David and Goliath. Fly on an elephant. Pick your cliché, but what Trust Company of America in Centennial, Colo., might lack in size is clearly accounted for in innovation. The clearing and custodial firm is taking on Schwab, TD Ameritrade and other large contemporaries in the space, in part with a strong push into new technology. Said technology is a “game-changer,” if you will, a word often used in the advisor space, but rarely realized—until now.
Not that it’s all they’ve got going on, as president and CEO Frank Maiorano is quick to point out, but rather part of a larger growth initiative that Maiorano was tasked with upon taking over in early 2010. Nonetheless, the technology is a significant piece; one that IA columnist Bob Clark, upon seeing it, said will “forever change the way wealth management is performed.”
“The prior CEO was very inwardly focused,” Maiorano says. “He was a CPA, and he left me a spectacularly run firm from a financial standpoint. But we were missing the client-facing element. We are now spending a tremendous amount of time in front of clients and prospects and it’s all by design.”
Maiorano was a natural for the job, a high-energy individual with “client-facing DNA” and a wealth of experience in the RIA space. Among his notable achievements prior to taking the Trust helm is building the RIA and Institutional Consulting Services Group at Nuveen Investments. And, of course, he knows what to do (and what to avoid) from his 12 years with Schwab.
Where he’s leading the company respects the past and the foresight of his predecessors, but he has a keen eye for the future and all the advantages technology brings.
A Junkie in the Family
One of his first orders of business was to fill certain senior management positions with individuals in line with this client-facing vision. Bob Oros joined Trust Company of America in 2010 and serves as vice president of national sales. Jennifer Nealson joined the same year as chief marketing officer. Dennis Noto, a self-confessed Apple junkie and former technology executive with ADP, was brought on board for the all-important technology piece, and he serves as the company’s chief information officer. Chief Financial Officer David Runberg was one of four management retentions from before Maiorano’s tenure began. Having just been named CFO of the Year by a local Colorado business publication, it’s easy to see why.
It’s a tight-knit team, which is the way Maiorano wants it, so much so that a brothers-and-sisters, family dynamic is mentioned more than once: open and supportive, but honest.
“I have never had a more connected relationship than I have here,” Nealson says. “With [Oros] especially, and I think that speaks to the alignment of our vision and our strategy. It’s beyond symbiotic and it’s been a lot of fun.”
A niche player in the RIA custody space, the firm has traditionally acted as a turnkey asset management program (TAMP), which continues today. Part of the vision Maiorano has for the RIAs they work with is to bring them along in the TAMP space as well.
“Many successful RIAs are evolving their practice either fully or partially to be more TAMP-like,” he says.
Moving from traditional advisors to embrace more wealth managers is also a part of his growth strategy, which he calls “widening the sweet spot.”
“It started out as more of a boutique group of active advisors,” Maiorano adds. “It’s now growing with more traditional wealth managers, and we do a significant amount of business and will continue to do it in the TAMP space because of the scale, technology and the unified managed account platform that we bring to the marketplace.”
The White Board
Like many first meetings with new CEOs, Maiorano’s involved a white board and scented markers, where he diagramed his vision moving forward—and technology’s role in it. Twenty months on and the diagram is still there, a company totem mounted on a wall in his office behind small wooden doors.
When Maiorano get’s talking, he uses words one might expect: grow, thrive, sustainability, relevancy. Then he throws a curve—“nimbly,” which comes from a discussion of the advantages of the firm’s relatively small size.
“Is nimbly even a word?” he asks self-consciously. “I think other firms can’t move a ship as nimbly as we can, because we’re a mid-sized firm and can quickly move the dial.”
For example, he recounts that when they informed the RIAs and advisors with whom Trust works that they were going to enhance their technology, he also asked them where the company should start: with end-user experience or that of the advisor?
“Our clients all said the end-user experience, of which I’m very proud,” Maiorano says. “You would think intuitively that the advisors would say, ‘No, I want you to rebuild my engine to be more effective.’ But they said ‘No, make sure the client experience is in there first.’ We didn’t have a defined order of how it had to be done, and could react to their input.”
He was “blown away” at the functionality of the legacy technology, but needed to “modernize the user experience and functionality.”
Enter Dennis Noto, whom Maiorano says completely bought into the vision and made it happen.
“He does a tremendous amount of homework and research,” Maiorano says. “We’re not trying to be an Apple shop, but he is an Apple fan. The fact that the technology we’re releasing doesn’t have to have a user’s manual, needs only three screens to achieve any needed function and the client experience looks exactly like the experience the advisor sees—this type of innovation is just not being done today.”
The Meaning of Liberty
Maiorano’s not a tech geek, rather a face-to-face sales guy with the gift-of-gab and clear enthusiasm for what he does. So like a good salesman, he describes the company’s new (some would say groundbreaking) technology in a manner that’s easily relatable.
“My father-in-law is 80 years old, and how does he read a book? He uses a Kindle,” he begins. “When you go to his house, where does he spend his time? He’s on the computer fiddling around. He’s doing the same thing that you and I are doing as working professionals. A lot of the assets are with people age 40 to age 80, so we need to make sure that mobility is something the end client has and the advisor uses.”
He asks the listener to “imagine a world where you’re sitting in a coffee shop viewing your comprehensive investment performance on a tablet, and that’s the world that we live in.”