Nevin Freeman and I arrived late this afternoon at the Technology Tools for Today conference in time for the last break-out session of the day.

We chose to ease into the action by attending a 4:30 p.m. breakout session presented by Matt Abar of Finfolio. I previously wrote about this software maker [The executive Advent bought and buried is back with a vengeance] and Nevin completed a review of his company during the fall [Finfolio looks to offer unprecedented flexibility and power, with an intuitive interface].

Abar is aiming to make his system so easily extendable that it can do everything an RIA needs without authenticating multiple systems. Having all the data is in a single database avoids the necessity of exporting and importing it. This can reduce costs, time and the potential for errors.

Abar is attempting to create this higher level of technology for the industry and he is trying to come back strong after a rough experience of selling his former company, Techfi to Advent Software. The San Francisco-based giant eventually discontinued his products which left his former clients unsupported by a mother company.

Really got it right

Abar referred to his attempts to resurrect and perfect Techfi.

“We’ve already done the company but we didn’t do it right but we really got it right this time,” he said.

Stand by. He currently has six firms who run his software constantly and conversions to his system will begin in earnest during the second quarter.

After the session Abar was approached by George Gay, a Colorado-based RIA who is looking at Finfolio because he is concerned for the future of Advent Axys. His concern is that Advent will turn all its attention upmarket to its newer [and more expensive] AXP product. Gay is also concerned about the ability of Advent’s portfolio management system to integrate well with other applications.

Talk to Axys

“We had to pay someone to get Salesforce to talk to Axys,” he says.

One note about the session: it was in a room that sat right on the fairway of the Torrey Pines Course and the Pacific Ocean. Better yet, it had a giant window that allowed natural light to flow in – almost unheard of in the conference world where it is presumed that people grow like mushrooms.

Once inside the exhibit hall, we conversed with a number of industry participants to better understand what makes this conference hum. It was actually difficult at times to grab people because the traffic to their booths had them preoccupied.

One reason for the strong interaction of this conference is that it isn’t one, according to Brent Burns, president of Asset Dedication, a separate account manager of bonds based in Mill Valley, Calif.

It’s a trade show

“Here it’s a trade show,” he says. “People are really looking to talk to the vendors here. Here the gloves are down.”

The very next conversation we had was with Ray Gilmour, principal of Trellis Advisors LLC, which manages $63 million of assets from Seattle and the take from the consumer side was surprisingly similar.

At other conferences he doesn’t feel like the vendors are going to engage in the same kinds of conversations with him.

“It feels more two-way here,” he says. “I can say: this isn’t working for me” to existing vendors. He can learn whether non-working elements are due to his lack of training on the technology or something that deserves to be improved. His vendors include: Junxure, MoneyGuide Pro and Schwab PortfolioCenter.

Overheard

I overheard another RIA talking to a fellow advisor and explaining that his mission in coming to the conference was to choose a portfolio management system. His choice was down to Morningstar and one other brand. The RIA didn’t feel like he had nearly enough information to make a decision.

This kind of conviction from RIAs about making technology choices is what makes the trip to La Jolla worth it for Stephen T. Chance, director of sales for Albridge Solutions. His Lawrenceville, N.J.-based firm sells portfolio management systems primarily to hybrid RIAs with $200 million or more of assets.

“We’ve always had success here,” he says. “We usually pull some clients out of here.”