Consider this an update from the front lines of the custodian technology war.
That is how a senior executive at one of the four giant custodians describes the competition among (in size order) Schwab Advisor Services, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, TD Ameritrade Institutional and Pershing Advisor Solutions LLC to provide the most attractive technology to their registered investment adviser customers.
Lately, the Fidelity unit has been getting short shrift in the war-reporting department, as most of the attention has shifted to what is going on at Schwab and TD.
That is ironic because Fidelity won the war's opening skirmish in 2009 when it delivered the first functional and integrated platform, WealthCentral.
Now, 600 RIAs use the platform, and 4,000 of their advisers have even downloaded the mobile application it launched this year for users of Android, BlackBerry and iPhone devices.
Last Tuesday, Fidelity brought out the big guns at its Technology in Practice day held at the company's hands-on research think tank in Boston.
WealthCentral now has integrations, either ready or on the way, for six applications new to the platform.
These include providers in the portfolio management and client relationship management area, specifically Envestnet Vantage Performance Reporting, Morningstar Office, Redtail Technology, Salesforce.com and AppCrown LLC.
Fidelity IWS also added features to WealthCentral in the areas of document and work flow management, working in conjunction with XTRAC Solutions and Redtail Technology.
XTRAC, now owned by Fidelity, has been heavily used for some time by the fund giant to build work flows internally. That capability is now incorporated into WealthCentral for RIAs.
Work flows, in oversimplified terms, can be likened to a task-specific day-to-day repeatable process built into software or an application so that a firm can follow those steps and get their work done as efficiently as possible. Think of them as being akin to a software wizard or like a fixed train route rather than a map showing all the alternative road routes that a car could take between two destinations.
For financial advisers considering a switch to Fidelity, the new features offer a wider range of options beyond the original CRM choices, Oracle OnDemand (adopted by only 100 of 600 firms on the platform) and Advent APX. The Black Diamond Performance Reporting portfolio management system was added later.
That means Fidelity should be better able to compete with what Schwab and TD are doing.
The war continues.
On a more peaceful note, let me fill you in on what I consider to be the best and most tangible bits of advice from the seven-hour sessions at Fidelity's TIP day.
From technology consultant and fppad.com blogger Bill Winterberg, I learned that RescueTime, a time management application that runs as a small piece of software on your computer in conjunction with an online service, permits an adviser to focus on where his or her time is spent during the day.
In a nutshell, it observes and records which applications you are using and for how long, and provides reports in easy-to-follow graphical form. No more guessing whether e-mail or portfolio management was more time-consuming.
The big laugh of the session came when Bill pointed out that the system asks, “What were you doing while you were away?” when you come back from a break. Fortunately, it allows you to manually explain your absence.
The service starts at $6 to $9 a month for a single-user license (rescuetime.com).
Daniel Grace, client director at :Mint (creativemint.com), a branding and marketing consultancy, spoke about how advisers could best improve traffic to their websites.
Two basic things he suggested are free from Google. The first is the simple step of signing up for Google Places (google.com/places), which officially registers your business with Google and ties your firm to your Google account (which you must have to sign up; it's free, too).
This should immediately improve your search engine optimization efforts.
Secondly, Mr. Grace suggests signing up for Google Analytics (which later presenter Kip Gregory also suggested). With this free tool you can begin to measure and understand where your traffic is coming from, as well as measure the effectiveness of efforts designed to increase traffic.
I bring these both up because few of the 100 advisers in attendance had taken advantage of these tools, which leads me to believe that much of the RIA population at large hasn't, either.
And speaking of improving traffic, adviser David Edwards, president of Heron Financial Group Wealth Advisors (heronfinancialgroup.com), uses Facebook to both increase traffic and to mesh it neatly into his marketing and social-media efforts.
For personal matters, Mr. Edwards signed up for an account to keep all his friends up-to-date. But he also has set up a fan page for his advisory work, which he keeps separate (although tied to) his personal account.
“Every day, I reference all sorts of market stories on there,” he said, noting that he tries to limit his time on social media to just 30 minutes a day.
In working with a social-media coach, he also learned how to cross-link the big three so that each bit of news or commentary he launches on Facebook also makes its way to his status update on LinkedIn and launches a tweet on Twitter.