“APIs are one of the most important tools in digital business design,” Peter Wannemacher, an analyst at Forrester who specializes in digital strategy and the financial services industry, said in a February interview with Forbes. “Financial services providers have been relatively slow to recognize and act on APIs as an opportunity to transform their businesses and, ultimately, better win, serve and retain customers.”

In the hyper-competitive financial services industry, firms and advisors alike are eager for any way to get a leg up on the competition. Those who’ve kept a finger or two on the pulse of their target audience know that a website and social media can help them better engage with clients and prospects at every stage of the sales journey; identify and adopt new revenue ideas; bolster brand recognition; enhance field operations and processes; and stay nimble in responding to client needs — all while keeping compliance and risk reduction at the fore.

When it comes to technology, there are two primary kinds of solutions available to today’s B-to-B businesses: fully integrated or best-in-breed (BIB) software systems. But while everyone now has equal access to technological solutions, it pays (and saves) to remember that not all solutions are equal.

With one broad and all-encompassing structure, fully integrated systems bundle together several services such as websites, social media, email and CRM into a single, one-size-fits-all software solution. Integrated software providers are essentially “one-stop-shops” offering a single system that does everything for everybody.

While advisors of yesteryear may have been content to work with everyone and anyone, successful 21st century advisors know better than to try to be everything to everybody. Instead, they focus their energy on serving a niche they’re passionate about and customizing solutions for their target market using a variety of resources.

Best-in-Breed a Better Buy

Best-in-breed software systems work in much the same way as fully integrated systems, although they allow for customization. Based in the fast and flexible cloud and built using easily integrated open-source application programming interfaces (APIs), best-in-breed providers are highly specialized in their area of expertise, providing superior technology when compared to all in one solutions. Think of APIs like Lego blocks, seamlessly connecting technology solutions that are specific for your practice. Say, for example, you use Advisor Websites for your website design and Hootsuite for your marketing, Smarsh for compliance, and Redtail for your CRM. APIs connect these systems and allow data to be easily shared between them without having to make sacrifices to the quality of technology.

Best-in-breed systems are fast becoming the go-to solution for financial advisors and firms with a myriad of software needs, not only proving to be more efficient and effective, but also more affordable and agile. The speed of the cloud, along with open-source APIs, can make interacting with all kinds of technology not only possible but pleasurable. Below are four reasons top firms and advisors are choosing best-in-breed technology.

1. Get a solution specific to your firm’s needs.

You wouldn’t offer one-size-fits-all financial advice, so why accept technology you can’t tailor to meet your specific needs? Thanks to those sleek open-source APIs, best-in-breed systems offer endless options resulting in a solution tailored to your firm’s needs. With the power of APIs, you are able to plug various technologies together in whatever shape you like. This means you can design a solution to meet your practice’s precise needs as well as reflect your brand, level of experience and target audience. Integrated enterprise resource planning systems (ERPs), on the other hand, take a one-stop-shop approach to software, leaving you without much control over the ultimate “solution.”

When compared to the monolithic, one-size-fits-all approach of fully integrated software, best-in-breed providers offer nothing if not options. Prefer Marketo to Mailchimp? No problem. More comfortable with Salesforce? Done! An advocate of Advisor Launchpad over Emerald? Best-in-breed providers can make it happen with ease.

Conversely, adopting an integrated system means replacing all your current systems with the provider’s pre-prescribed solution, whether you need all of the pieces or not. This generally demands a significant investment in both time and money, and can be a very pricey way to get boxed into someone else’s preferences.

What’s more, customized best-of-breed software solutions:

  • Can be implemented very quickly, allowing you to adapt to changes in the market, clientele or industry swifter than you ever thought possible.
  • Are designed with change in mind. Not only is BIB flexible enough to integrate easily with your existing technology, but should you decide to make changes to any of these systems in the future, best-in-breed solutions can respond far more nimbly than could integrated technology.

2. Speed your firm’s growth and improve flexibility.

In today’s digital world, if you don’t have an online presence, you don’t exist in the minds of your clients and prospects. However, with so many options, it can be overwhelming to get started. Blogging, websites, landing pages, social media, online advertising, marketing automation: so many options! While all of these pieces can be important, diving into the deep-end without first learning to swim will result in failure.  

Best-in-breed solutions provide the flexibility to grow your technology as your business grows. Like building blocks, you can add the pieces that will help take your business to that next level. As you outgrow a tool, you can simply swap out vendors instead of replacing the entire infrastructure. For example, many advisors start with basic email newsletters; as their digital presence advances, they begin to explore marketing automation vendors such as Infusionsoft or Hubspot in order to build email nurture sequences and more advanced inbound lead systems.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Best-in-breed solutions:

  • Feature a plug-and-play, a la carte approach. You get what you pay for, and you only pay for what you need.
  • Realize results rapidly thanks to a solution that’s been expertly customized to deliver exactly what your firm needs most to succeed.

3. Integrate seamlessly with your existing systems, saving time and money.

Modular in nature and founded on ease of integration, the API economy ensures best-in-breed systems not only integrate seamlessly and easily with each other, but they also play well with your existing systems, software and applications. In fact, APIs comply with all web-based protocols (e.g., HTTP, JSON, SSL, etc.), in addition to using current open-source development tools (e.g., Linux, MySQL, LAMP stack, etc.), so advisors and financial firms of all stripes and sizes enjoy enterprise-wide data integration as well as swift and smooth implementation. Since there’s no need to purchase new or replacement applications as with integrated solutions, implementing best-in-breed software is usually a much more cost-effective experience.

Firms and advisors value quick and easy implementation, so best-in-breed solutions can:

  • Adapt (and readapt) to virtually every process, procedure or preference they currently have, unlike integrated systems, which demand that advisors alter these to comport with the software’s construction.
  • Safeguard their investment in their current systems by eliminating the need to replace or upgrade applications in order to meet vendor specifications or shifting requirements.
  • Enhance the reliability and availability of applications thanks to far less frequent (and far faster) maintenance periods that ultimately affect fewer people.

4. Stay compliant on social media and minimize overall risk.

Few industries are as tightly regulated as financial services, a reason many financial organizations and advisors often cite when trying to defend their lack of a web or social media presence. Thanks to the fact that a best-in-breed software vendor genuinely understands the types of regulatory requirements and risks financial organizations faces, these providers can ensure that compliance standards are in place across the board as well as help mitigate other business risks. With compliance a cornerstone of every module, it does help inspire the confidence your brand needs to safely engage with clients and prospects.

In addition to high-quality compliance features, the modular, plug-and-play form of best-in-breed solutions has still another amazing function: It reduces exposure to external and internal risk. Thanks to those cloud-based modules, should there be any problem (including software bugs and application outages) during implementation, the fact that each application is distinct from other apps and processes ensures only a small portion of your business is impacted.

To stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing digital world don’t settle for an integrated software system that is struggling to be a jack-of-all-trades. Your business is unique. Find the technology, or combination of technologies, that is best for you.

— Read Optimizing Your (Online) First Impression on ThinkAdvisor.