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Powering the platforms: Enlisting in SEI’s ‘platform bootcamp’

Seath-Miranda

This week’s look at the technology behind the platforms focuses on SEI, the Philadelphia-based firm that powers True Potential, Fusion and Towry’s offerings in the UK. SEI’s model and approach differs from the technology firms powering the adviser wrap platforms: Bravura, FNZ, GBST and IFDS.

It is familiar to many because of its trading, custody and dealing capabilities, but is increasingly focused on taking its packaged platform solution – the SEI Wealth Platform – to market. SEI’s focus chimes with a growing interest from advisory firms with significant scale in pursuing a vertically integrated model.

SEI describes the wealth platform as “multi-channel”, enabling advisers to offer a “B2B2C” proposition through it should they wish to. For example, clients can use it on their mobiles to top up a cash Isa. That said, SEI is keen to stress advisers have full oversight and control of assets.

Asset management is central to SEI’s proposition. It also offers cash management and timely execution of trades, and can facilitate any type of security or product including ETFs and investment trusts.

The wealth platform is open API, which means it can integrate with third party CRM systems and financial planning tools. Systems that can speak to one another should minimise dreaded re-keying. Essentially, it is an out-of-the-box solution that SEI tells us is highly configurable, meaning advisory firms can customise it to suit their needs. The platform has a range of integration services that allow advisers to link to their chosen practice management system and financial planning tools.

Before signing on the dotted line, advice firms must undergo a sort of platform bootcamp SEI terms the “discovery process”. This takes two to three weeks and helps both parties to work out whether it is going to be the right fit. As part of this process, firms do detailed cashflow modelling to look at future profitability and growth prospects.

SEI is also clear that while there are additional revenue opportunities through becoming the platform operator, there could also be additional costs in the middle office and in oversight and regulation, as the firm will have to take on platform permissions.

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The FCA requires advice firms to assess platform suitability for clients. For a large firm with a diverse client base, it is highly likely that using one platform would necessitate the firm becoming restrictive and this is a consideration. Firms must also assess whether a vertically integrated model is right for the clients they serve.

The SEI Wealth Platform’s UK proposition director Kevin Russell stresses that an appetite for change is key. He says: “There has to be the appetite for change within the firm and some firms don’t want to take on extra permissions… There is some sort of transformation programme that they need to commit to.”

According to one adviser we spoke to who had investigated the possibility of partnering with SEI a few years ago, £1bn in assets under advice used to be the entry-level for using the wealth platform. But SEI tells us it no longer requires a specific level of assets. More important is a strategic fit and a partnership approach.

SEI’s willingness to consider advisory businesses with fewer assets under advice may well result from its forays into robo-advice. A newly minted robo-adviser does not have any assets at launch. SEI has announced partnerships with Netwealth and Munnypot this year but it tells us it thought long and hard about whether to play in the robo space. Undoubtedly it does its homework. Its current crop of robo-advisers (another is reportedly in the pipeline) are very different in profile. This is a smart move as it is still unclear which robo-advice models will win.

SEI has an ambitious target of doubling the assets on its platform by 2020. In the UK it will have to focus on customer retention and it will be fighting hard to re-contract Towry after the Tilney Bestinvest acquisition. The robo sphere is a gamble that could pay off but SEI is not putting all its eggs in one basket. It also sees the opportunity in workplace. And with its own master trust in place it could be well positioned to make strides here.

Miranda Seath is senior researcher at Platforum

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