Technology Update

Tamarac listens to advisers' suggestions and implements them

Oct 14, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Davis Janowski

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of presenting the keynote address at Envestnet | Tamarac's sixth annual user conference in Seattle.

It was refreshing for me to observe not only the firm's user base of highly motivated advisers but also how attentive and interested Tamarac's employees are in engaging with financial advisers and listening to them (if anyone is wondering, I wasn't paid to speak at the conference).

“We make suggestions and they actually put them into the product,” Bryant Engebretson, managing principal of Tradewinds Capital Management LLC, said of Tamarac, which serves 550 RIA client firms that manage more than $250 billion in assets, combined.

His description, often repeated both by advisers at the conference and in numerous anecdotal conversations and interviews, sums up what I had heard and been dubious about until I saw it firsthand.

Other technology providers and advisers can benefit from hearing a bit more from those who participated, and about some of the firm's conference tactics.

I first heard of Tamarac five years ago, when its sole offering was a sophisticated portfolio re-balancing engine.

Since then, it has broadened its offerings to include a set of modules that make up the Advisor Xi platform (the I stands for integration), which provides custodian-agnostic web-based technologies, along with several outsourced services to registered investment advisers.

PLATFORM COMPONENTS

Components of that platform include a highly customized customer relationship management system built on Microsoft Dynamics, a customized version of Schwab's PortfolioCenter for portfolio management and Tamarac's own Advisor View billing application. There are 125 RIAs using the full platform.

It was adviser Jane Beule's first time at the conference, and she said she was still new to the platform, though not to the tech industry.

She is sole proprietor of Griffin Black Inc., and her extensive tech background includes time both on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

“You never buy a piece of software. You buy into a development stream, and it is much more about how they develop and about their development process,” Ms. Beule said.

She has watched Tamarac's progress for several years while struggling with tech from other providers that had failed to evolve or integrate well.

Given that I often field complaints from advisers about the technology they use, I was pleasantly surprised to speak with dozens of the 300 attendees at the conference. Attendance cost $500, but thanks to sponsors, this year every advisory firm was allowed to send one person free of charge.

The second day's wrap-up session was particularly noteworthy.

Each year during this session, advisers are asked for their best ideas for improving the various products in the Tamarac platform.

At many conferences I attend, the final sessions are ghost towns, but at this one, everyone was extremely attentive and interactive.

Those with ideas for improvements to Tamarac's platform raised their hands to make suggestions. Each adviser with an idea had to defend it and respond to questions from the stage and crowd.

Then everyone voted. Quite a few suggestions were voted down.

Those receiving significant interest were added to the next Tamarac system update (every six weeks), and the names of the people making suggestions went into a raffle for one of three Apple iPads.

One winner this year was Jonathan Jaranson, an adviser with PrairieView Partners LLC, who suggested that multiple dashboards be made available in the Advisor View portion of the platform. He has been using Tamarac for about two years and he said the firm has always taken advisers' requests seriously.

“There are a third of our clients that are really active, that log in all the time, and we want a history of what they are actually looking at — whether they are going just to the dashboard or deeper,” Mr. Jaranson said.

Tamarac was acquired in May by the cloud-based hosted-asset-management firm Envestnet Inc. — hence the somewhat confusing moniker of the Tamarac division within the company of Envestnet | Tamarac.

djanowski@investmentnews.com Twitter: @ddjanowski

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