As part of my job, I review a lot of articles about advisor desktops, platforms, and strategies. Rarely do I get to say that someone truly understands the reality of delivering and executing on them. I work with top wealth management firms regularly on their front-office solution road-maps and implementations, and I can tell you that it’s not easy. How do you cater for so much functionality in a usable but cost-effective way? Financial planning, CRM, portfolio and account management, order management, trade execution, statements and reporting, fee management, social media, etc. – it’s a lot. You cannot build all this in-house – you’re not a technology company, software is not your core competency, and it’s not economically viable to sustain. And as much as there will be a clamoring of vendors to tell you otherwise, the truth is that no “one vendor” can provide the right functional coverage to cater for all these needs.

From what I’ve seen, the successful and mature firms have learned to take a prioritized, evolutionary, best-of-breed approach. That is – start with the most critical needs for the front-office. Grow the advisor platform piece-by-piece, and pick the best solution available for the specific problem at hand. Amy McIlwain provides a good explanation of a best-of-breed approach in her article on ThinkAdvisor.com.

When it comes to the “prioritized” aspect of the approach – well, there’s no shortage of priorities or ways of selecting priorities to work on. The aim just not to bite off more than you can chew. (Insert extoling of agile methodologies here.)

McIlwain does a great job of talking about the importance of good APIs. As for the “evolutionary” aspect, the key is to ensure that no single system’s API is irreplaceable. Use a data management solution or strategy to isolate each subsystem so that it can be replaced without disrupting the ecosystem. My colleague, Adam, summarizes such an approach here.

When it comes to the “best-of-breed” aspect, the key is to focus more on the “platform” strategy than delivering specific function points. The best-of-breed approach fails when it ignores the advisor experience. Having the best financial planning tool and the best CRM are not as powerful as having a single, fully integrated, “good-enough” financial planning and CRM solution. Of course, a fully integrated, best-of-breed financial planning and best-of-breed CRM solution is even better! Preserving context, eliminating duplicate data entry, and providing a seamless user experience are all critical requirements for ensuring platform adoption. More details about the idea of an “integrated desktop” can be found here.

What are your current priorities or challenges when it comes to an advisor platform? Feel free to use the comments below or reach out to me, and I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned from helping the major US wire-houses and leading global private banks tackle this problem.