Q&A: LPL Financial's Victor Fetter Outsider brings fresh eyes to the world of advisers

The former chief information officer of Online at Dell had never worked in the brokerage industry before

Feb 10, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Bruce Kelly

Victor Fetter has an unusual background for a technology executive at the largest independent broker-dealer in the country.

The former chief information officer of Online at Dell, a unit of Dell Inc., had never worked in the brokerage industry before LPL Financial LLC hired him in December as chief information officer and managing director of its business technology services group.

Unlike other independent broker-dealers, LPL, which has more than 13,000 independent-contractor representatives and advisers, has a history of hiring top executives who have not previously worked at an IBD. Last year, the company tapped Joan Khoury, previously with leading wirehouse Merrill Lynch, to be chief marketing officer. Derek Bruton joined the firm in 2007 from TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., a top custodian.

Those two hires, of course, came from companies in the broader securities industry; Mr. Fetter did not.

“In most instances, firms that get to [LPL's] size get conservative,” said Ryan Shanks, chief executive of Finetooth Consulting LLC. “It's impressive that a firm that big does something that shows outside-the-box thinking. And from a technology perspective, LPL is trying to be ahead of things rather than behind. That kind of thinking leads to innovation.”

InvestmentNews: What's it like moving from Dell to a broker-dealer?

Mr. Fetter: The clearest difference is one of scale that Dell has versus LPL. That's a noticeable difference for someone like me. But if you look at technology and how it drives innovation, those are very similar challenges at LPL and Fortune 500 companies.

InvestmentNews: LPL Financial has had technology problems in the past, particularly concerning integration. In 2007, it experienced a technical failure that left about 7,000 representatives without online access to client accounts for three days. What is your sense of such problems, and how do you deal with them?

Mr. Fetter: When you're making big technology additions and investments, and rolling out new systems, it is inevitable that you may en-counter these types of problems. The risk mitigation strategy begins in quality testing before the launch. I have a strong appreciation of [going] into pilot mode with a small group. Then, in the beta test, bring some more people on and get feedback before deployment. It's a beta, pilot deployment.

InvestmentNews: You mentioned in a previous interview with InvestmentNews a potential for LPL to shift technology spending away from developing applications and toward infrastructure, and research and development. Is that happening?

Mr. Fetter: Regarding internal investments, we are constantly looking at that mix. We look at where we're going.

One of the themes you will see emerge is our continued focus on how to digitally enable advisers. How do we upgrade the online experience? And how do we present a suite of capabilities in mobile and smartphones, perhaps more quickly than we've been thinking?

InvestmentNews: Last year, LPL acquired Fortigent LLC, to the delight of many of LPL's biggest advisers. What are your expectations for Fortigent?

Mr. Fetter: I'm not prepared to comment yet on the technology of Fortigent. But advisers can expect technology solutions going forward.

Digital solutions are coming, and the strategy is stitching together the end-to-end experience for LPL advisers to grow their business, from client acquisition and operational excellence, and inclusive of enabling technologies. That ranges from things like SalesForce integration and eSignature to mobile experiences.

In beta is the new trading and re-balancing platform. We're beginning to [tailor] that to a broad client base. It's that type of evolution you can expect to see.

InvestmentNews: How many boots-on-the-ground developers and programmers are you planning to put in those open IT positions?

Mr. Fetter: We expect 75 new hires this year. We're in an aggressive mode to attract highly skilled and talented engineers.

InvestmentNews: Do you plan to add any applications to LPL's platform?

Mr. Fetter: Right now, we are really focused on enhanced trading and re-balancing, as well as e-signature capabilities and enhanced client reporting. The focus is a broad array of digital capabilities, both online and mobile.

InvestmentNews: Do you have any new plans regarding social media?

Mr. Fetter: We already offer social media for advisers. The opportunity is to help advisers collaborate with clients. That's an important piece, but I won't go into specifics.

InvestmentNews: You have 2,000 followers on Twitter and you've put out more than 2,500 tweets. Do you have any strategies that could benefit advisers?

Mr. Fetter: When you think about Twitter, it's the collaborative point. It's successful when you can contribute and someone can contribute back and get a dialogue going. It's also a notion of value.

The whole point of Twitter, from a chief information officer perspective or innovation perspective, is to see what can I learn and what can I ask others. What can I get in a dialogue about and offer something of value, and get something of value in return?

bkelly@investmentnews.com Twitter: @bdnewsguy

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