Listen to Mark Wickersham from AgilLink as he discusses the advantages and capabilities of Software as a Service integrations with Susan McDermott, Sr. Director of Client Engagement at Addepar. Learn more about how integrating advanced technology into your processes can lead to better results, better client relationships, and less stress at the office.
Susan McDermott is the Sr. Director of Client Engagement and Success at Addepar. She has spent the majority of her entire career in the investment and wealth management field, and has extensive experience in operations management.
Mark Wickersham is VP of Strategy, Marketing, and Business Development at AgilLink.
This synopsis is of a podcast conversation between Mark Wickersham and Susan McDermott. Note that the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
HOW HAS THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECTED THE FAMILY OFFICE SPACE?
Restrictions around COVID-19 have eased, but the pandemic has changed the way many companies do business. Susan McDermott offers her perspective on the situation: “COVID has been an impetus for family offices that were considering technology upgrades. Quite frankly, it took some of the decision-making out of their hands. Fear of technology was replaced with fear of not being able to access information, of not being able to transact, or make timely and informed decisions. This created an urgency to move to modern cloud-based technology, which is available and secure virtually everywhere. COVID accelerated adoption because we've seen huge spikes in online access to client portfolios.”
She adds, “Beyond data access, the pandemic has forced firms to consider the adequacy of the tools in their tech stack. They have had a bit of time to evaluate the tools, the options, and the compatibility of the software products, with the goal of not making life at the office any more complicated. Best-of- breed technology itself has progressed beyond the cumbersome integrations that just 10 years ago made them very challenging for family offices to even consider.”
Mark Wickersham states, “I would agree that the maturity of API technology and the willingness of vendors to sync and match their APIs is moving the tech forward. It certainly has been a game-changer for technology adoption.”
HOW SHOULD FIRMS EVALUATE SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE (SaaS) PROVIDERS?
McDermott says, “We get a lot of questions on this during the sales cycle and leading up to implementation. Clients want to know what resources they need to dedicate to the integration effort. This type of software is critical infrastructure, akin to the central nervous system of a company. Implementation and integration between clients and software vendors is a partnership, and both sides have to bring resources to the table. I think providers like Addepar have a lot of experience in wealth management, and while we can look at a set of complex portfolios and glean a lot of information very quickly, we don't know the book as well as the client does, so there needs to be a mutual understanding of roles and a lot of collaboration. The client needs to be prepared, since they are the subject matter expert on their portfolios and on the current state of the information as we get started together. One of the biggest challenges to software implementation is collaboration and the defining of roles and responsibilities.”
Wickersham responds, “These are really good points. From a vendor perspective, we have the benefit of being able to see multiple family offices, multiple clients, and we can share best practices. But nobody knows their clients better than the family office. Nobody knows their accounts better than they do. There has to be a champion in the office to help configure the software and manage the service. We understand there are cultural differences within the family office, and subtle nuances in terms of what's important to the family, and how they serve the family. The software vendor and platform configuration has to be flexible to accommodate these nuances.”
Adds McDermott, “I think many unique workflows are established to accommodate an influential client or family member that requires a specific level of service or attention, and we're here to facilitate those efforts, not to institutionalize them.”
HOW SHOULD FAMILY OFFICES MANAGE OUTSOURCING?
“It depends on the organization,” McDermott offers. “But I think you have to look back to the discipline on which that office is built. Is it an outcropping of an operating business where it's largely run by a CFA, or a corporate finance team? Was it a result of a liquidity event, and is it more investment based? Maybe it's multi-generational, based on wealth transfer. Their core discipline will remain their core discipline, but outside of that, they must determine what they want to outsource. For example, if I'm more of a finance-based firm, I might be looking to outsource the investment advisory. Or if I'm an investment-based firm, I might be looking for a platform and services to outsource the accounting.”
She explains further, “Despite the advances in technology, one thing that doesn't change in our industry is the need for relationships and the ability to trust the people that we work with. So I think the first steps are deciding what you want to outsource, then doing due diligence on what vendor tools are applicable, and researching service levels, and understanding their gaps. You have to get providers to admit to what they're not good at, where the gaps are.”
Wickersham summarizes, “Understand your core competencies, and if you don't have a core competency, take a look at outsourcing. Cultural fit is really important, so determine if a vendor has the same values as you. If they don't have the same values and cultural fit, then collaboration fails, and this leads to turnover.”
WHY IS CONSOLIDATED REPORTING SO HARD?
McDermott provides the following insights: “Families at high levels of wealth, and the people that serve them need access to a variety of financial information at their fingertips, so the family offices need to be nimble. They need to know where the data is, and they need to be able to provide it quickly and accurately and in a format that their clients like to digest. The breadth of the content being requested could range from overarching allocation down to the deductibility of the component of a single expense transaction, and since family offices typically are not excessively staffed, the data needs to be easily accessible. There is not one single software that's going to provide the insight and granularity of that allocation, or that expense transaction, and be able to do high-level asset allocation and aggregated investment reporting in a really slick and modern way. Firms like Addepar and AgilLink are specializing in different areas of the wealth information ecosystem to address these diverse requirements and to provide a comprehensive solution.”
HOW SHOULD FIRMS WEIGH THE COST/BENEFIT OF TECHNOLOGY?
“Reluctance to change is a factor in evaluating technology,” says Mark Wickersham. “But not everything has an economic ROI to it.”
McDermott expands on this by saying, “If we look at the history of the family office, the amount of time that they need to spend, and the level of professionals needed for data collection, aggregation, and validation, you can see that has been greatly reduced over the last 10 – 20 years due to advances in technology. There needs to be a level of progressiveness in a family office by being forward-looking towards technology as it relates to workflow and human effort spent in their offices.”
WHAT DO YOU LOVE AND WHAT FRUSTRATES YOU ABOUT THE FAMILY OFFICE?
Susan McDermott explains, “Family offices offer unique services for their clients with an inherent level of complexity, and tailoring an Addepar solution is like solving a puzzle. I like puzzles, and I like the uniqueness, and the problem-solving, and the somewhat individual configuration, and then crafting a solution that is specific to that one client’s need. I like being not quite out of the box. Conversely, I think some of my greatest frustration might be facing indecision — that unwillingness to change, or seeing that it's really time to move forward. Admittedly, I'm a bit of an impatient person. And when I feel like I have really shown value in so many ways [that can make] a client's life easier, and they just can't make a decision, there's some impatience there.”
Founded in 2009, Addepar is a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform focused on data aggregation, analytics, and portfolio reporting used by private wealth management institutions. Initially established to address the needs of single-family offices, today, Addepar serves hundreds of clients and thousands of wealth managers, including family offices, independent advisors, private banks, and broker-dealers in more than 25 markets around the world. Addepar has over 650 employees and tracks over $3.5 trillion in assets on its platform.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of AgilLink. AgilLink does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of AgilLink. Please cite source when quoting.
This podcast is for general information and education only and is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of AgilLink. It is compiled from data and sources believed to be reliable, however AgilLink does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates given are those of the speaker as of the date of the podcast with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change.
City National Bank is a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada. Deposit products and services are provided by City National Bank.
Addepar is an independent company and is not associated with AgilLink, City National Bank, or Royal Bank of Canada.