Technology Update

Tamarac updates Advisor, cuts cost

The most visible new feature is a retooled interface

Jul 28, 2008 @ 12:01 am

By Davis D. Janowski

In a move to attract a broader client base, Tamarac Inc. last week launched an updated version of its Advisor software that will cost small advisory firms about half of what they would pay for the current edition.

The portfolio management, re-balancing and trade order generation software, now in version eight, will be available through a new "growing adviser program." Firms that manage less than $100 million in assets can purchase the application for $12,000 a year plus a one-time $5,000 setup fee, instead of $20,000 annually plus a $10,000 setup fee.

The updated software's most visible feature is a new interface that is based on input from months of field research with advisers, the Seattle-based company said.

For a slide show view of the software, go to investmentnews.com/advisor8.

Matthew Dupon, a certified financial planner and principal adviser with the Dupon Financial Group Inc. of Pasadena, Calif., is evaluating the Tamarac system.

"I manage over $175 million with a part-time adviser and one secretary, largely because of efficient software use," he said.

Mr. Dupon said that he has reached a point where he must decide whether to hire an additional person to handle the workload or turn to an application such as Tamarac for help automating many of his portfolio management processes. Many processes, such as re-balancing, are very time- and labor-intensive, he said.

"We'd be looking to Tamarac to automate the trading and tax harvesting aspects of our work, and the tax logic they have is critical; it is really the only one out there other than iRebal [now owned by TD Ameritrade Inc. of Omaha, Neb.]," Mr. Dupon said. "[Tamarac] will automatically re-balance when you've got a preset model say if you've set it for a 3% variance."

While he hasn't yet purchased the Tamarac software, Mr. Dupon has received two in-depth training and demonstration sessions from the company.

Currently, he manages his practice by using software from Albridge Solutions Inc. of Lawrenceville, N.J., for portfolio management and its integration with CashEdge AllData/FA from CashEdge Inc. of New York for aggregation of client accounts. Mr. Dupon then uses his financial planning software, Money-GuidePro from PIE Technologies Inc. of Midlothian, Va., to analyze individually and then manually re-balance client accounts.

Tamarac's offering is an online application that relieves advisers of having to maintain server hardware on premises as is required for its competitor, iRebal. For Mr. Dupon, this is a key selling point, though he acknowledges that larger firms might want to retain total control over their applications.

Among the many elements of the interface redesign is a new dashboard. After logging on, this is the first screen an adviser sees, and on it, he or she can immediately view account values, restrictions placed on securities, wash sales, trade settings and tax sensitivity all on one page, simultaneously.

In older versions, viewing the data required multiple clicks and movement between various pages on the interface.

In addition to the new interface, Tamarac added a feature that allows users to create and save an unlimited number of custom account filters and triggers, which can be set to initiate trades automatically or notify an adviser when a preset threshold is reached.

"The new version is far more navigable than its predecessor," said Lisa McFee, an analyst with the advisory firm Chesney & Co. in Sheldon, S.C., which manages $75 million in assets.

She said Advisor 8 allows her firm to handle more clients without increasing its advisers' day-to-day account management and re-balancing burdens. Chesney's applications are well-integrated, Ms. McFee added, and include Tamarac in concert with PortfolioCenter from Schwab Institutional of San Francisco and the Junxure CRM system from CRM Software of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Recently, several of Tamarac's re-balancing competitors have an-nounced upgrades or new versions of their products.

Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services of Boston said in May that it will integrate a portfolio modeling and re-balancing tool into its planned WealthCentral platform for registered investment advisers by the end of the year.

Also in May, Advisor Software Inc. of Lafayette, Calif., introduced a new version of its Portfolio Re-balancing Solution that is available on a standalone basis as well as in customized versions that will be available later in the year through the platforms of Schwab Institutional and TD Ameritrade Institutional of Jersey City, N.J.

The offerings from ASI and Fidelity both allow for single and household account re-balancing but aren't as deep in terms of customization or the unlimited number of saved filters that can be set up in the Tamarac solution.

In separate surveys of technology usage by advisers, InvestmentNews and the Financial Planning Association of Denver found that a majority of advisers used no re-balancing software at all and that no one vendor controlled more than a single-digit share of the software market in this area.

Robert J. Ellis, senior vice president of the wealth management group at Boston-based research and consulting firm Celent Communications LLC, said that while lower software pricing is good, specialized re-balancing applications remain a question mark for many advisory firms.

"We know that RIAs tend to spend very little money on technology. If they are spending, let's say, 2% on technology, they are likely to view re-balancing software as a 'nice to have' and not a 'must have,'" he said.

E-mail Davis D. Janowski at djanowski@investmentnews.com.

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