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3 Tips for Vetting Advisor Technology

BY CRAIG ISKOWITZ
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”
R. Buckminster Fuller
American Architect, Author, Designer, Inventor & Futurist

Buckminster Fuller probably never thought about financial advisor technology, but I suspect his saying would hold true. Many advisory firms buy technology without really knowing why and especially without knowing if they chose the right product. 

Advisor technology has ridden the general wave of technology innovation that has swept up most of the developing world over the last few decades. We live in a unique time. Technology-driven change will never be as slow as it is today. Software systems that required months or even years to build with dozens of experienced developers can now be created in a few weeks or days by just a few people with less skill and effort. 

Complex and highly integrated software is simply easier to build now using off the shelf components. 

These publicly-available software frameworks have enabled a tremendous increase in the number of applications, tools, and platforms available to meet a range of needs in our industry—portfolio management, risk analysis, client management, to name a few. And with just a click of a button, advisors can install a cloud-based app and be up and running almost instantly. 

The ease of adding new technology is exciting, but it’s also a double-edged sword. Without proper vetting, firms can easily wind up with not only more apps than they need, but the wrong apps entirely. Their once seamless workflows and processes become muddled and disjointed, and having too many apps without centralized oversight can increase security risk. 

When it comes to adding new technology, the most important thing for advisors to know is that even through decades of change, the vetting process is still the same. If you or your organization is considering new technology, here are the most important things to keep in mind during the process:

1. Do your technology due diligence from the top down.

Just because it’s easy to install an application, it doesn’t mean that it should be added. Even though an app might be helpful for one or two individuals at your firm, random apps should not be installed without approval or IT review.

For larger firms and brokers, information security and risk has grown substantially, and the best way to combat this is to manage technology from the top. So, when you’re considering new apps, tools, or platforms, take the time to truly think about what’s best for the organization, its overall goals, and what you’ll need to get there.

2. Understand how this tool does (or doesn’t) work with what you have.

If your firm uses a variety of tools, then technology decisions shouldn’t be made in a vacuum. Building a good tech stack requires looking at how potentially new and existing tools may or may not connect with one another. Certain apps aren’t plug and play and may require additional work to get it to function the way your organization needs it to.

From a security standpoint, understand how this tool may use or transfer PII (personally identifiable information) to and from your other apps. This will give you greater oversight into any potential risk or data exposure.

3. Get to know the vendor behind the technology.

Tech companies come and go every day, so it’s important to look into the longevity and stability of a technology provider. Learn what you can about who they are, how long they’ve been in business, the type of revenue they have, and how they’re financed.

Additionally, don’t forget to inquire into the strength and stability of the technology itself. Find out the strength of their bench—is it just one main person or is there a deeper, dedicated team? How many releases are there per year and how are they testing it? What kind of security measures do they have in place? Knowing all this will help you better understand a vendor’s risk and viability.

A thoughtful process is best

While selecting advisor software isn’t as difficult as constructing one of Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Domes, it does require some thought and organized consideration. Evaluating your technology needs from a top-down perspective and understanding how it will function and the vendor behind it are critical parts of the vetting process.  

Being thoughtful in your technology acquisition process ensures that your firm will select the best tools without muddling key processes or unnecessarily increasing operational risk.

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Craig Iskowitz

Craig Iskowitz is founder and principal at Ezra Group, which was launched in 2005, a consulting firm providing technology strategy, operational improvement and research to the wealth management industry.

Craig has over 20 years of experience in wealth management, retail and institutional brokerage, and front and middle office operations. He previously worked at ADP Brokerage Services (now Broadridge Financial) for almost 10 years before transitioning into consulting. Ezra Group’s clients include many Fortune 500 firms such as The Bank of New York, LPL Financial, Fiserv, AXA Equitable, and Envestnet.

Craig is also the editor and publisher of the Wealth Management Today blog and podcast (www.wmtoday.com), which provides interviews, analysis and news in the wealth management industry with focus on fee-based advisory platforms.

Craig is available to speak on industry trends, moderate or participate on industry panels. For speaking inquiries, please contact elana@ezragroupllc.com.

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