By now many financial industry leaders have come to learn better data integration is an industry-wide priority, right along with compliance. The clamoring for technology is just growing louder, supported by reports that show technology integration can have an immensely positive effect on advisor profitability.
The basic goal is pretty comprehensive. An advisor wants to log on and see a client's assimilated information without having to manual grab and assemble data from several systems. That information should be customizable, depending on the advisor's workflow and client needs, and updated in real-time to help the advisor conduct business faster.
Integrated platform providers have done their best to meet this demand, all working to seamlessly and efficiently combine data, quicken information delivery and optimize workflow. Success has often been elusive, yet providers are finally learning what's working, what's not, and how to best deliver and prioritize demands.
"Many financial services firms have attempted to deliver a platform that allows for centralized and consolidated data management, but have been unsuccessful until now," reports Albridge Solutions in a press release referring to their new Applink platform, another release promising to answer all of the industry's interoperability and efficiency demands. In this case, the focus is on wealth managers but Applink seems to have the flexibility to apply to a broad range of financial service advisors.
Albridge's Applink was the result of several surveys and conversations with a broad client base. In a recently released white paper on interoperability Albridge identified advisors' top priorities in wealth reporting, which came out to "simplicity and choice," and details how the Applink interface has risen to the challenges.
According to the white paper, "Seamless and fluid movement among financial services applications is necessary for advisors to stay ahead of the competitor. Also, advisors want choice in the applications they choose—often looking for best-in-breed singular applications, and in how they deliver the final, personalized data to each client. We understood that to deliver this, the industry must transition toward a standard, open platform."
The Basics of Integration
In response to the surveys and customer requests, Applink provides the following features that could serve as a checklist for future system integration services:
Single Sign-On (SSO) Interface: Albridge makes a good point that simply saving a few clicks is not integration. To efficiently integrate third party applications within a single framework the technology needs to interact and "retrieve, package and deliver reporting information seamlessly." Applink uses standard coding languages to connect applications to a single sign-on and Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) for their authentication standard.
Choice of Applications and Programs: A great leap forward in this area has been recognizing that each advisor has a different workflow, and will choose to leverage different tools in order to understand and structure data. An ideal integration service will not limit advisors but allows them to pick and choose which applications and programs to employ. According to the white paper, "Applink’s open framework and its numerous application providers allow advisors to select robust “best-of” products instead of being tied to mandated or ineffective systems." While vetted third-party providers are able to code into the Applink framework, Albridge currently works with over 100 application and system providers.
Personalized Reporting with Third Party Apps: By leveraging the single sign-on feature advisors can quickly collect dispersed data without manual re-entry of client information in different applications. Using this feature within Applink, wealth advisors are also able organize the collected data in a way that's relevant to their clients and efficiently produce personalized reports. The elimination of this administrative exercise frees up an advisor's time for more high-level tasks.
[For more on administrative waste Data Overload: Admin Tasks Continue to Strain High-Level Performers ]
Bi-Directional Data Transfers: "Interoperability implies more than one direction of communication between two or more points. Yet many “integrated systems” were not providing this. For true optimization of an advisor’s workflow to be realized, bi-directional data transfer must be imbedded in the framework," according to the white paper. In other words, the data management software can't be completely self-serving, the data generated must be able to return to outside applications. As Albridge points out, this also helps third-party providers to better understand how clients use their system.
Contextual Mapping: Taking single sign-on a step further, contextual mapping is a more integrated "close to real-time" sharing of data components. "Contextual mapping is deep-dive SSO, relative to that client, that client’s assets and that client’s household wealth. It is the ability for a user to log into a specific client profile in one application, move to another Applink provider, and instantly pull up the same client and same data parameters within that application as well... Contextual mapping allows customized solutions to manage clients, support sales efforts, and identify growth opportunities."
Interestingly, Albridge's white paper ends on the note that while the focus has long been on building interoperability services for advisors, they are seeing big investments on the investor side too. "The next demands of interoperability are surfacing" the paper reads. "Going forward, our focus, in addition to continuing to enhance interoperability functionality for advisors and third-party application providers, is to further expand a brokerdealer’s investor-facing portal by pushing contextual and componentized data to these broker-dealer-branded, client dashboards."