Where now for Plum Software?
ABR editor Rob Kingsbury talked to Praemium CEO Michael Ohanessian and Plum Software MD Ann Dempster, about the plans for the back-office provider following its acquisition by Praemium
The acquisition of back-office provider Plum Software by Australia Stock Exchange-listed company Praemium is part of the latter’s strategy to build up its presence and market share in the UK, says chief executive officer Michael Ohanessian.
Founded in Australia in 2001, Praemium launched into the UK in 2008 with an investment administration service alongside a Separately Managed Account (SMA) discretionary investment platform. In 2012 it acquired Wealthcraft, a web-based CRM and financial planning system, to give advisers the additional functionality alongside the platform technology. The natural progression from there, particularly in respect of its ambitions to grow its presence in the UK, was for Praemium to augment its proposition with a UK based back-office system.
“Wealthcraft, which we’ve launched internationally, is the main reason we got together with Plum software,” Ohanessian explains. “We recognise that in the UK, which has a very large field of third-party data feeds and wrappers, there’s a need for a proper, robust, back-office system, to give the fund valuation, remuneration calculations and compliance monitoring and reporting functionality. Which is why we have acquired Plum. Plum adds capability that we didn’t have otherwise. There is a little development work to do but our acquisition of Plum shows that we are very serious in this market.”
Praemium is running Plum Software and Wealthcraft side-by-side, as separate but soon-to-be integrated offerings, and Plum Software managing director Ann Dempster is keen to add that contrary to some rumours in the market, advisers are under no obligation to sign up to one system because they are customers of the other.
Ohanessian is quick to praise the Plum team. “Ann and her team have done a very good job with Plum over the past few years. It’s a very experienced team; most of the staff have been there a long time and they really do know their stuff. They have responded to market needs, developing dashboards as well as other functionality and usability, which have made the proposition far better than it was just a couple of years ago. Plum is a good product and we are committed to it.”
Where Praemium will bring benefit to the Plum offering, Ohanessian says, is in its deeper pockets to fund further development and integrations, and on the sales and marketing side. “To date, sales and marketing has been low-key and we can bring our greater resources to bear and with Wealthcraft’s proposition alongside it, help to grow market share,” he says.
With Plum, Wealthcraft and the SMA discretionary investment platform, Ohanessian says Praemium can now deliver a highly client-centric proposition into the market.
“Wealthcraft looks on the financial advice process as a highly and naturally client-centric experience. By integrating Plum with Wealthcraft we are building financial planning tools and a back-office system around an excellent CRM system, in our case Microsoft Dynamics,” he says. “The idea of building financial planning tools around the client makes inherent sense from an architectural perspective. We think this is the way of the future and we want to deliver software and systems that reflect that reality.”
Through integrating the financial planning tools with Microsoft Dynamics, the Praemium proposition also benefits as Microsoft develops its CRM system, Ohanessian says. “What’s also exciting about our approach with Wealthcraft, using Microsoft Dynamics, is that these types of powerful CRM tools are improving all the time. In fact Microsoft has a two-year upgrade cycle. Having started with Microsoft Dynamics 2011, two years ago we upgraded to 2013 and as I’m speaking we are upgrading to 2015.
“Every two years Microsoft is making the product better and better, and we are moving with them. So we can be reasonably confident of saying that our technology is the most up-to-date, best in breed CRM technology, around which we have developed our tools.”
Dempster adds: “And what’s great is that the CRM system is accessible through Microsoft Outlook. That means it’s very easy for advisers to understand and to use. It’s one of the elements we had missing at Plum and which Praemium can open up to our clients. That is quite exciting.”
Another advantage of the major CRM systems – Salesforce is another well known one in the market – is that they are more than just tools for sales teams, Ohanessian points out. “They have very powerful workflow capabilities, which are not difficult to deliver. This creates a major difference in the market. It’s pretty hard for the older architecture back-office systems to do that, it’s very hard work for them, whereas with Dynamics and our Wealthcraft approach, we think it’s a major game changer for us.”
Integrating Praemium’s three propositions can also deliver considerable productivity gains, Ohanessian says. “Technology is evolving very quickly in this space. It’s about bringing the whole practice together. Our solution will talk very well with our discretionary investment platform and with other platforms too.
“If you think about what an adviser firm does, it is naturally client centric and very intimate. It starts with lead generation, which is done very well in the CRM, then through sale, FactFind, the financial plan and when the client is on board it progresses naturally into the back-office. That’s why we think a CRM-centric financial planning system with an integrated back-office is a pretty compelling proposition.”
Talking to the Praemium’s ambitions going forward, Ohanessian says: “We will be investing in Plum and looking to grow its market share. I think the UK market is going through something of a transition period at the moment, which means there are a lot of people in the market looking around for new options and ways of working. I think Praemium, offering Wealthcraft and Plum, is in a good position to look attractive to those people who are seeking alternative solutions. Together our reach is much bigger. There may have been some larger firms that wouldn’t have thought about Plum in the past but now, with our input and investment, I think we can squarely put Plum on the table as a viable solution for any size firm.”