Time for a New Take on Trust

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26 August 2014
William Trout
Five years after the end of the financial crisis, bank trust companies are taking steps to update their technology platforms. That’s a good thing as most of the trust accounting systems currently in place were implemented pre-2007, and the ability to track assets quickly, efficiently, and accurately is critical given today’s complex compliance and security requirements. Thinner margins and heightened client service expectations are also driving the push toward modernization. Small wonder that an executive with a leading platform vendor estimates that a third of wealth management firms using legacy trust accounting systems are in discussions with vendors to replace them. The issue is not solely one of age, however. Trust accounting systems were not designed to manage investments, much less to serve as the backbone of a modern wealth management practice. Over the years, bank trust companies have compensated by deploying a dizzying array of back office systems (in some cases 50 or more), each with their own coding requirements. The result has been "systems spaghetti" and on the front end, old-school client service defined by manual processes and static performance reporting. Trust platform vendors have ramped up efforts to tackle the technology and service deficit through the delivery of end-to-end solutions that embed onboarding, CRM and reporting tools directly into the trust accounting workflow, or what industry professionals call the "vertical stack". These newest trust accounting platforms do offer banks significant operational efficiencies but are for several reasons no panacea. First, efficiency in technology terms does not neatly translate into advisor productivity. Second, most gains are incremental: it is not possible to outsource everything and many of the major efficiencies such as straight through processing have been achieved already. Most critically, these efficiency improvements do not address the fundamental challenge facing the business: misalignment with the client viewpoint and interests. Clients tend to see investments they hold within an institution as a whole, not in terms of separate brokerage, trust, or bank channels. They want to manage assets across platforms, receive a single statement from their financial institution, and so forth. The point is that while the immediate prospects for efficiency gains rest in the traditional vertical stack, the client’s desired perspective is horizontal. It’s time to look past existing frames of reference and imagine whatcouldbe. Steve Jobs did it with Apple, and Jeff Bezos is doing it with Amazon. Where is the technology leader with a new vision for the bank trust company?

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