Janet Tyler Johnson of Clifton Gunderson Financial Services, the advisory unit of a 150-partner regional accounting firm with 12 offices throughout the Midwest, has helped to spearhead the firm’s transition from Advent to TechFi over the past year. Johnson had been an Advent customer since 1993, while at previous jobs at another advisory and CPA firm. Here is her view of Advent’s TechFi deal:
I was absolutely flabbergasted when Matt Abar called to give me advance notice of the deal. What hit me the hardest was that I had made a decision to fire a company, Advent, and then I find out we’ll be working with them again.
TechFi’s mission in the beginning was to put Advent out of business. That’s gone and we’re back to two major players again. Part of the reason TechFi caught my eye was that they were young, ambitious, creative people who said they were going to build a better mousetrap. TechFi was a company that wanted to make a difference and they were going after the giant in the industry. They wanted to knock Advent off its pedestal. That was the way they positioned themselves.
We joined the cause. When TechFi turned down Advent’s $25 million offer two years ago, I really thought that they were on a mission and that’s why this [the acquisition] blindsided me.
I can’t blame Matt. He needed to make a business decision and I think he did the best he could for himself and the company. But I felt heartbroken because TechFi was doing what they said it would: they were developing a product that had open architecture. You could do whatever you wanted with the data you had. They were service oriented and when there were problems would do whatever it took to get them fixed.
When I came to Clifton Gunderson and looked for Web-based solutions, I did an apples-to-apples comparison and went to TechFi and Advent and gave them exactly the same parameters. Advent came in at three times higher [cost] for maintenance and implementation.
Advent could not give us what we needed at a reasonable cost. We are geographically dispersed across 12 offices. We needed a Web-based solution and I wanted more access to the data. In a large accounting firm like Clifton Gunderson, with 150-plus partners who want information on what we in the advisory services area are doing, we needed a database that we can slice and dice. We needed that data accessible at a firm level and at an individual level. It would not have been impossible to do this with Advent, but would have been a lot harder. We can pull the data from TechFi and manipulate it in a spreadsheet. It is important to us to have access to the data without it costing another $5,000 or $10,000 each time we need to generate a custom report from Advent. With Advent, it was always another charge. We had been Advent customers. We were somewhat disenchanted with the lack of service we had gotten in the last few years and the pricing was way out of line compared to TechFi.
We’re in an uncertain place now. We don’t know what Advent will do. There is nothing precluding Advent from doing whatever it wants going forward. They could enhance the TechFi products or scrap them. It worries me that we’re back to two players in the portfolio management software category because now there’s no one to push anymore. Fortunately, if we’d have to go through another conversion to a different system, it would be easier now. Going from TechFi’s SQL database to another SQL product would be easier.
In the long run, it may be a very positive thing, however. Being part of a large corporation could be very positive for TechFi and we are hopeful.