InvestCloud brings ‘Applet’ approach to adviser systems
ABR editor Rob Kingsbury spoke to Andrew Lewis, head of business development for US technology provider InvestCloud, about the company and what it is offering UK adviser firms
US technology platform InvestCloud has launched its cloud-based, modular systems and software approach to running advisory, wealth and investment management businesses in the UK market.
Established in 2010 by four founders, including two Brits, and drawing on their experience of building client portals for the sell side, typically large banks, the company has been operational in the US for four years.
Today the company has 660 client firms – around 60% of which are advisory companies – supporting $1.5trillion in assets, and handles circa 160,000 weekly active log-ons – mainly by end consumers. Its smallest client has $15million assets under management and its largest $40 billion plus.
Wanting to capitalise on this four-year momentum, in October 2015 InvestCloud raised $45million both to fund further development of the platform and expand into Europe. Andrew Lewis, head of business development, InvestCloud (pictured), opened a London office as the company’s European HQ at the start of this year.
Business viewed via one dashboard
Lewis says what the company offers the advisers is better control of their businesses via easily manageable data and enhanced client communications. “We’re enabling the digitising of customer experiences and internal operations for advisory firms,” he says.
On a basic level, the platform sits on top of the adviser’s existing systems, allowing the business to access everything through the one dashboard – the adviser portal – and allow digitised document/report creation and storage alongside digital client communications – the client portal. All of which is accessible on desktop, tablet and smartphone.
Lewis explains: “Often firms will have a number of disparate systems that are not integrated so not talking to one another, and the advisers within the firm have to access various systems to get the information to report to their clients. Typically, in the US that means there is heavy use of Excel to try to pull things together.
“At the heart of what we do is a digital warehouse. We overlay on top of the other systems and pull the data into the warehouse, so all the information is in one place and the adviser has a single log-on to access all the information that they need.”
The company charges one annual fee per firm and, Lewis says, firms often find that when they centralise their systems in this way, they identify that not all the individual advisers need access to all the underlying systems, so they reduce the number of licences they need to buy saving them money.
Where advisers particularly find the platform valuable is in using the specific strengths of existing systems and using InvestCloud functionality to pull in and aggregate the data and present it in a consistent on-brand way to clients, Lewis says.
“Functionally, different pieces of software and systems are good at certain things but from an overall standpoint and the digital experience of the end user they haven’t kept up with the look and feel that advisory firms and end users like. For example a system might be good at portfolio accounting but not producing reports – our system can do the reporting, bringing in information from other systems all into the one place, but also giving the end user highly designed reports.”
In conjunction with the over-arching platform, the modular, Applet approach allows advisers to add in functionality to their business as and when they need it.
The Applet approach is based on what Lewis terms ‘programs writing programs’ (PWP), in other words lighter-weight programs that can be quickly combined and configured into solutions that fit the business’s needs rather than the other way around. This enables the company to offer advisers pre-configured and customisable options.
Currently, the firm offers 150 Applet modules, with functionality that includes client communications (document reporting, client reporting, client portal), client management (CRM and content management system and integration), portfolio management (decision support, performance reporting, attribution, order management, research), operational management (compliance, accounting, billing) and a platform warehouse (data storage and aggregation). And, as might be expected, there is technology available also to support advisers wanting to go the digital advice route.
Lewis is keen to point out that it is down to the adviser firm just how much of InvestCloud’s technology it uses. “We’re not a firm that goes to advisers and tries to change the various technology systems they have in place. We’re low risk as we can come in and do overlays on top of existing technologies.
“As firms grow they may want to add in things like performance, some risk functionality, order management or rebalancing, compliance and auditing of communications with their clients. There is a whole range of functionality that advisers can choose to bring in when they need them.”
He adds: “Another of the differences and advantages that we bring to advisers, is that rather than have to buy a massive system of which they might use 20%-30% in their daily working, we’ve segmented our product into levels of functionality, so they are only paying for what they are actually using. Smaller companies may not need as much functionality as larger firms, so why should they have to pay for functionality they are not using?”
How the Applet technology works
It is the nature of its technology, which delivers otherwise expensive proprietary written code via the more flexible and cost-effective Applets, that has enabled InvestCloud to grow so quickly in four years, Lewis says.
“Effectively PWP is a code-generating technology, which enables us to put a business analyst with financial experience but little technology experience to work with the clients and then generate the code. So the analysts can use the technology to deploy the various different options for the advisers.
“The advantage of this is that every single one of our clients gets to choose the exact look and feel of what they want their solution to look like. By that we mean firms don’t just get to change the colour or add in their logo to a portal, they can literally choose what goes where.
“Clients can customise their consumer-facing areas, so where they are targeting younger generations that tend to be more comfortable with a lot of functionality they can put in as much as they like, and where they are dealing with the baby-boomer and older generation, they can turn down the functionality to where that client base feels comfortable.
“As such, a lot of our clients don’t just have one portal, they will tend to have three or more portals, each tailored to the different segments of their client base. That doesn’t cost any more money, like it would with proprietary coding; because we are generating the code we can deploy it in any fashion they want.”
“It also means our products come to the market much faster than using a firm that hard codes and at a more competitive price as well.”
Visit the InvestCloud website