As smaller wealth management practices and boutique firms look to develop or expand upon their offerings, they often struggle with resource constraints in terms of available capital, time or IT staff when selecting and implementing comprehensive wealth management platforms. With top talent departing many of the traditional banks and brokerage firms to start their own independent advisory practices, and some firms experiencing higher demand as “do-it-yourself” investors seek professional financial guidance, the need for quickly deployed advisor solutions is growing rapidly.

Integrated platforms for financial planning, asset allocation and other key capabilities provided in a Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS, delivery model are playing a key role in effectively meeting the needs of independent advisors without the time and infrastructure costs of larger implementations.

In fact, advisors looking to expand the functionality of their current tools can benefit from SaaS solutions, as well as large firms looking to roll out tools to advisors across the organization. These include independent advisors and small firms, advisors at firms that are responsible for their own tools, or insurance companies looking to expand into advisory services.

SaaS delivery provides an automated, Web-based environment that helps to simplify implementation, accelerate time-to-market, and gain ongoing processing and cost efficiencies with minimal IT support.

What is SaaS?

SaaS is a software deployment model whereby a software provider licenses an application to users for use as a service on-demand in a Web-based environment. Unlike application service provider or ASP models, SaaS does not require separate software installations on a server and potential dedicated hardware per customer. Using common architecture and a server set in which customer information is securely partitioned, SaaS provides a shared and “multi-tenant” environment without sacrificing the ability for users to tailor the solution to their specific needs. This type of efficiency can provide significant cost savings and other advantages for advisors.

Why is SaaS crucial now?

There are critical needs for advisors of all calibers to succeed today. Seasoned advisors serving more sophisticated, high net worth clients, require more holistic wealth management tools to meet a variety of investor needs, while advisors serving a higher volume of mass affluent investors seek tools to help quickly create basic financial plans. Regardless of advisors’ skill levels, they all need efficiency to help them decrease or eliminate their reliance on IT infrastructures, reduce costs, and become more agile in meeting their clients’ needs and remaining competitive.

The current state of the economy is driving increased demand for advisory services as investors seek guidance from investment professionals, creating greater urgency for quickly deployed advisor solutions. Web-based, SaaS platforms can quickly and efficiently meet the needs of independent advisors without the resources, time constraints, and infrastructure cost of larger implementations.

Key advisor needs

Financial planning is a top priority for most advisors, as well as integrated rebalancing, document services and customer on-boarding capabilities. Advisors need scalability to add users and modular capabilities quickly and easily. They want to be able to create their own custom solutions to best suit their needs in a cost effective manner.

It is more important than ever for advisors to be agile in their service offerings and dedicate more time to acquiring, retaining and serving clients. Using a SaaS framework, advisors can get the technology and tools they need to plan and execute investment strategies for their clients, without requiring a large capital expenditure. In the past, wealth managers would need to invest in large-scale software implementations to gain access to tools needed to effectively service their clients. Today, SaaS solutions give independent advisors on-demand access to the same quality tools enjoyed by large institutions.

Benefits of SaaS

SaaS provides an integrated application infrastructure that offers a modularized, on-demand, rapid deployment model for capabilities according to the advisors’ needs. It frees up advisors’ resources, giving them more time to dedicate to acquiring, retaining and serving clients. In a SaaS environment, advisors can provide faster time-to-market on offerings and, therefore, quicker time-to-value for the client.

SaaS also helps to reduce costs and improve margins, and requires no large capital expenditures in terms of software, hardware or network infrastructures. This helps advisors to be more nimble since there is no reliance on IT for installation or support, provides reduced risk of software acquisition, and offers Web-based functionality that eliminates the need for cumbersome downloads. Specific products or tools can be purchased ‘a la carte’ via credit card online, enabling advisors to quickly add to their repertoire of tools in a ‘pay as you go’ fashion without a lengthy procurement process.

SaaS platforms include security and disaster recovery capabilities that protect client data around the clock, as well as automatic upgrades to ensure advisors are always working with the latest capabilities. These platforms will even scale to handle peak periods of activity such as tax season, and ensure that compliance and regulatory needs are met continuously with the latest regulations and reporting requirements built into the system.

In these troubled economic times, in which investors’ attitudes toward investing are rapidly changing, the virtues of efficiency, service and value are underscored when it comes to an advisor’s ability to service his or her clients and help them meet their goals. SaaS platforms play an important role in helping advisors to expand and tailor their capabilities in an ever-changing industry, and ultimately pass their value on to investors.

Blaine Maxfield is the chief operating officer of the Wealth Management business at SunGard, New York, N.Y. You can e-mail him at blaine.maxfield@sungard.com.