Technology Update

New portfolio management software emerges to take on Advent, Schwab

May 9, 2010 @ 12:01 am

By Davis D. Janowski

Yesterday marked the debut of FinFolio Workstation 2010, the first entirely new desktop portfolio management software for investment advisers launched in nearly a decade.

The developer behind FinFolio 2010 is none other than Matt Abar, the creator and chief executive of Techfi Corp., which introduced the first commercially sold client server portfolio management software (Portfolio 2000) as well as the industry's first web-based portfolio management service bureau (AdviserMart.com).

Techfi was purchased by rival Advent Software Inc. for $23 million in 2002. Three years later, Advent discontinued development and support of the application — though it did offer to provide many of Techfi's customers annual re-newal license keys that would allow the software to continue running.

That offer, however, ends this year.

FinFolio Workstation 2010 will compete head-to-head with similar offerings from such industry heavyweights as Advent and Schwab Performance Technologies.

“We're making it very easy for people to bring their data in and take it out,” said Mr. Abar, who is chief executive of FinFolio.

In order to do that, FinFolio's developers are providing users with details about how the software works and about the structure of its database. That way, advisers will have more control over their data, and third-party developers will be encouraged to come up with extensions and integrations.

The new software was built using Microsoft's .Net Framework Version 3.51, an extremely popular development platform that will help “future-proof” the application. Also, FinFolio 2010's user interface was developed based on the Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation, meaning that advisers should feel very comfortable with the look and feel of the interface because it will bear a strong resemblance to many core Microsoft software products, including Outlook and Excel.

Still, success is anything but guaranteed.

“It is going to be an uphill battle,” said Alois Pirker, wealth management research director at consulting firm Aite Group LLC.

Although the openness of the application is great, it remains to be seen whether it will make enough of a difference to attract new users, he said.

“Then you have the competition through the turnkey asset management programs like Envestnet who also act as your back office, provide your billing, reporting and everything else,” Mr. Pirker said.

There is also the pesky little matter of winning over some former users of Techfi's application, a few of whom remain more than a little perturbed that Mr. Abar didn't negotiate better terms and look out for their long-term interests when he sold Techfi to Advent.

“I felt abandoned,” said Christopher Brown, an adviser with Ivy League Financial Advisors LLC, which manages $70 million in assets and was a Techfi customer at the time that Advent purchased the company.

“This [software] is mission-critical for an adviser, and Techfi seemed to have critical mass. At the time I went out to Denver [and] got training, it portended to be a good fit.”

For Mr. Abar's part, he wishes he could go back and do things a little bit differently.

“I hope I get a little bit of credit for getting back into this business,” he said.

“I got a lot of money out of [the Techfi sale],” Mr. Abar said. “I could have retired, but I'm back doing this because I think there is a real need, and this time, we have a 10-year plan.”

Indeed, Mr. Abar is quite optimistic about that plan.

“We have a much better core accounting engine now [than Techfi]. It is very rich and handles fixed income better, and the way we built it, we can strap on additional functionality and handle new products and things like that very quickly,” he said.

Although Mr. Abar said that he is also happy with how extensible and flexible the software's report generation is — something advisers constantly tell me is important to them — he is most proud of the program's Errors and Alerts features.

“Of anything we're doing, I believe this provides us a sustainable competitive advantage,” he said. “Not only did we file a patent on it, but it is something I think other firms will be very envious of and will have a difficult time reverse-engineering.”

Les Hixson, an adviser and technical director of Financial Management Professionals Inc., agrees.

FinFolio Workstation 2010, which his firm used in beta testing, delivered more error notifications and alerts than any of the other products used by the firm in the past. The firm is also a former Techfi customer.

“Over the next few weeks, as we go into full production on the system, we'll have 1,500 clients, 2,500 accounts and probably 20 years' worth of transactions on it,” said Mr. Hixson, who was referred by FinFolio.

Financial Management Professionals, which manages $370 million in assets, plans to host the software itself.

Although FinFolio Workstation 2010 is officially being launched today, some 12 advisory firms are already using the application to manage about $20 billion in total assets.

The price for the application starts at $10,000 for a single-seat annual license.

While that is reasonable, even for small shops, Mr. Abar said, his company is really going after only those firms that have between $200 million and $2 billion in assets under management.

Visit our blog (InvestmentNews.com/technology) for more of the adviser comments and additional product information, and see the online version of this story for a slideshow of key FinFolio interface screenshots.-

E-mail Davis D. Janowski at djanowski@investmentnews.com.

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