Small advisory firm walks tall in putting technology to use

No small chore to put together technology to deliver top-notch client reports

Mar 23, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Trevor Hunnicutt

best practices, advisory, technology, custodians
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IN Best Practices award winner Daniel Easley: "You can make great use of technology whatever your size." (Jeffrey Crane)

When Daniel Easley took a job in finance, he didn't think the technology infrastructure could be quite as bad as in health care, the industry from which he had come.

It was.

“I foolishly thought when I came to the financial world that the technology would be better because there's a lot more money to invest in it, but they have the same weaknesses with tech in financial services that they do in health care,” said Mr. Easley, a former software designer for a regional health care company.

The problem is that operations managers in advisory firms and hospitals face a dilemma between using jack-of-all-trades software or a host of “best of breed” software that isn't well-integrated.

It has been about six years since Mr. Easley joined Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Shelton Financial Group Inc., and he still feels like the tech firms and custodians that support the industry haven't fully met the challenge of delivering cohesive and comprehensive technology.

But ultimately, clients of his firm still get — on a single page — a time-weighted return that tells them how their investments are doing, he said.

It was no small chore to put together the technology to deliver that client report. For its efforts, Shelton Financial won the InvestmentNews Best Practices award as a top performer in technology last year.

Mr. Easley said he was surprised when his firm won the award, considering its size and location.

“What it taught me is that it doesn't matter,” he said. “You can make great use of technology whatever your size is or wherever you are located in the country.”

Top performers in the 2013 InvestmentNews Adviser Technology Study spent dramatically more than their counterparts on software, hardware and tech consulting. The study looked at 317 advisory firms.

Shelton Financial wasn't eager to spend the money.

“You feel like there are just other ways that you could be using that money, for marketing or whatever,” Mr. Easley said.

“It's difficult to see [that] technology is going to have the huge beneficial impact,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like a necessary evil.”

Spending money on client events, for example, is less “painful” than outlays on technology because events have clear bottom-line results, Mr. Easley said.

'MONEY WELL-SPENT'

“At the end of the event, as the clients are walking out the door, [you know] that was money well-spent, and it feels good,” he said. “But writing a big check to some big company out there — it doesn't feel good.”

What sounds like one activity — aggregating client accounts — actually involves writing several checks to different vendors. Shelton Financial had to pay for Interactive Advisory Software, a platform that includes most major accounts, and for ByAllAccounts to get the remainder of the data. And then someone got paid to make sense of all the information.

“If the systems we used were properly integrated, it should be as easy as hitting [one button],” Mr. Easley said.

In other areas, such as financial planning and trading, the firm uses — as best it can — the available software.

“It works, but it's ugly,” Mr. Easley said.

The firm also deals with the demands of financial advisers themselves when helping them as a third-party manager.

“I can't find two doctors who want the blood test results displayed the same way. I can't find two advisers who want the account information or performance displayed the same way,” Mr. Easley said.

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