Three business-technology execs, three slightly different views on the best way to build the next-generation of workstation for investment advisers. But the panelists at last Wednesday's Wall Street & Technology Wealth Management conference agreed fully on one point: Get it right -- or the future of your business is at risk.
Companies throughout the wealth-management industry are doing major desktop projects aimed at improving productivity and effectiveness of investment advisers, and calculating return on investments on such projects can be notoriously difficult. For RBC Investments, installing a portfolio management and contact-management platform was seen as table stakes for staying in the business and going to a higher level of client service.
"If we didn't put in a system like this, we might as well fold up our tent and go away," Bryan Manzer, senior manager of client information systems at RBC Investments, told attendees at Wall Street and Technology's Wealth Management conference last Wednesday during a panel discussion led by Cap Gemini consultant Jaime Punishill. "It's as simple as that." RBC Investments' installed x.eye's portfolio management and contact-management system with about 3,000 seats for advisers and their support teams.
Wachovia Securities' major -- and highly publicized -- work station change is similarly vital to the business' future, said Joseph Nadreau, director of strategic initiatives at Wachovia Securities. That change was thrust into headlines with widespread news coverage of an early September system outage that resulted during a transition from a system used by Prudential Securities, with which Wachovia merged, to a Thomson system.
Nadreau acknowledged that the Thomson system doesn't have all the features of the Prudential system that it's replacing. However, it makes ongoing integration easier, he said, since Wachovia already has a Thomson back-end processing system and uses Thomson's data services. Nadreau sees great value in knowing that Thomson has the same interest in making sure those pieces work well together, and he noted that the technology provider offers economies-of-scale in support and pricing.
Yet Nadreau said the notion of an all-in-one provider isn't reality, and that's not how Wachovia views Thomson. It views Thomson's offerings as components -- core components, to be sure -- but just as important for Wachovia is the fact that the Thomson system allows an architecture that will let Wachovia add or remove modules or make enhancements that could help the company seize new opportunities. "You can't have a system so integrated it can't be separated," said Nadreau, noting that the company has added best-of-breed, non-Thomson tools. "If you can't do those things, your viability in this market is probably limited."
American Express Financial Advisors' approach is to buy best of breed tools -- except financial-planning tools, which it builds -- and integrate them with back-end, legacy data systems, said Michael O'Keefe, VP of advisor business systems. That integration is far and away the most difficult IT work, he noted. But for investment advisers, what matters most are portfolio management tools to understand the clients, client- and contact-management tools to manage their businesses, and analytics tools to help them in offering advice. And making them easy to use - with a consistent interface, minimal data input, single log-ons - that is the "whole deal," said O'Keefe.
"It's all about ease of use -- and being compliant," said O'Keefe. IT vendors that successfully sell in that environment will focus on that end goal. "The people who will win are the ones who deliver what's easier to sell from," he said.
All three executives made it clear they'll be more demanding of the flexibility they'll expect from technology vendors.
Nadreau said he expects more consolidation among vendors -- just as there is in the investment industry -- but also more modular offerings for which Vendor A makes it easier for a rival's component to be added. "If you're not willing to play with other vendors and provide modules in other frameworks, you won't be in the market long," he said.
Manzer said RBC also is pushing those kinds of demands to add innovation, but it balances that against vendor accountability. "If a system goes down in the middle of the night, you want to know exactly who's responsible for that," he said. "Usability is also having that tool up in the morning."
All three panelists talked about viewing their work stations increasingly in terms of the workflows involved, rather than applications used. "We're moving toward workflows; we are moving toward application indifference -- it's just functions," O'Keefe said. Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in ... View Full Bio