Like a new, talented kid on the block who sets the bar uncomfortably high for the rest of the neighbourhood, Liberty Wealth Management Inc. may be the face of the toughest competition yet to challenge the established brokerages of the major financial institutions.
It’s also a study of how easily newcomers can address security and business continuity issues when starting from scratch.
Toronto-based Liberty Wealth is an independent wealth management organization just approved by the Investment Dealers Association of Canada (IDA) in April 2004 to serve individual clients. As a member of the IDA and the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF), the firm is required to have a formal business continuity process and plan in place. To Peter Kortenaar, founding partner and head of operations and technology, that means the ability to work remotely.Where we feel our suppliers of data and various technologies that we use can add value is in that ability to work remotely which really addresses the business continuity idea.Peter Kortenaar>Text “One of the key fundamentals to us is that all our employees and advisors need to be able to access all their data regardless of where they are,” Kortenaar explains. “That was the starting point.” Since the founders plan to grow Liberty Wealth to a maximum of 50 to 100 employees, the preference has been to leverage expertise in the marketplace rather than, for example, build a large server farm, he reports. The company currently numbers only seven.
“Because we’re a smaller start-up firm, we weren’t going to have the financial wherewithal to be building technology platforms for ourselves,” he says. “That’s why we started from a partnership model. Where we feel our suppliers of data and various technologies that we use can add value is in that ability to work remotely which really addresses the business continuity idea.” The company has three key vendor partners.
National Bank Correspondent Network in Toronto, as a back office provider or carrying broker and a wholly owned subsidiary of National Bank Financial Inc., provides Internet-driven remote access solutions for applications that National provides for viewing accounts and inputting transactions such as a trade to the market or changing features to an account.
Montreal-based software ven-dor Croesus Finansoft provides portfolio management software that does a lot of machinations of client account performance, says Kortenaar.
Both relationships are Internet-driven, 32-bit encrypted ASP models which can be accessed from anywhere with the required two levels of secure sign-on authority.
“All of that has addressed business continuity but also in the context that we have to ensure that the systems are robust and secure,” he adds. He points out that both partners are hosted by IBM so already have the duality of location in terms of server hosting and replication to ensure 24/7 access.
“From a business continuity perspective, there’s good coverage,” he stresses. “Also from a security perspective, both of those firms have partnered with IBM and so are indeed secure. An IBM housing a series of ASP servers will have a great deal more redundancy and a great deal more support than I ever can in a small enterprise where we’re all trying to do various functions all at once.”
Liberty Wealth chose Toronto-based OneConnect, an affiliate of Globalive Communications Corp., to provide the network infrastructure and a hosted Voice over IP (VoIP) service with Nortel Networks Ltd. phone sets.
A private T1 line connects Liberty Wealth and OneConnect. That connection is protected by what the service provider describes as a carrier-grade firewall environment and carrier-grade virtual local area network (VLAN) to ensure the data has integrity.
In addition to the administrative convenience of installing and moving one single pipe for voice and data rather than dealing with pairs of cables, Kortenaar appreciates a one-number, find-me-follow-me capability that lets staff members use a Web-based interface to consolidate their telephone numbers, such as home, office and cellular, into a single number. When someone calls that number, all the other numbers ring, and the call is routed to the first phone to be picked up.
Liberty Wealth staff can remotely access their OneConnect accounts anywhere they have an Internet connection. Staff can also use the Internet to define where the calls will be directed. Voice mail messages appear as .wav files in appropriate e-mail accounts.
“I can work from home, clients can call me and I would get that phone call at home just as easily as I would from my office,” says Kortenaar. “If the building we were in were evacuated or inaccessible in some way, my phone calls are still arriving wherever I am.”
A OneConnect application for laptops or home PCs facilitate remote users to work anywhere they have Internet access. “You could be anywhere — in Florida with the kids for a week at the beach!” he suggests. “As long as I have Internet connection to my laptop, I could dial in and use my phone for receiving calls and for initiating calls. My clients would have no idea that I was anywhere but my office — except for the seagulls in the background. Call display would still display it as being my phone at the office. All those things would look, act and smell like I’d been dialling from my office. I would not be paying any more for the phone call because I’m using the Internet for the call itself.”
That flexible access would help keep business as usual in the event of a disaster. For backup to the OneConnect connection, Liberty Wealth is working on implementing a circuit from another provider.
This redundancy will provide full access to market data, account viewing, trade engines and a further redundant order entry and account maintenance system using old green screen 3270 emulation software, says Kortenaar. “When you’re really small, that degree of redundancy isn’t really required but we need to have that in order to grow,” he explains.
He says the hosted VoIP approach avoided having to invest in expensive hardware that would already be somewhat outdated. He has also found that using the VoIP and other technology has become a powerful recruitment tool.
At Liberty Wealth presentations to lure investment advisors from bank-owned firms, he sees the great majority as “shocked that we have solutions in place that are much more advanced than what they have. They felt they couldn’t compete with what we were showing them.”
He views their primary competition, the big bank brokerage firms, as restrained by their past technology development and infrastructure. “Technology has allowed a newcomer like ourselves to come to the table and be prepared with a much smaller cost and without necessarily any less robustness or level of redundancy. It is really simple to get started.”
He’s quick to recognize that will be true for his future competitors as well. “Down the road, you may be leapfrogged by the next entrants. As things change, you’ve got to change with them.”