Category: Portfolio Management Systems


This article is a follow-up to two previous articles: one that addresses the future of Axys and another that helps Axys users figure out whether they are on the right version of Axys for their firm.

Almost two years ago, I speculated on what would begood-bad-uglycome of Axys and whether Advent Software would answer to a growing demand among the Axys user base for major product enhancements after several years of minimal but consistent maintenance updates.

Among other things, my blog detailed an expectation for the same old thing as we have seen in the past – a maintenance release – but I also hoped that we would see a major release.  Since the current version was 3.8.5, it made some sense that version 4.0 might be the next release.

At their conference in 2013, Advent formally announced a major release that would include a user interface (UI) overhaul and the addition of permissions.  Advent also indicated that Axys 14.1 would be released in Q2 of 2014.  This was good news to many Axys clients.  I was off by 10 versions, but happy nonetheless that a major new release was in the works!

While I commend the UI overhaul and see those changes as a necessity given today’s technology standards, permissions have never been that big a deal to me or the clients I work with.  As the go-to technical resource for many firms that use Axys, I found we could almost always work around this issue.  The announcement of a major release no doubt made users hopeful that Axys would get the long-awaited attention it required.

 

Understanding Advent’s new versions…

Advent has embraced a versioning system that makes 14.1 the next release after 3.8.5.  From 2014 forward, there are two scheduled point releases one in Q2 and another in Q4. Advent’s other products also share a similar versioning and release schedule.

 

2014

As April 2014 went by I needed to remind myself that there were three months in Q2, and the release could just as easily come out in June.  Like many users I waited and listened, but heard no great news about 14.1.  As it turned out, 14.1 was a beta with no more than a handful of users outside of Advent partner firms participating in testing.   14.2 was released on a limited basis.  Thanks to the new version numbers, some Axys 3.8.5 users were thinking, “Wow! The latest release is 14; we really have fallen behind.”

Relatively speaking, a very small group of users had begun using Axys v14.x.

2015

Axys 15.1 was also released on a limited basis.  Those Axys users that want to try out the latest Axys version now need to fill out a questionnaire detailing information that helps Advent determine whether the software in its current iteration will work satisfactorily enough for them to allow or discourage testing of the Axys in each particular user’s environment.


Ten Things You Should Know About Axys 15.x

  1. The UI is a ribbon bar similar in style to more recent versions of Office.
  2. Though the software and data still resides locally, Axys 14.x and beyond require an internet connection to authenticate users via Advent Direct.
  3. The file formats are the same as Axys 3.8.5; that is one piece of good news for integrators.
  4. The ancillary products that work with Axys remain the same for now. Report Writer Pro, DTCC, Dataport and Data Exchange. There has been no change to those products yet.
  5. Reports can now be produced from the Axys program rather than the reports program (rep32.exe) alone.
  6. The function of specifying lots when positions are sold off has changed. It is no longer a pop-up.  Now users must specify the close method in a comment line that immediately follows the transaction.
  7. An additional server running SQL CE is recommended for the parallel testing phase.
  8. Scheduled scripts need to be amended to include authentication credentials.
  9. It is not available to Axys users running the single user version, but support for single user installs is planned for v15.2.
  10. Advent recommends running Axys 15.1 in a test environment for at least a quarter.

Axys users should understand the need to do a phased and methodical release.  This need is predicated on how long Axys has been around and how many programs and interfaces connect with it.  As it was designed and marketed to be, Axys is still the hub of operations for many firms.  By and large, Axys users have had the product for several years and many have built and or purchased additional tools that integrate with Axys.

Advent wants users to start using 15.x, but only after they have thoroughly tested all of their processes.  The easiest way to accomplish that, as Advent recommends, may be running Axys 15.x in parallel with Axys 3.x for an entire quarter.  One of the best things Axys has going for it is the fact that it works so reliably.  With that in mind, the last thing Advent would want to do is destabilize the platform and call their clients’ favorite thing about Axys into question.  However, a greater sense of urgency with respect to facilitating Axys 15.x implementations and bringing more substantive enhancements to Axys would be refreshing to see.

In 2013, Advent made an informal and perhaps unspoken promise to continue to make substantial improvements to the Axys platform through announcing their upgrade plans and committing additional resources to make enhancements to Axys.  Though Axys users can clearly see the signs that Advent has made a significant additional technology investment in Axys, the majority of Axys users have not been able to take advantage of those improvements yet.

Future improvements aside, the primary reasons to stay the course with Axys remain the same as they have for quite some time:

  1. it is an established standard
  2. function over form
  3. simple to host and maintain
  4. relatively low-cost versus most emerging alternatives
  5. a platform you can build on

Firms that want to adopt the latest version of Axys in 2015 will need to work to make it happen.  I suspect that the best-case scenario for many firms would be for them to start testing with 15.x in 2015 and eventually go live in 2016 after year end processing has been completed.  Given the competitive nature of today’s portfolio management systems, the slow motion release of major Axys updates could lead to more firms leaving Axys (and possibly Advent) to pursue alternative solutions with enticing features they may be able to take advantage of on a more predictable timetable.



About the Author: Kevin Shea is the Founder and Principal Kevin Shea Impact 2010Consultant of Quartare; Quartare provides a wide variety of technology solutions to investment advisors nationwide.

For details, please visit Quartare.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@quartare.com.

Earlier this year, Advent sent an alert to Axys users about Windows 8 issues and how to deal with them, as an interim solution to problems that Windows 8 users can face.  It is good that Advent is proactively alerting users, but I am not recommending that any of my clients move to Windows 8 just yet. Upgrading your office to Windows 8 is premature, unless you are willing to pay the premium and deal with the frustrations typically associated with being an early adopter of the latest Windows operating system.

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If your firm uses Axys, you may be wondering whether a new release is in the works. Though Advent hasn’t publicly set a release date for the next version yet, I expect they soon will. Based on what Advent has done in the past, users should expect a 3.9 release in the near future. That release will likely support Office 2013, and Adobe Acrobat 11, and may also feature improved Windows 8 compatibility.

Though these types of updates seem minimal, they have more substance than you might think. Axys remains a very functional and cost-efficient option for advisors. Compound reports generated in Axys 3.8.5 using Excel 2010 graphs rival output from APX at a fraction of the cost. If your compound reports look dated, find out what version of Excel you are using. Using the latest version of Excel in conjunction with a version of Axys that supports it can give your reports a newer look and feel.

Axys 4?

I would like to think that Axys 4 is in the works, but a major revision would probably mean a name change – perhaps “Cloud Axys?” Longer-term, expect Axys to undergo a technology transformation if Advent wants to keep the platform alive and decides to commit greater resources to future updates that keep pace with technology trends. While the number of APX, Geneva and Black Diamond users have continued to grow, Axys users still account for a considerable number of Advent’s clients.

Historically, Axys was the lynchpin of Advent Software’s success and center of their hub of solutions for their customers. Replacing the PMS of an investment advisor is more complicated than it seems.  It impacts many of the systems at an advisor’s office, as well as the people you need to support your business, the skills they need, and what third-party solutions are available.

It would be ideal for Advent if Axys customers moved to another Advent product in the future. Those conversions and newer software licensing agreements would generate more income, while eventually allowing Advent to phase out Axys without major renovations.  However, Axys users looking at APX, Black Diamond and Geneva don’t always see a clear path.

In the past two years, Tamarac/Envestnet and other competitors have won over some Axys customers. My firsthand knowledge of a couple of advisors who made the move to Tamarac leads me to believe that Advent didn’t need to lose these customers. Through better communication, negotiation or product positioning, they could have kept the business.  On that note, I spoke with an Axys user last week that requested an APX quote after seeing a demo in Q2 and never got one.

Perception is Reality

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“Be where your enemy is not.” -Sun Tzu

Current Axys users represent a ground of contention that will not be ignored by Advent’s competitors and should not be ignored by Advent. At stake is the perception of who provides the very best PMS platforms for investment advisors.  Advent may be willing to let some of their Axys clients go quietly, but in doing so they risk losing those relationships long-term, if not permanently, as well as other advisors in their sphere of influence.  Axys users represent a critical mass that could fuel the growth of  Advent’s competition in the near future.  Left unchecked, Advent competitors garnering Axys users now could ultimately vie for current APX, Geneva, and Black Diamond users down the road.

Obviously, Advent cannot be all things to all customers, but they can make a better effort to keep existing Axys clients in the fold.  In order to do so, Advent must improve communications with Axys users, affirm their commitment to Axys, and continue to add technology enhancements to Axys on a regular basis.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide.

For details, please visit isitc.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

iStock_000021815840XSmallAll things change – even things at the SEC.   Previously, investment managers could upload text (aka ASCII) files detailing their holdings to Edgar.  This quarter, a change was made, requiring the file to be formatted in XML.  Investors have 45 days from the end of the quarter to file their 13F reports, so Q2 reports are due today.

Some users that attempted to get these reports done earlier in Q3 expressed frustration with the XML issue and their ability to get more proactive assistance from Advent to address it.  Last week, as the filing deadline approached, Advent reached out to clients, alerting them of the change and directing them to an ASCII to XML conversion tool to facilitate the process.  In my own experience with Advent’s support team, I found them both helpful and knowledgeable in regard to the 13F reporting issues.

Though Advent’s documentation states that the 13F report and conversion tool requires Axys 3.8.5 or higher, the report from Axys 3.8.5 worked fine when we used it on Axys 3.7 with a client.  APX users can use the same utility.  The utility was simple to use and worked well;  the biggest challenge for users is finding the file they need to convert.

The 13F reporting mechanism is functional, but the setup seems cryptic and disjointed.  First-time users expecting a turn-key, intuitive solution will be disappointed.  Fortunately, the details of what is required to produce 13F reports are well-documented in Advent’s help file.

How 13F Reporting Works…

By default, the 13F report only includes the equity asset class.   It is possible to exclude individual securities through the use of the 13F.est file, but it is not possible to include individual securities.  Additional asset classes may be added.  Report-specific labels must be added to the 13F portfolio file to make the report work properly.

When the supporting files are properly configured, the report produces detailed holdings and simultaneously generates an inftable.txt file with the same information.  This file is placed in the specific user folder (i.g. f:\axys3\users\amy) of the person running the report on the network version of Axys or the root folder of Axys on the single-user version of Axys.  When users have generated a 13F report without missing data or error messages, they are ready run to the conversion utility to produce the inftable.xml file and upload the information to the Edgar site.

This quarter, running and filing 13F reports was more challenging than it has been in the past, since users were forced to correctly implement the 13F report in order to successfully generate an XML file.  Based on my experience with users, this was something they had not been doing in the past.  Most users would run the report to get something close to what they needed and then manually modify the text file, rather than keep all of the information updated in the 13F portfolio and 13F.est files.  Going forward, the process will still require that new securities and relevant asset classes be classified specifically for the 13F report, but future report runs should be simpler.

For more info on 13F reporting, refer to the SEC’s document detailing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide.

For details, please visit isitc.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.

black coffee,glasses and newspaper on business fileI have been talking about the evolution of investment reporting for years and telling anyone who would listen that their clients will soon have other investment reporting options.  My dream or vision of the future includes me (of course) providing the interface to facilitate getting data from financial services firms to a secure data warehouse via xPort where their clients could download the data for analysis on an open reporting platform.

As I discussed this with one of my clients at a recent Schwab conference, they shared their concerns with me.   I was told, “It’s basically a problem of apples and oranges.”

My long-time client and friend explained to me that they would have concerns that data they reviewed and corrected (“apples”) might be reported as uncorrected data (“oranges”).

Though data aggregators exist and have much of the data required, they won’t have it all unless advisors participate and cooperate in the process.  Reconciliation needs to be performed and maintained on an ongoing basis with respect to assets under management, inception-to-date performance, and tax cost.  No one is more motivated and qualified to maintain that data integrity than the advisors whose decisions, service, and bottom line are impacted by the quality of that data.

Big Brother will have access to this data too – that’s not part of my plan, but just a given eventuality and perhaps already a reality.  Regulatory powers will employ predictive analytics to proactively search for potential fraud.  For example, an advisor reporting the same exact composite return two years in a row is possible, but highly unlikely and worth investigating.  When more scrutiny is applied to this data, one can only hope that the benefits of additional regulation will outweigh the compliance headaches.

Enter SigFig

SigFigAccording to their web site, SigFig was born out of the noble desire to serve the millions of investors that don’t meet typical portfolio minimums and cannot afford quality investment advice.  Your clients may be using SigFig already.  If you haven’t seen it, SigFig is to investment reporting what Mint is to personal financial reporting.  Unfortunately for investment advisors, SigFig has a similar business model, meaning that investors do not pay for the service, but instead get solicited with offers that appear relevant to their investments; for example, “this fund is outperforming your fund “or “your investment advisor is overcharging you.”

Using SigFig, investors can view a dashboard summary of investment reporting information that looks better than what many investment advisors currently provide to their clients.  However, as one familiar the details of performance calculations, client billing, and reconciliation, I am naturally concerned about possible data quality issues.  The idea of replacing the sound advice of an investment professional with algorithms designed to place ads – even though those ads are intended to be unbiased – seems inherently flawed.

To learn more, you can check out SigFig here:

www.sigfig.com

In my preferred vision, advisors would pay an interface fee and their participating clients would purchase SAAS reporting or a Droid/iOS app.  Idyllic as it might seem, this version of the future would allow investment advisors and their clients to share views of reports created by impartial third-party reporting sources.

SigFig is a step in the right direction, and should serve as warning to investment advisors that more robust investment reporting information will be delivered to their clients whether they participate in the process themselves or allow their clients to find it on their own.

The Best Investment Reports

It makes perfect sense that your firm should want to provide the best reports possible to your clients, without incurring an unreasonable expense or maintaining an unmanageable reporting process.  Unfortunately, what’s best for your firm and what’s best your client may be two different things. You want to validate your investment methodology and highlight the value continued use of your firm offers, but you also need to keep your client’s best interests in mind.  More than one advisor I have worked with in the past has chosen to shy away from slick, eye-popping reports, instead favoring black-and-white reports where simple numbers alone underscore performance.  In the opinion of these advisors, the relationship with a client is more important than fancy reporting and such reports can distract investors.

Call modern reports a prudent best practice or self-serving marketing effort designed to ensure your firm’s survival.  The truth is that they are a little of both.  Clients expect decent reporting, so substandard reports are now passé.  Quarterly report packages like those I have helped clients create for twenty years are also known as presentations, and perhaps that is a better name for them.  It describes what investors are really trying to do at quarter end.

Sample Client Reporting Presentation

Sample Client Reporting Presentation

Every quarter, advisors have an obligation and opportunity to make a presentation of how their clients’ investments are doing.  Most advisors also write a quarterly letter in which they address the near-term market conditions and reasonable expectations for the future while trying to impart some relevant wisdom to their investors.  Advisors are, in fact, presenting and remarketing to their clients on a quarterly basis.  Good presentations typically illustrate an advisor’s general knowledge of the markets, educate clients, and show how the advisor adds value.  The reports included in these presentations also present holdings analyses that provide clients with additional insight into their investments, but, most importantly, these reports provide the client with performance figures and comparative benchmarks for various time periods.

Report Development or Adoption

For some firms, proprietary custom report writing is required to meet the needs outlined above.  With this requirement comes the necessity to employ staff or contract with vendors to produce and maintain the reports.  The effort to produce high-quality reports can be daunting whether the project is handled internally or outsourced.  Many custom reports, by definition, are in flux.  In a typical quarter, custom reports may undergo additional feature enhancements and require maintenance modifications or bug fixes.  In order to maintain custom reporting systems, an ongoing commitment of time and money is necessary.

Advisors may want to create distinct custom reports that are part of their brand, but given the potential complexity and cost of creating those reports – the best investment reports for those with limited funds are the ones that already exist.

About the Author: Kevin Shea is President of InfoSystems Integrated, Inc. (ISI); ISI provides a wide variety of outsourced IT solutions to investment advisors nationwide.

For details, please visit isitc.com, contact Kevin Shea via phone at 617-720-3400 x202 or e-mail at kshea@isitc.com.