Ah, technology! The hardware and software and Web applets you rely on for everything from contact management to portfolio reporting to compliance. Perhaps you’re comfortable in thinking about technology as an efficient way to level the playing field, to help you compete against the bigger boys and girls. Technology allows you to match Merrill Lynch’s presence on the Internet, as IA editor at large and technology guru Andy Gluck is fond of pointing out. But beyond the information highway billboard, you also have to deliver products and services, and that’s where larger competitors have an advantage. Right?
One of the most compelling strategic benefits of technology for the independent advisor is that product providers are using technology to deliver services that once were the sole province of institutions to advisors and their non-institutional clients.
Take, for instance, Deepak Gulrajani, CIO of Descartes Capital in San Rafael, California. Gulrajani runs a convertible and credit arbitrage hedge fund, and normally invests in only 25 or 30 bonds, but by using Web-based software called Barra Credit, he can keep track of a much wider universe. “Sometimes, we have blinders on,” says Gulrajani, “and lose the big-picture.” Developed by Barra, based in Berkeley, California, Barra Credit is a credit risk tool that the company says helps to identify earlier and more accurately the potential default risk of equities, bonds, and derivatives. Mike Waite, Barra’s director of product marketing, points out that the credit market is becoming increasingly complex, and with government yields at record lows, credit default rates near record highs, gaining access to Barra’s default probability and implied rating models can make a big difference in managing risk.
Okay, so hedge funds are beyond the pale for you. What about separately managed accounts? Can you offer SMAs to your clients when appropriate, and make it profitable for them and you? There’s a company based in Minneapolis called GlobalBridge whose raison d’etre is to extend institutional-strength separately managed accounts to individual investors through independent B/Ds, advisors, bankers, and CPAs.
Kelly Thomas Coughlin, GlobalBridge chairman and CEO and its president, Ross Rogers, have institutional backgrounds, but Coughlin notes that being able to provide efficient access to top money managers for the high-net-worth and small institution market has only become possible lately through products like Advent Custodial Data for reconciling data and FIX, the Financial Information eXchange, that looks for best execution of trades through multiple brokers. “Technology has advanced to such a stage that, five years ago, we couldn’t do what we can today,” Coughlin says. “Now you can deliver true open architecture in all the major areas–custody, trading, money managers,” like the big institutions have enjoyed all along.