Is Your RIA Computer System Holding You Back?

Is Your RIA Computer System Holding You Back?

As a leading software provider to the RIA industry, we get a broad view of advisor office setups around the country. For the most part, the technology is up-to-date and efficient. Yet it’s not unusual to visit small- to mid-sized offices where IT expertise is limited, and occasionally we find systems that are simply not up to the task.

Convenience and Habit Over Better Solutions

For instance, I remember an onboarding visit where I was helping an RIA set up our rebalancing and trading software and I was surprised to see one of the firm’s principals working at his desk at a mini-computer. While this might have been a perfectly acceptable computer for road trips, it was a real handicap as an executive’s main desktop solution. For one thing, the tiny screen may have been clipping important functions from the various software solutions whose menus and graphics are designed for larger screens. Eyestrain had to be a risk, considering the condensation of the font. The user was also using the touchpad rather than a mouse, a slower and less accurate interface. The miniature keyboard was also an efficiency liability in terms of speed and accuracy, to say nothing of the missing keys, such as the number pad.

This is a case where convenience and habit may have championed over better solutions or even better instincts. Another case was the office we visited where everyone, including operations staff and analysts, was working on single monitors when dual monitors are now the standard. For professionals who are often jumping from program to program or having to compare data and information from different sources, a single monitor can really slow down productivity.  When you compare the amount of monthly investment in software licensing (to say nothing of the personnel cost of lost efficiency) against the amortized cost of monitors over their multiple years of life, this was really a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Computer and Internet Speed Issues

Our help desk takes a lot of calls in a week and most issues have ready and proven solutions. But if someone is calling with computer speed problems and they’re working from an older computer that has, for instance, just 4G of RAM, there’s little we can do remotely. While many software programs have a minimum requirement which may indeed be 4G, the suite of programs that are often in use can overwhelm this amount of memory. An updated computer would provide at least 16G of RAM, solving this particular problem.

Speaking of speed, Internet connectivity is an essential component of software operation, especially with recent trends towards cloud-based software. We once found ourselves with regular speed issues with a particular RIA until we discovered they were using a 25 MB/second connection, which would possibly be adequate for a single home user whose interests were Internet browsing and email.  Their issues disappeared when they upgraded to a business broadband connection. We also had a case where an RIA was attempting to execute trades from a rather shaky wi-fi hotspot while on a camping trip in Canada. The possibilities of interrupted service or data speed issues were simply not worth the risk.

Upgrading Your RIA Computer System

While it’s not necessary to have the absolute latest and fanciest computer system, it does make sense to have the functionality to support staff productivity and the expanding array of software solutions an RIA uses routinely. This is also true for operating systems — a recent debilitating ransomware attack on a major hospital was blamed on their reliance on outdated Windows XP systems. We have sometimes spoken to RIAs who are interested in the possibility of moving outside a Windows system, which is generally discouraged since so much of our industry’s software is native in a Microsoft environment.

Occasionally we’ll have someone ask us when they will know it’s time to upgrade their computers. While it’s hard to make absolute rules, increasing issues with speed or memory may be a sign of problems. It makes sense to budget hardware turnover on a regular basis — five years seems to be a reasonable top-end time frame with today’s equipment and software demands.