Build or Buy? To Truly Modernize Your RIA Practice’s Technology, Choose the Latter
Written by: By John Kirkpatrick | Stanford Investment Group
The question in the headline is one that entrepreneurs across all industries ask themselves as their businesses grow and compete.
Obsolete software applications and operating systems are a threat to survival in today’s digital age, especially for independent RIAs, which are under increasing pressure to be more efficient, precise and responsive. The pace of change and level of sophistication in technology are increasing at what seems to be an exponential rate. It is simply no longer possible for an RIA with a few good technology skills to keep up.
At Stanford Investment Group, we have tangible experience with both building and buying technology to modernize our RIA firm. Experience is the best teacher, and we possess the wisdom to know for sure that partnering with a technology vendor that emphasizes integration and automation is now the ideal long-term solution for independent RIAs.
Growing up with Silicon Valley
Our wealth management firm was established in 1982 in Mountain View, Calif.—the heart of Silicon Valley—as a broker-dealer. As the tech world grew and prospered, so did we—by working with entrepreneurs and their families, and high-net-worth individuals and families, to manage wealth through sophisticated financial planning and investment management.
In the late 1980s, we began building up the RIA side of our business, and it soon became our predominant area of service. We were one of the first RIAs on the Charles Schwab & Co. platform, and they remain our primary custodian today. Working with technology entrepreneurs and developers rubbed off on us, and we created a suite of in-house software to power our financial planning and portfolio management, filling a need that was not served by commercially-available solutions at the time.
But our areas of expertise are in wealth management, not technology development, and we found ourselves struggling to keep up with the ongoing support and enhancement needs for the software.
For example, we developed a Microsoft Excel-based program to rebalance accounts. Our advisors used spreadsheets to calculate allocations and define trades, and would then generate paper trading tickets and hand those tickets to a trader who would manually enter each one into Schwab’s trade blotter.
Our rebalancing solution was creative, but its rebalancing and trading workflows were still quite labor-intensive and did not enable us to scale for growth. The solution also was not conducive to executing nimble responses to market conditions. These limitations became clear in 2007, when the market began experiencing gyrations that would culminate in the worldwide financial crisis the following year. We found it challenging to keep up with the huge surge in rebalancing activity necessitated by the market fluctuations. This prompted our decision to find a commercial rebalancing solution that offered flexibility and automation, and would allow us to spend more time focusing on our clients and less time on software and trading.
Going from building to buying—and just in time
In 2007, we conducted a search for a commercial rebalancing software application. Our due diligence led us to choose Tamarac Advisor Rebalancing (now Envestnet | Tamarac). Our decision was based equally on the capabilities of the solution and our belief that the company would be an ongoing technology partner that would be there for us long after installation was complete. Indeed, Tamarac assigned us our own dedicated implementation team to handle system and data conversions, as well as train our staff. After we were up and running on our new rebalancing solution, Tamarac continued to monitor our progress and roll out regular product enhancements and updates.
Knowing we had an engaged and enthusiastic partner was especially comforting for us—because the financial crisis was unfolding just as we were acclimating to our new software. We adopted our automated rebalancing solution just in time, going “live” in mid-2008. By automating our rebalancing and trading workflows, we could make portfolio changes across hundreds of accounts and households, and customize rebalancing settings for each account according to their goals and objectives. We estimate that we saved, and continue to save, about three to four days of labor per month alone on trade execution and compliance trade review. In addition, the application removes a potential error point by eliminating the re-entry of trades from paper trade sheets.
Imagine how much more time we would have spent on rebalancing in an unusually hectic period like 2008-2009 if we had to continue manually going through every account to make changes!
We also improved the consistency of client portfolios by standardizing risk-based allocation models, and benefited from a significant increase in the speed and efficiency of implementing changes to our target models. Furthermore, the rebalancing solution allowed us to easily perform tax-loss harvesting to help maximize the tax efficiency of our clients’ portfolios.
All of these operational efficiencies gave our small team of advisors the freedom to spend more time working with clients—enabling us to strengthen our client relationships as well as efficiently grow our practice during an extremely uncertain period.
NBA Player Carl Landry Demonstrates the Value of Persistence in Life and Work
Written by: Jon Sabes
When you meet Carl Landry, stand-out college basketball player and nine-year NBA player, you imagine that becoming a professional basketball star was a straight forward run for the 6-foot-nine-inch power forward.
However, when you go deeper into Carl’s background, becoming a NBA professional was less than certain and little came easily to the 33-year-old from Milwaukee:
- He was cut from his high school team as a freshman and averaged less than ten points a game when he did play as a senior.
- He started his college career not at Purdue, but a junior college where it was not clear he would play.
- When he finally got to Purdue, he tore his ACL in his knee his first year and reinjured it the next year.
- While his family held a party for him the night of the NBA draft, he slept in the Philadelphia airport after missing a flight following a workout for the 76ers.
- In the NBA playoffs, Carl had a tooth knocked out, but came back in the same game to make a game-winning blocked shot as the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz 94-92.
Landry, who I interviewed on my podcast, Innovating Life with Jon Sabes (www.jonsabes.com), is a remarkable example of the value of “persistence.” In a time where technology creates the image that anything is possible at the touch of a button, persistence is an under-appreciated trait. When I spoke with Carl, I clearly saw someone for whom success has only come through a force of will that made him a NBA player, but it also made him a better player every year he played. That’s the kind of personality that has produced greatness in business as well as sports.
Carl was, in fact, drafted that night he spent in the airport. The Seattle Supersonics chose him as the 31st overall pick and then traded him to the Houston Rockets where he rode the bench for much of the first half of the season. When All-Star teammate Yao Ming was injured, he stepped in and played a key role in the Rockets astonishing 22-game winning streak (the third longest streak in NBA history). And, that season, after sitting on the bench for 33 of the first 36 games, he was named to the All-Rookie second team.
Carl was the first in his family to go to college. “I told myself that this was my ticket out, so I did everything I possibly could to be the best person in school and also on the court,” he said.
His family life in Milwaukee showed him what he didn’t want to do. “Just being honest with you, seeing some my cousins, peers, they went to work for jobs paying six, seven dollars an hour or they didn’t go to work at all and then living off welfare. I didn’t want that.”
When he was first injured, he had to contemplate the end of a career before it even got started. “When you have an ACL tear, it’s over…no more basketball,” he told me. “I said, God, give me health again and I’ll do everything I can to leave it all out on the line and be a successful individual.”
On my podcast, Carl pointed out another interesting lesson he learned in the NBA: Not doing things just to fit in.
“Fitting in was easy,” he said. “Doing everything that everybody else does was easy. If I stood out in some type of way, I’m going to have different results. I’m going to have stand-out results.”
That’s called the “Law of Contrast” and it produces that exact effect of changing the outcomes that everyone else is experiencing. Carl is smart, he recognized that differences make a difference, and doing whatever it takes is what is required to make real, meaningful differences.
Every off-season for the last 11 years, he has run a camp for kids in Milwaukee where he tells youth his story of hard work and persistence. “I always tell the kids to apply themselves and always be persistent,” he said. “If you dream, apply yourself and be persistent. With hard work, man, the sky’s the limit.”
When Carl says the sky’s the limit he means it. He is smart to recognize that it’s important to dream big, because if we don’t – we may be selling ourselves short. “You have to dream bigger than your mind could ever imagine,” he said. “I wanted a nice house. I wanted a nice car. I said, and I got all of that. So, what do I do, do I stop now? Maybe I didn’t dream big enough.” That’s a big statement coming from a kid who grew up to be the first in his family to graduate college and go on to be not only a top NBA basketball start, but a good businessman, father and someone who gives back to the community.
I’m convinced that in whatever he takes on as a basketball player or in his post-hoops career, Carl Landry is not going to stop getting better at whatever he does, and in the process of doing so, make the world a better place.
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