When Brian R. Jack joined the financial advisory firm Budros Ruhlin & Roe Inc. in 2000, managing technology was a responsibility shouldered by one of the firm's financial planners.
At the time, the firm realized that technology was changing so fast that it needed to be more than a part-time avocation.
Now it's anything but, according to Mr. Jack, information technology director for the Columbus, Ohio-based fee-only adviser, which manages nearly $2 billion.
In fact, the firm has decided to dedicate as much of its resources to technology as to client services. “We are going to treat tech with the same importance that we treat clients,” Mr. Jack said.
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Mr. Jack's unit includes a network administrator and three full-time staff members who work with data. And the firm doesn't shy away from building technology in-house when nothing fits its needs.
“Our industry, from a software and systems standpoint, is very fragmented, and nobody does things exactly the same way,” Mr. Jack said. “It's hard for software designers to design things for everybody.”
For its efforts, Budros Ruhlin & Roe won an InvestmentNews Best Practices award as a top performer in technology last year.
Top performers in the 2013 InvestmentNews Adviser Technology Study of 317 advisory firms spent dramatically more than their counterparts on software, hardware and technology consulting.
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Right now Budros Ruhlin & Roe is focused on building a way to get transaction data from manually tracked accounts into the firm's Envestnet | Tamarac portfolio management software. And it is also developing a new iteration, version 3.0, of its client portal.
The client portal has been an important initiative for the firm over the past four years. Nine in 10 clients use it — most on a regular basis — Mr. Jack said.
The new portal is expected to support the scheduling of client meetings, the deliverance of performance reports and even meetings by videoconference.
The platform is also expected to include support for tablets and smartphones as well as push technology, where servers send notifications directly to the client's device, and encrypted messaging.
IN THE RIGHT BUSINESS
Efficiency is one goal — the new systems will likely enable staff members to complete their duties and access data more quickly. But perhaps more important, the once meeting-centric firm wants to make sure it's in the right business.
“We were almost in the meeting business because all we did was meet with clients,” Mr. Jack said. “We're trying to get out of the meeting business. We're trying to be in the advice business.”
And being in the advice business today, according to Mr. Jack, means talking to clients in a cyberfriendly way. Smartphones and tablets have captured the imagination of clients — and not just the younger ones.
“The iPad, iPhone phenomenon has really changed the culture, and it's not just young people or kids or middle-aged, it's everybody,” Mr. Jack said. “When clients come in today, it's pretty rare that they're handed paper. They're handed iPads now.”