CASE STUDY

 Advisors serving clients investing solely in mutual funds often prefer to do this business direct rather than through brokerage, minimizing fees and complexity for their clients. Direct business, however, can be cumbersome to set up, service and manage. Two sister broker/dealers found a solution in FundKeeper.  

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For CUSO Financial Services, LP (CFS) and Sorrento Pacific Financial, LLC (SPF), the status quo was not a viable option. The two sister companies—both subsidiaries of Atria Wealth Solutions and both introducing broker-dealers that provide financial services inside roughly 200 American credit unions and community banks—were at a structural, competitive disadvantage to self-clearing brokers when it came to opening mutual fund-only accounts.

Growth challenges

As the business grew, the account opening process for advisors, most of them using the laborious “check & app” approach, where customers invest directly with fund companies by filling out separate hard-copy applications for each fund they wanted to invest with, was clearly ready for an upgrade. The firms needed to create a more streamlined workflow for advisors, make it more efficient to get customer data to the home office, and make the process easier for investors too.

Another important consideration at the time was a proposal by the Department of Labor that would put additional oversight burdens on CFS and SPF for monitoring investment suitability. “We needed to get our arms around that and pull the levers we needed to pull to make sure we were addressing the Fiduciary Rule,” says Monica Daggs, Chief Administrative Officer at CFS.

To the rescue  

The two firms, CFS and SPF, could have simply continued with direct fund investment, but that wouldn’t have solved their problem, just increased its scale. “Check & app is great,” Daggs says, “until it’s not great anymore.”

Another option they briefly considered was directing all activity through their current brokerage platform provider, but after examining this option in detail, CFS and SPF determined that the economics were not favorable for clients when compared to the cost structure for deploying FundKeeper.

CFS and SPF moved forward with a rapid integration that leveraged FundKeeper’s Application Programming Interfaces, making for a tight integration with their existing platform.

The happy ending

Advisors and their clients have been using the FundKeeper portal to open and manage fund-only accounts for a little over six months now. Since deployment in September 2017, nearly half the CFS and SPF advisors are taking advantage of the platform. Having overseen other technology launches to the advisors in the network, Daggs calls that a big win: “Adoption has been better than any other platform we’ve rolled out. The overarching thing I hear is that it’s easy to use—it’s simple.”

For the home office, the biggest change that came from moving from check & app to FundKeeper was going from a system where every step was being done by hand to an automated process where only problems and exceptions get flagged, and where time isn’t wasted tracking and normalizing multiple file sets from multiple fund companies. CFS and SPF also appreciate the branding/marketing benefit of bringing the clients under a single umbrella in lieu of sending them off to deal with multiple fund families. As for the advisors, they clearly appreciate:

  • Not charging investor fees (except for IRAs);
  • Online access to consolidated account information;
  • Remote check capture and;
  • Automated transfers.

But mostly, Daggs says they’re just grateful that they can hand off account opening, confident it will be handled correctly.

Epilogue

For CFS and SPF—lessons learned from the FundKeeper deployment include the need for a more formalized training process around the rollout to drive even quicker adoption. And compliance is still using a trade blotter rather than leveraging FundKeeper’s full monitoring functionality (though, to be sure, FundKeeper’s electronic account creation will be a boon for compliance in the future to the extent they may need to search for data).

But all told, has FundKeeper lived up to Daggs’ expectations? “Absolutely,” she says. “It really does what they said it would do!”