Heather’s note: RIABiz’s new Breakaway Stories section provides a quick-glance reference on break away advisor stats (i.e. assets under management, who they broke away from, etc.) Starting with today’s review on TD Ameritrade, I’ll create a similar “baseball card” of high-level stats on companies’ technology.






Release Date Veo was first released in 1999, and a redesign was launched February 2009.
Price There is no charge to use Veo, but exchange fees for third party platform integration may apply.
Main Competitors Schwab, Fidelity, Pershing
User Base 4,500 firms; 25,000 users with unique login ids.
Web or Desktop Veo is completely web based and is multi-browser compatible including Safari and Firefox for Mac users. Veo Express is TD Ameritrade’s desktop offering, but is being phased out.
What does it do? Trading, Account Rebalancing, Alerts, Account Profile Pages, Research

Custodial technology platforms come with limits. Largely lacking CRM capabilities, account aggregation, portfolio management, and high-end rebalancing functionality, these platforms are often paired with third party platforms to get the job done. TD Ameritrade (TDA), the smallest of the custodial trifecta that includes Schwab and Fidelity, has made a big splash among advisors with its Veo technology. In fact, some advisors who use all three custodians will say that they prefer TD’s software over its biggest rivals. See: How to choose between bewildering custody choices.

Though there is no bright-line test for whether one technology beats another, the idea that TD’s Veo platform holds an edge right now over bigger rivals is not as far-fetched as it might sound, according to Timothy Welsh, principal of Nexus Strategy LLC. The points he makes in its favor are:

a.) TD Ameritrade is a bigger company than many people realize with about $110 billion of RIA assets and significantly more with its retail parent, TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. of Omaha, Neb.

b.) The former Ameritrade has been integrated with the former TD Waterhouse and Ameritrade has always been on the cutting edge of brokerage technology.

c.) TD got a headstart on building Veo. Fidelity is still in the early phases of rolling out its WealthCentral custodial platform to replace AdvisorChannel and Schwab just launched its new website for RIAs, Schwab Advisor Center in September. See: Schwab’s big effort yields big improvements. Before that it hadn’t overhauled its technology in more than a decade. Pershing is also rolling out its new platform — NetX360 — for RIAs right now and it will complete that process by September. See: Nevin looks under the NetX360 hood. Many users — especially for hybrid advisors —like NetX360 but they say it is also a work in progress.

d.) Technology is a game of leap-frogging and TD Ameritrade was the most recent to complete a major leap.

Another potential TD edge: By including services from Think or Swim and Infinata, to name a couple, TD pushes the limits of traditional custodial technology offerings.

With these anecdotal and theoretical thoughts in mind, I was more than curious to have a look for myself at what TD has done to generate such positive buzz.

Jon Patullo, director of technology platform management for TDA, attributes Veo’s success to the site’s customization, flexibility, ease of use, trading tools, and account viewing capabilities. I know that when I can follow along with the workflow and intuitively know how to get to RIA-centered tools during a demo, as I could when looking at Veo, the product is easy to use and well designed.

Good technology often boils down to little conveniences rather than big functionality. Think of circa 1980 cell phones and compare them with today’s cheap, “fit in your pocket” flip phones; they both make calls, but let’s be honest, which would you rather carry around with you?

Veo delivers on big functionality and the little conveniences of intuitive navigation, stored preferences and customizations, and a responsive, aesthetically pleasing site.

Accessible trade tools and intuitive navigation strategy.
Accessible trade tools and intuitive navigation
strategy.

Veo technology comes with having a custody account at TD Ameritrade. Managing held-away accounts is a task for a third party aggregation platform and comes with a few more dollar signs depending on the platform you choose.

Third Party Integration

Some 80-90% of advisors use Veo in conjunction with a portfolio management system. “We want to provide choice,” says Patullo, meaning that Veo integrates with many third party platforms. CSV (comma separated values) and excel formats for data export and CSV import format will accommodate the majority of PMSs.

Veo integrates with NaviPlan and MoneyGuide Pro on the financial planning side; Orion, IES, Morningstar, and Black Diamond on the Portfolio Management side; and AppCrown, SalesForce, and Redtail on the CRM side. Discounts through TD Ameritrade are available on some of these applications.

TD Ameritrade also integrates with Advent, a relationship established several years ago in the hopes of creating an all-encompassing dashboard of services, which would allow users to seamlessly use both applications without constantly switching between the two (i.e. no separate logins or complicated data imports/exports). However, only 80 RIAs, or about 5%, have signed on to these combined services.

Mac Support

Veo’s completely web-based platform supports multiple browsers, including Firefox and Safari for Mac users. Upcoming releases of Veo will further support Mac users with increased browser capabilities and less reliance on Microsoft components. “They were stoked it was available on a Mac,” says Patullo, referring to advisors, and reiterating my personal reaction to everything Mac.

“By” RIAs for RIAs

The latest release of Veo, its Next Generation version in February 2009, reflects 12-18 months of user testing with advisors. “We had a lot of sessions with the advisors, a lot of usability analysis…we were actually recording [advisors] as they were going through different tasks on the site, checking out their facial expression, etc. to really make sure we hit the mark,” says Patullo.

Advisor feedback didn’t stop after the release. TD Ameritrade set up an Operations Panel of its core Veo users to continue the flow of advisor input. TD Ameritrade meets with this panel regularly to assess new features and revise old ones. The Account Profile Page, a new addition to the site last year, came directly out of Operations Panel suggestions; “I think we do a good job of listening to our advisors and implementing what they tell us,” says Patullo.

There is also a “Tell us what you think” link on the site that receives feedback from advisors daily.

TD Ameritrade’s development team was able to leverage substantial resources to pinpoint a wide range of advisor needs through extensive user testing. Veo’s “By RIAs for RIAs” motto differs from Orion’s use of this slogan in that Orion’s founders were RIAs who built a company by addressing their personal technology needs.

Trade Tools

The redesign of Veo’s online trading tools leverages TD Ameritrade’s desktop application, Veo Express. “We got a lot of compliments on Veo Express…in the trading aspect, so we wanted to make [Veo] very similar to Veo Express and the feedback has been great,” say Patullo.

Trade tools prepopulate data based on advisor input.
Trade tools prepopulate data based on
advisor input.

As advisors enter the trading information at the top of the screen, the middle portion of the screen is dynamically populated with quotes and information on that trade. From this page they can add trades to a blotter, preview their order, and submit them for execution. The interface is as minimalistic and straightforward as possible, and the number of steps required to complete a trade can be counted on one hand.

Veo’s trading tools are integrated into the rest of the site and can be accessed from other account tools. By checking a box or hovering over an account, advisors can quickly manage and execute trades for a single account or multiple holdings from anywhere on the site.

Alerts

Alert dashboard will be enhanced with more trade, account, and market alerts.
Alert dashboard will be enhanced with
more trade, account, and market alerts.

Veo’s alert tool currently notifies advisors of basic alerts such as transfers, checks received and order expirations.

TDA plans to improve the alert tool by adding account, trade, communication, as well as market alerts such as option expiration, block trade execution, filled orders, and new features/products. Alerts are sent to advisors via email. Advisors can subscribe to alerts they are interested in and manage these subscriptions in their personal preferences, cutting down on numerous or unwanted emails.

Many companies are looking to expand alert capabilities — Orion’s Facebook-type alert system and Morningstar’s customized firm-wide alerts are examples — to increase efficiency for advisors and the companies themselves. “It reduces the need for them to pick up the phone and call us,” says Patullo. That increases advisors’ efficiency and allows the company to reallocate some customer support resources.

Rebalancing

Veo provides a basic rebalancer. A new window steps advisors through the process of rebalancing accounts, listing all the trades necessary to balance accounts. For advisors managing less than $100 million, this rebalancer provides the necessary functionality, but for advisors with more assets under management, Patullo expects advisors to stick with a product like iRebal.

Mentionables

  • Online training demos and webcasts are accessible via an on-demand, in-browser video player that includes screenshots; allows advisors to quickly step through Veo functionality.
  • Infinata (i.e. information on HNW individuals, foundations and endowments, and retirement plans) is provided to advisors free of charge — a $10K value — to help track and leverage existing client base.
  • Provides free access to Think or Swim’s “Thinkpipes” tool. Advisors can use it to view streaming data, charts, and news through web-based and mobile platforms. Just over 100 advisors are currently using this tool. Some market data fees apply for professional usage of the tool.