When Kyle Wesley joined New Jersey-based Bleakley Financial Group as a digital platform manager in 2016, the firm’s primary trading tool wasn’t quite what he was hoping for—both in terms of speed and overall efficiency.
The biggest thing the platform lacked, however, was flexibility. For instance, if clients wanted to sacrifice short-term capital gains to keep a particular asset—like a security or real-estate investment—they might have to abandon their model entirely.
“If we have a high-net-worth client who’s looking primarily at an overall household goal, we may not want to be tied to any one model,” says Wesley, who was recently promoted to chief digital officer. “We know where their allocations should be. What we needed was a system with more flexibility.”
Bigger and better
To that end, Wesley and his team began researching potential alternatives to the firm’s existing system. Their search eventually led them to RedBlack, a company specializing in investment management solutions. Launched in 2007, RedBlack’s rules-based system allows portfolio managers to enter equivalencies and restrictions in a more dynamic way.
Say you own shares in a global technology company. Even if Bleakley’s model portfolio doesn’t include that security, RedBlack can still factor it in along any number of vehicles: blending it across domestic equity, restricting it against other asset classes, and so on.
“We want to give clients as much flexibility as possible,” Wesley says. “We do that by creating equivalencies against other asset classes, to make sure the portfolio is properly balanced.”
The next level
According to Wesley, the challenge of rebalancing portfolios at scale has long been an Achilles heel for the industry—despite the staggering evolution of individual trading platforms. When a firm has more than 10,000 accounts on its books (as Bleakley does), each of which can contain any number of number of mutual funds, equities or bonds, the issue becomes even more pronounced.
With RedBlack, managers can take a fixed model—say, a portfolio that’s 70 percent stocks and 30 percent bonds—and either change the ratios outright or keep the ratio while certain factors remain constant (like holding on to Apple stock) and compensating elsewhere.
“In the past, platforms would make adjustments that, for example, would result in decreased tax advantages,” Wesley explains. “Now, we can make adjustments portfolio by portfolio. There’s some legwork to do up front in terms of setting the rules, but once they’re set, you’re good to go.”
Up to speed
The transition hasn’t been without its challenges, however. After rolling out the system this past May, Wesley helped organize a series of webinars designed to bring Bleakley employees up to speed on the new platform.
After that, he’ll pay a visit to each of the firm’s 11 satellite locations to walk advisors through the company’s ever-changing technology landscape (including the nuances of RedBlack): how to rebalance books of business, model creation and management, setting equivalencies and restrictions—the list goes on.
In addition, Wesley and his team launched an intranet site—accessible only to Bleakley personnel—that includes training videos for everything from navigating the client portal, to how to rebalance RedBlack and best practices for all of the company’s tech platforms.
“Our goal is to create a support line where people can get answers to any question they have, so they can better communicate expectations to the clients themselves,” Wesley says. “It’s all about encouraging best practices.”
Connecting the dots
With RedBlack fully operational, Wesley is shifting his focus to another project aimed at making life easier for Bleakley’s advisors: a revamped customer relationship management (CRM) system. While its current platform has been more than adequate, Wesley says the firm wanted more flexibility in how the CRM “tied everything together”—advisors, clients, sales trends and the like.
By adding applications that augment or enhance existing processes, Wesley hopes to gain greater insight into how advisors operate, such as who’s bringing in the most business and how prospective clients are being engaged and serviced.
What’s more, Wesley hopes to incorporate many of RedBlack’s functionalities into the CRM itself, creating even more efficiencies for Bleakley’s growing team of advisors.
“It’s great to give teams a better idea of what’s going on,” Wesley says. “This way, they’re not toggling back and forth between our reporting system, CRM and the trading platform. All of these tools will be available in one place.”
Painting a picture
Wesley’s next big initiative—currently underway and slated to be completed in 2020, thanks to help from Orion Advisor Services—will focus on using the firm’s growing data troves to create more detailed reporting: how a portfolio is performing relative to other vehicles, trends of individual assets and so on.
The goal, he says, is to show clients the information they want to see in a way that’s easy to understand.
“Internally, there’s so much data, if you’re not familiar with it, it can be overwhelming,” Wesley says. “We’re working with a company called Orion, which is one of our key strategic partners and one of the best open-architecture platforms out there, to generate reports that save everyone time.”
If all this makes Wesley sound as much like a trading expert as a tech one, there’s a pretty good explanation: Long before he made the pivot to digital technology, Wesley was well on his way to a livelihood in finance, starting his career as an associate at UBS Wealth Management before spending two years as a senior trader at LPL Financial.
“For me, that finance background helps me see the bigger picture more clearly,” Wesley says. “It’s never as simple as A to B. There are always anomalies, no matter what your practice looks like or the tools you have. The challenge is figuring out why you do the things you do, and how to leverage technology in the most effective way possible.”
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