Best and Worst Trust Software for 2012

Our new “Best and Worst Trust Accounting Software Survey” reveals vendors get ready for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android applications.

Competition between trust accounting platforms goes nuclear as banks and independent wealth managers look for ways to automate the heavy lifting and get back in front of their clients. Moving off the desktop and onto iPads is the next revolution, technology vendors say.

Trust officers who were once famously cautious when it comes to making big changes are suddenly open to ripping out and replacing the accounting system — the heart of their business — to get a competitive edge.

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As a result, software companies are racing to unveil tablet computer support and other high-tech enhancements while their prospective customers are still in the mood to shop around.

“Institutions across the board are definitely investigating what’s out there,” says Mike Dinges, president of trust accounting software vendor Infovisa, which is working hard on the iPad version of its system.

“We are on the edge of a revolution in terms of how everyone does business,” he adds. “There will be winners and losers.”

To track the vendors leading the way, we polled the industry and came up with a list of the top trust accounting software companies out there. You can see it by clicking here or on the thumbnail above.

Out of the back office…and out of the office entirely

The first battle of the revolution is being fought to get control of a 10-inch territory: iPad screens.

Infovisa, for example, is redesigning its Maui system to work on touchscreen tablets as well as desktop computers.

So is Citi, and other vendors like SunGard are actively building mobile device support into client-facing applications that talk to their core back office systems.

Part of this is a response to demand from advisors in love with their tablets and looking for ways to integrate them into their jobs, says Jennifer Valdez, who runs SunGard’s wealth management product line.

But getting advisors out from behind their desks and in front of clients is rapidly becoming a competitive necessity for firms looking to squeeze more face time out of their star relationship managers, Mike Dinges says.

“Community banks and other institutions are really waking up to the fact that their relationships are their key resource,” he explains.

“Putting the account statement on a portable device like the iPad makes it possible to have more meetings outside the traditional office setting. If the market shifts, you can just call your client and update him or her over coffee.”

Dinges admits that it’s harder than you might expect to think in tablet terms like “pinches” and “gestures” instead of mouse moves, but he expects the results to blow people away.

“We don’t do vapor products,” he says. “This will be real.”

Convergent systems for convergent shops

While the revolutionary developments are in the lab, trust software vendors are busy enough just answering the phone.

“In my 30 years in this business, I’ve never seen a time when people were so willing to evaluate new software,” says Ray Unger, head of AccuTech Systems.

“They’re getting squeezed on their margins and in some cases are having to find a way to meet new regulatory requirements,” he explains.

It isn’t just the traditional trust banks that are in play here.

Independent trust companies, advisory firms, wealth managers and family offices are flirting with software that was once designed exclusively for banks.

What intrigues these non-traditional customers is the way these platforms have evolved from bare-bones custody systems to support all the aspects of the wealth management process.

When we surveyed the scene a few months ago, these systems were already moving toward the front office to give trust providers a single-screen solution to just about everything.

Now, a typical “accounting” platform supports a full range of securities and mutual fund transaction support and processing, systemwide balancing, custody and asset safekeeping, client reporting and portfolio management.

“What we’re seeing is true convergence of technology,” says Jeff Bloedorn, who heads up trust and wealth management business development for FIS.

“That’s feeding a convergence in the types of institutions we see becoming interested in this software,” he explains.

“Small investors are growing up and demanding more trust capability while larger institutional guys are realizing they have personal advisory needs.”

Growing too fast?

The sheer volume of interest in this technology may be becoming a problem for vendors that pride themselves on their customer service.

One trust company that recently switched to AccuTrust’s platform tells us they probably wouldn’t have made the move from HWA’s TrustNet if they knew customer service would be so slow.

“We are still having issues,” the principals say. “It takes months to get responses.”

When I asked Ray Unger about it, he was horrified.

“I don’t want our growth to be an excuse, but it is part of the explanation,” he says.

“We have our customers to answer to, and our goal is to make sure that over the long haul everyone we have a relationship with is satisfied.”

Family offices come into their own

Meanwhile, the big vendors keep making incremental changes to keep up with what their rivals are doing.

For example, FIS recently gave TrustDesk users the power to create “shadow” accounts for their clients’ assets held elsewhere — a version of the “unified household account” approach that giants like Citi and Sungard offer.

Multi-currency support is another hot differentiator, with platforms like TrustPortal and Innovest’s InnoTrust winning high marks.

Family offices and foundations are especially interested in buying into “trust” systems because they need the ability to administer the distributions as well as track the investments — and they rarely have legacy systems in place to rip out and replace.

“Attorneys and CPAs are doing more family office business and need the ability to automate their activities as the number of accounts grows,” says Rich McCabe at Delta Data.

Platforms like Delta’s Trust Accountant and HWI’s Trust Processor give these non-traditional customers a low-cost way to manage relatively small books of business and, ideally, scale up.

Scott Martin, senior editor, The Trust Advisor Blog. Steve Maimes contributed to the research.

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