The Art of Aggregation

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If it had no other value, the data aggregation services offered through the H.D. Vest Client Center helps Karl Kebler III offer improved customer services. “When I pop into Client Center all of my client positions are available so I can see an entire client’s portfolio all on one page,” says Kebler, a CPA and sole practitioner based in Pomroy, Ohio, who serves about 250 clients.

A major advantages of having the client’s data all in one place, Kebler says, is that if a client calls or makes an unexpected visit to the office he is able to quickly access their information and “talk from actual facts” instead of trying to track down a client’s file.

The Client Center also enables Kebler to quickly and easily see what aspects of financial planning he has or has not addressed with a client—such as investment planning, cash flow, risk management, retirement planning and education planning—and can see when he last met with the client and what was discussed.

Partner Insights


It has been more than a decade since account aggregation swept through the financial landscape being hailed by some as a “killer app” for e-finance.

Account aggregation was initially envisioned as a place where a person’s financial data—such as brokerage accounts, mortgage accounts, credit card debt and bank accounts-would reside in one place so financial advisors could easily get a complete view of a client’s holdings (those managed under the financial advisor and those “held away”). This would also give consumers a snapshot of their financial health.

But it initially failed to catch on, especially when the dot-com bust pushed stock prices down and investors had less desire to see their holdings.

However, complex technology, hefty costs, security concerns and a lack of consumer demand, changed—and continues to change—how account aggregation is developed and utilized. Instead of being a product in and of itself, it has essentially become ingrained in the online banking and wealth management services offered by financial institutions.

Its importance has also changed. Not only are consumers today increasingly taking advantage of online financial services, like banking and bill pay, but the wobbly economy and credit crunch has forced many to reevaluate their spending habits and more closely watch their holdings. This has placed an even greater value on account aggregation and the role that financial advisors play.

“Investor uncertainly increases the value of the advisor,” says Jakob Rohn, executive vice president of corporate development for Albridge Solutions, a provider of wealth management services. Rohn notes that during the stock market turmoil in 2002 to 2003, the company experienced some of its greatest growth.

Albridge Solutions, acquired last fall by the PNC Financial Services Group, consolidates client account data from hundreds of disparate sources—proprietary, banking, brokerage, insurance, retirement, etc. It partners with financial institutions to implement and host an enterprise consolidated data platform.

Later this year or early next year, the company plans to release AppLink, which Rohn says takes the ability of sharing and connecting systems to the next level and will enable users to jump between various systems.

“Right now, we share the data. AppLink will share the user experience,” says Rohn.

Through the Albridge Wealth Reporting Web-based portfolio accounting and performance reporting platform, financial advisors have access to consolidated client account information and can generate performance, asset allocation, holdings, transactions and benchmarking reports for clients.

Albridge’s open architecture also provides one-touch access to Wall Street On Demand’s Horizon platform. Horizon enables financial advisors to view Lipper research that spans more than 46,000 funds, including mutual funds, sub-accounts, variable underlying funds and exchange-traded funds. This technology also enables financial advisors to create investment proposals and perform hypothetical illustrations for their clients.

The company also plans to offer a single sign-on between its Wealth Reporting and AdvisorCentral, a PFPC Worldwide company. AdvisorCentral is a portal for financial advisors that provides information, commentary, research, and workplace resources. It will also be integrated with PFPC’s Advisorport, a managed account platform that services more than 60 managed accounts client firms, including broker/dealers, banks/trust companies, money managers, insurance companies and RIAs/wealth management firms. Both projects are under way and are expected to be available later this year or early next year.

Data aggregation firm CashEdge provides online financial applications for banks, credit unions and wealth management firms.

While the company offers a consumer-facing solution, it largely focuses on the professional side of the business, says Tom Roberts, senior vice president and general manager of the brokerage and wealth management business division.

The company’s Wealth Management Suite incorporates data consolidation and funds transfer. Developed specifically for investment professionals, the Wealth Management Suite can harvest data from investment institutions and enhance that data through such methods as mapping security names and ticker symbols to CUSIPs (Committee on Uniform Security Identification Procedures). The data consolidation can be used on a stand-alone basis or directly integrated into financial planning and portfolio management applications.

The company has partnered with several financial technology providers, including Albridge and eMoney Advisor, to integrate CashEdge solutions into their applications.

“Advisors are using this as the core of their practice, starting the process of sales,” says Roberts, who notes about 5,000 advisors are currently using the product. “The second thing we are seeing is we were first focused on the asset side of the portfolio but we are seeing more of a focus on the debt side and counseling.”

Partnering

A number of software publishers utilize aggregation engines from other companies, rather than develop their own. Such is the case with Emerging Information Solutions, which utilizes Albridge for its NaviPlan and Profiles financial planning software.

NaviPlan Enterprise, a configurable financial planning platform for large-scale financial enterprises, can be integrated with existing wealth management platforms. An organization can implement the NaviPlan as-is, or modify it in more than a dozen business-critical areas, including data aggregation.

Meanwhile, the more generically applicable Profiles can integrate with applications and external data sources for data aggregation. EISI and Albridge have collaborated to pass consolidated client and portfolio information from the Albridge database directly into NaviPlan financial planning software. Through Client, account information is automatically collected from multiple fund and clearing sources. It is then processed through a data warehouse that cleans and reconciles account holdings.

EISI is furthering its effort to assist advisors by partnering with Fidelity Investments to offer financial planning through a new Web-based wealth management platform dubbed Fidelity WealthCentral. The platform is expected to be available late this year.

Fidelity WealthCentral will streamline an advisor’s back office through a single platform offering advisors such tools as an aggregated view of each client relationship. EISI also partnered with Fidelity Investments to integrate its financial planning with Advisor Channel, Fidelity’s brokerage platform for advisors.

According to Linda Strachan, EISI’s vice president of product marketing, the company is working on a platform for enterprise players that will take its software (NaviPlan and Profiles) and address needs beyond financial planning. For example, it will include a lead generator tool. As of press time, the platform had not yet been officially announced and further details were not available.

“We need to have a common interface for NaviPlan and Profiles,” says Strachan.

Similarly, Money Tree Software, which markets the Total Planning Suite, bolstered the applications earlier this year with data connectivity that enables it to import asset information and other data from third parties including Albridge, Schwab, Act4Advisors and Advisors Exchange. Also, through the new Info-Match system users can make their own connections to data fields in nearly any program using text files or XML files.

Mike Vitkauskas, chairman and founder of Money Tree, says the business of data aggregation is growing and innovative technology is making it easier for programs to “talk” to each other but he acknowledged that one hurdle still weighing on the account aggregation market is customer resistance.

Some customers are reluctant to share account passwords with advisors and authorize them to access accounts or they don’t fully understand the benefits that account aggregation can provide.

Account aggregation can help the financial planner as much as it does the client.

Patricia Solberg, owner of PAS Financial Planning in Seattle, Wash., has been a financial planner for 28 years and has never been able to aggregate and import client data the way she can today through Money Tree.

“[Money Tree] brings it all together. It uploads to my computer into Money Tree and Money Tree has the capability to do all of the planning,” says Solberg, who imports client data through Albridge Solutions.

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