improving the software through constant interaction with its users. “We give clients a voice,” says DePina, group president at Envestnet | Tamarac, “and turn voice into action,” though for many advisors, “execution is the hardest part.”
Since its purchase by Envestnet in 2012, DePina has continued to successfully guide Tamarac as part of a larger public company, no small feat in itself, while remaining the calm voice of technology understanding and advisor-client advocacy.
In a late April interview, DePina was aked whether the main technology issue for advisors is not having the newest technology per se but rather optimizing the technology tools advisors already have. “We’ve invested heavily here at Tamarac in training” advisors to use its offerings, he reported, focusing on “onboarding, training, maintenance and support.”
That’s why in January 2008 the company launched Tamarac University, an intensive three-day event — down to two days “starting about two years ago” — where the curriculum consists of a “first half-day at a pretty high level; the next day and a half, we get in the weeds.” That approach is necessary, DePina said, since “there are many different ways that advisors run their firms. Our whole mantra is to try to eliminate the amount of time advisors spend doing what they have to do.” That’s why, as a cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, “every eight weeks there are enhancements we release” in order to “keep pace with what we hear from our clients.”
If the in-person Tamarac University is a "101" course for advisors, the next step, or course 102, he said, is to “maintain contact with clients to drive awareness of these new features — webinars or one-on-one phone calls” conducted by a team of Tamarac client service reps.
The next level, “you could call it 301,” DePina joked, is utilizing a team of Tamarac consultants “who’ve worked in an advisory firm, usually in operations, but others who ran their own practices,” who spend time in clients’ offices to solve their specific issues. “The types of firms we service, usually larger firms, they like us to be in their offices,” he said.
While DePina is an obvious advocate for the efficiency that technology can provide advisors, he also cautions that with some issues advisors face, “overlaying tech on those problems don’t make them go away.”
More than 4,000 users have attended Tamarac University, he said, with many repeat attendees. While that in-person training is good for advisory firms, another entity benefits: Tamarac itself. “Getting people in the same room is as rich for us as it is for those other firms” in informing how Tamarac will improve its software.
So what are the enhancements Tamarac is working on? One big issue is client segmentation. “There’s an awareness of trying to go after different segments of the marketplace — going after more of the mass affluent. Everybody wants [the big client] with millions, but there are very few of those opportunities. Technology tools like Tamarac allows a firm to efficiently reach and serve those mass affluent clients, he says. With the right technology infrastructure in place an advisor who previously could only “manage 50 relationships now can do 200.”
As for DePina’s now intrapreneurial approach, almost four years after its acquisition by Envestnet, how is that working out for Tamarac employees and clients?
“It’s been a success,” DePina said, for both Tamarac and its users, and for Envestnet, “exceeding my expectations.” Ironically, he said, “It’s worked because there are clear differences between Tamarac and Envestnet, and they’ve recognized that. We’re only technology, we started that way, and still are; the core of their business is asset management, Jud and Bill built it that way,” referring to Envestnet Chairman Jud Bergman and President Bill Crager. “We don’t get in each other’s ways” and the “cultures aligned.” Finally, he said, “Jud has given me the room to express myself and make mistakes; ‘Do it my way?’ That’s not the way Jud operates. This is my job of jobs; I’m doing what I want to do.”
There’s a unique benefit Tamarac provides advisors, he argued. The “core group of Tamarac — Matt Springer, the founder, still is with the company — we understand the problems advisors have. There are technology companies filled with very smart people that are well-funded, but they never walked in the shoes of advisors” like Tamarac’s people have.