Apex Clearing is looking to expand its digital custody and clearing brand into the human adviser market though a new partnership with Trizic, a technology vendor that develops digital advice products for advisers.
Trizic, which counts FIS and John Hancock among its customers, says the partnership will make it faster for RIAs, broker-dealers and other enterprise firms to bring a customized robo-advice solution to market.
Trizic CEO Drew Sievers said Apex's suite of application programming interfaces (APIs) are more supportive than traditional custodians for advisers looking to build unique digital products. For example, Mr. Sievers said Apex allows for completely digital client onboarding, while other custodians are just adding e-signature capabilities that still require document shifting.
He added that with Apex, Trizic can offer enterprise firms simpler account opening and funding, and more efficient trade execution, portfolio management, performance reporting and billing.
"If you're a young, up-and-coming type firm … that's where something like Apex is attractive," Mr. Sievers said. "They do provide different kinds of connectivity."
The companies also see the partnership as a chance to grow awareness of each other's brands and collaborate on product distribution.
For Apex, which is perhaps best known for serving robo-advisers like Wealthfront (which cut ties with Apex in May to self-custody), partnerships with front-end technology vendors are a chance to grow among RIAs and broker-dealers.
Sam McIngvale, Apex's head of innovation, acknowledged that the company is not big enough to have the sales team and distribution capacity to break into the market on its own. His hope is that advisers using technology such as Trizic or InvestCloud will see Apex's APIs and cost — Apex doesn't have account minimums and or charge transaction fees — as a good fit for a subset of their business, especially as more firms look to service young investors and small accounts.
"Partnering with these groups gives us more reach into [the market] and also allows us to have a broad product set," Mr. McIngvale said. Trizic also works with banks and credit unions, another market Apex would like to expand into.
Joel Bruckenstein, the president of Technology Tools for Today, said Apex is facing a classic "chicken or the egg" problem. It must integrate technology companies to attract advisers, but technology companies don't want to spend resources on integration without knowing that it will reach advisers.
"I think Apex has some interesting technologies," he said. "I think they would be a welcome addition to the RIA custodial space, but in order to be competitive in the space, they need to partner with the leading providers of technology," Mr. Bruckenstein said. "If you're a small [technology] firm coming into the industry and you tap in TD [Ameritrade's] API, you don't have to do much and you immediately have exposure to TD clients."
One technology executive, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed that Apex's limited number of customers makes it less of a priority than other custodians, but is still exploring a partnership.
"It just takes more time for those us with a lot of customers to support," the executive said when asked why his company doesn't yet integrate with Apex. "But we're still excited about it."
Apex isn't the only small custodian looking at technology companies as a way to grow its market share without the resources or brand recognition of larger firms. Folio Institutional, for example, is growing by attracting a new generation of direct-to-consumer robo-advisers.