Open Architecture? Isn’t that a Computer Term?
This will be the third and final blog post on ideas that came out of the recent Family Office eXchange workshop that we recently attended in NYC. In my latest post, I mentioned that this term through me for a bit of a loop when I first heard it during the personal intros that all the participants were asked to make.
A man was describing the Multi-Family Office that he worked for, and was proudly stating that they were 100% “open architecture”. I recognized that phrase, having heard it in the past, but I was pretty sure that it had something to do with computer programming.
Putting it into the context of what the man was saying, and hearing it again a couple of other times later that first morning, it began to make sense to me. But the surprising part for me was not that this firm was 100% “open architecture”; it was that any other firm would NOT be. Let me explain.
This man was right to be proud of his firm, because their policy was to offer their clients all sorts of investment products and services, offered by all sorts of companies. That sounds great, and it is. But what, then, do other firms do? This sounds like a great idea, offering your clients choices, allowing them to pick and choose various investment products and services from every possible vendor.
But that is my point. It is so obvious to me, and hopefully anyone reading this, that this is the way that advisors can best serve the needs of their clients. So why doesn’t everyone do it?
My father used to say that there are really only two reasons to do something: for love, or for money. When some advisor suggests that you invest in the financial products that just happen to come from the same employer that they work for, do you think that they are doing it for love? Me neither.
The move to open architecture is long overdue, but it is proceeding at a snail’s pace. A Google search of the term landed me on the website of a large US trust company, which had a brief document that talked about the use of open architecture by trustees.
“Conflicts of interest often occur when institutions offer only proprietary (in-house) products”. It also spoke of “clients’ uneasiness over lack of objectivity”, and ended with a statement about a new definition of the term “trusted advisor” that “provides the best advice possible without limitations on choices of investment options”
That document was dated less than a year ago. What took you so long? Then I came across a recent issue of Barron’s magazine with a story on the subject. It noted that some firms started offering open architecture “Ten or more years ago”, but that others are just getting around to it.
Unfortunately for Canadians, many investment trends seem to take a while to reach across the border. A bit like multi-family offices. But they do go well together. We don’t have any products to sell, so it’s a no-brainer for us.
Back to my dad again: “Selling is reducing your inventory. Marketing is solving the customer’s problem.” Personally, I hate selling, and I always have. The only thing we are “selling” now is our services, which, when you think about it, is really marketing. We know that there are people facing the same sorts of situations and problems that we have dealt with for years. And we know that we can help solve them.
I always did like marketing better than selling.