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Orion Advisor Services parent company Northstar to be acquired by private equity firm TA Associates

TA Associates to acquire NorthStar Financial Services Group, parent company of Orion Advisor Services

Hot off the wires this morning (thank you FiComm) is news of another acquisition in the advisor fintech space.

Today, private equity firm TA Associates announced an agreement to acquire a majority interest in NorthStar Financial Services Group, LLC.

Orion Advisor Services included in the deal

Orion Advisor Services

NorthStar has nine subsidiaries under the company, with Orion Advisor Services, LLC being the most recognizable to advisers interested in financial technology solutions for their business. Collectively, NorthStar and its subsidiaries manage and administer roughly $275 billion in assets, with Orion making up at least $180 billion of that amount (see: Orion Celebrates Fifteen Years of Serving Advisors With Record Growth from Marketwired.com)

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

This comes on the heels of two acquisitions announced last week. First, Fidelity announced a deal to acquire eMoney for a rumored amount of $250 million according to sources close to the deal, followed by an announcement by SS&C Technologies to acquire Advent Software for $2.7 billion.

With three M&A deals in one week, financial technology service providers are proving to be attractive targets for acquisition.

The Future of FinTech M&A

Looking to the future, these deals seem to validate two trends in the industry. First, independent advisory firms continue to seek ways to scale their operational efficiency, and trusted third party providers offer attractive solutions to achieve such goals. Outsourced portfolio management (Orion Advisor Services and Advent Software) and account aggregation, client portals, and streamlined financial planning (eMoney Advisor) give advisers the leverage they need to growth their business without having to add significant overhead or add to the headcount of the firm.

Second, independent advisory firms are poised to continue to attract business from clients and investors dissatisfied with traditional wirehouse and brokerage providers, which may lead to a significant shift in asset flows away from transaction- and product-oriented businesses to fiduciary advice offered by independent RIAs.

Since M&A activity has dramatically picked up in 2015, here’s my question to you:

Who’s next?

Envestnet | Tamarac builds Tamarac University Online, a massive online training program for the Advisor Xi software suite

Envestnet|Tamarac releases Tamarac University Online for comprehensive on-demand training

Envestnet | Tamarac releases Tamarac University Online for comprehensive on-demand training

Envestnet | Tamarac builds an online university to help advisers master the company’s total office software

Training, or the lack thereof, can make or break the successful introduction of any new technology in a financial adviser’s business. (see Attend Redtail University and learn how to use Redtail CRM like a power user)

Fortunately, the time it takes to master many adviser technology tools has been decreasing consistently, since many applications have been thoughtfully updated with modern, intuitive interfaces and a uncluttered designs.

But when it comes to robust tools like portfolio rebalancing software, better design by itself just isn’t enough to make technology easier to use.

One example of this comes from the Advisor Xi suite of tools from Envestnet | Tamarac.

Better Adoption Through Training

Let’s walk through an example. Open up the Advisor Xi Rebalancer, and you don’t exactly know where to begin.

Tamarac University Online includes hours of video tutorials to guide users through various features

Tamarac University Online includes hours of video tutorials to guide users through various features

If you plan on rebalancing client accounts, your household positions first need to be up to date. That requires an update from your portfolio management software. Time to get some training.

Then when client account positions are current, you next need to compare current allocations with each client’s target portfolio. Time to create and define model portfolios. That requires training.

Next, when you identify what trades to execute to rebalance accounts, you need to know how to generate a trade file and submit it to the appropriate custodian. Training is required here, too.

The lists of processes goes on, and without proper training, acclimating to Advisor Xi (and to be fair, other similarly complex tools, too) can take much longer than originally anticipated.

Training On Demand

Envestent | Tamarac knows this all to well, and for years has been hosting live training events called Tamarac University.

Advisers new to Envestnet | Tamarac, as well as those looking to sharpen their mastery of the Advisor Xi suite, are welcome to attend the company’s two-day classroom style curriculum for a nominal fee.

But for advisers and back office employees unable to travel to the company’s live events in Seattle and Chicago, Tamarac University was not an accessible option for training.

Now the company is providing access to comprehensive, on-demand training through a new massive online training course called Tamarac University Online.

Tamarac University Online

All clients can now access Tamarac University Online through the Support & Training Center. Once in the Support & Training Center, a Tamarac University tab launches clients into Tamarac University Online.

Tamarac University Online features modules for all three of the products in the Advisor Xi suite: Advisor CRM, Advisor Rebalancing, and Advisor View.

Inside each module are dozens of courses designed to cover the primary functionality of each product.

An example of the curriculum found in each of the Tamarac University Online modules.

An example of the curriculum found in each of the Tamarac University Online modules.

As they navigate through the online courses, users are challenged with “knowledge check” activities to validate their lesson retention, followed by a final exam at the end of each course.

At any time, users with administrator privileges can monitor the progress of employees and advisors as they complete their training. In addition, users can complete evaluations at the conclusion of each course to provide feedback to Envestnet | Tamarac on the quality and organization of the curriculum.

Training Anywhere

Envestent | Tamarac invested in high quality learning management software to deploy Tamarac University Online, so the interface and user experience are overall very attractive.

The software is also HTML5 compatible, meaning Tamarac University Online can be accessed from any mobile device using the mobile web browser, so training need not be limited to one’s office computer.

Pricing

Tamarac University Online is available to all users at no additional cost. What else is there to say?

Users gain access to comprehensive training materials which cover much of the curriculum offered in the live events without requiring the commitment of time and travel.

Nevertheless, connecting with other Envestnet | Tamarac users face to face is valuable in its own right, so the company will continue to host Tamarac University in Seattle and Chicago in the future.

If you’re a Tamarac Advisor Xi user and haven’t yet enrolled, contact customer service to get enrolled, or if you’re considering Advisor Xi for your office, ask for a brief introduction to the available training resources so you know how well you will be prepared to make a transition.

The adviser’s answer to Mint.com, Personal Capital, LearnVest, and other PFM apps

Mint.com is part of the explosion of personal financial management applications, or PFM, that are so popular among consumers. What is the financial adviser's answer to PFM apps?

Mint.com is part of the explosion of personal financial management applications, or PFM, that are so popular among consumers. What is the financial adviser’s answer to PFM apps?

Consumers are connected to their finances in ways never before possible.

New and innovative apps like Mint.com, Personal Capital, LearnVest and others can loosely be organized into a group of personal finance management, or PFM, tools.

Why Consumers Love PFM Apps

Mint.com alone has over 10 million registered users of its online and mobile app tools. Users can easily aggregate their checking, savings, credit, and loan accounts from a variety of providers and financial institutions, generating one dashboard to consolidate money management.

So when a user of these PFM apps decides it may be time to seek out services from a professional financial adviser, how will the adviser’s technology stack up to the expectations established by the PFM tools?

The Adviser’s Answer to PFM Apps

Fortunately, financial advisers do have tools at their disposal to give clients the convenience of consolidated account reporting. Clients can use them to view their account details at any time and on any device, be it a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

Advisers use the same tools to capture information on all of their clients’ holdings, and can then use the data to drive up-to-date financial plans, net worth statements, cash flow illustrations, and much more.

I covered one solution in this month’s column for Morningstar Advisor.

Read The Advisor’s Answer to Popular Personal Finance Management Tools at Morningstar.com to find out more information.

The adviser’s mobile world: Register for this free videocast

By the end of 2014, mobile devices will outnumber people on planet Earth.

What is your mobile strategy?

Watch The Adviser’s Increasingly Mobile World, a FREE videocast hosted by InvestmentNews, live on July 17 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Just visit the link above right before 4:30 p.m. ET, and barring any technical difficulties, watch the broadcast live at InvestmentNews.com

I will join panelists Blair duQuesnay, Sunit Bhalla, and Davis Janowski in this live discussion on all things mobile for financial advisers.

(view the promo on YouTube)

Salesforce, powered by Orion Connect, gets phone system integration and smarter email reports

I’m still not convinced that Salesforce, out of the box, is an attractive CRM for financial advisers.

Most firms need to customize much of what comes with the standard Salesforce package; some succeed after making substantial investments, while others give up, frustrated by the seemingly endless list of things to change (see: Salesforce for financial advisers solicits bipolar reactions; AppCrown attempts to resolve disjointed CRM).

Instead of customizing Salesforce in house, many advisers are leveraging third-party utilities found in the AppExchange. One of those utilities comes from Orion Advisor Services, called Orion Connect.

For details on Orion Connect and several new functions it offers, I spoke with Orion Advisor Services president and CEO Eric Clarke in the video spotlight below.

(click to watch on YouTube)

From the 2012 Gemini Orion Advisor Forum: Marty Kurtz of The Planning Center

Last week I attended the 2012 Gemini Orion Advisor Forum to get the latest scoop on developments to the Orion Advisor Services platfom. See tweets with the #goaf12 hashtag for some of the insight.

While at the event, I sat down with several Orion clients to get their feedback on how the portfolio service bureau has helped grow their business.

Here is Marty Kurtz, founder and president of The Planning Center, speaking with me about his firm’s success with Orion.

(click to watch on YouTube)

How not to be handcuffed by your legacy portfolio management system

One of the biggest assets you own as a financial adviser is the database that holds client portfolio information. As your business grows, so does the size and complexity of your database.

Meanwhile, new and existing portfolio management software vendors are updating their products to deliver lower cost and higher productivity to their adviser clients. In the past, if you wanted to take advantage of new products, you were looking at a long, costly conversion process for all of your legacy portfolio data.

Today, you have more options than ever to perform legacy portfolio database conversions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

This month’s Morningstar Advisor column addresses your database conversion options. Read Avoid Legacy Portfolio Software Constraints to discover how you can avoid being handcuffed by your legacy portfolio management system.

Orion Advisor Services now integrates with Salesforce through Orion Connect

Advisers using Salesforce and Orion Advisor Services portfolio software now have a new option to integrate their Orion data directly into the web-based CRM.

Orion Connect is a new app now available in the Salesforce appexchange, an online marketplace for applications built specifically for the Salesforce.com platform.

Orion Connect allows advisers to maintain portfolio data, open new accounts, view performance reporting, review billing (shown above) and more.

Advisers using either the Force.com web-based platform or SalesCloud enterprise CRM can now integrate portfolio functions from Orion. Existing users can add Orion Connect for a $15 per month per user fee.

Advisers who are not yet on either Salesforce platform have two options. They can contact Orion directly and subscribe to Force.com with Orion Connect for $25 per month per user, or purchase SalesCloud and Orion Connect from Salesforce for $140 per month per user.

In addition, Orion facilitates migrations from existing CRM systems through a partnership with Redkite, a third-party Salesforce solution provider.

Overall, Salesforce continues to struggle to gain a foothold in the financial adviser vertical (see Is Salesforce the future of adviser CRM?), yet features like the appexchange make it far easier for third party providers like Orion to create their own integrations. If the number of Salesforce integrations with adviser technology vendors continues to grow, Salesforce may soon receive a more inviting reception as a viable option for adviser CRM.

Video Spotlight: Eric Clarke, President of Orion Advisor Services, on additional integrations and mobile apps

I last spoke with Eric Clarke, President and CEO of Orion Advisor Services, at the TD Ameritrade Institutional 2012 Conference on his company’s integration with Veo® Open Access.

In my latest conversation with Clarke at the T3 Conference, he provides an overview how Orion delivers value-add services beyond performance reporting, including e-signautre support, rebalancing and trading engines, account billing, web portals, branded mobile apps for iOS and Android.

(click to view on YouTube)