Introduction: I am pleased to have Brian Bero, one of the founders of Modestspark for this AQ Solutions Interview. I was responsible for reporting at financial advisory firms for many years and know the challenges involved in creating meaningful reporting for clients. Because of this, I was intrigued by their product and was very excited to learn how it helps firms provide a better reporting experience for clients.Â If only Modestspark was around when I was doing all that reporting!
Brian recently gave me a demo of the product. It is an overlay product that can be used with any portfolio management system. It includes a portal and an app for advisory firms to share and clients to access a variety of easy-to-understand, visually rich and interactive portfolio reports from both desktop and mobile devices.
AdvisoryQuest: Thanks for sharing information about Modestspark, Brian.Â To begin, what led to developing Modestspark? How did the name Modestspark come about?
Brian Bero: Modestspark grew out of a pretty simple idea:Â help Advisors communicate better with their Clients.Â As we looked around we realized while there are companies in this space focused on the back office – CRM, portfolio accounting, etc. – there was nobody helping the Advisor â€œtell their storyâ€.Â My co-founder and I come from an Enterprise IT background – creating/selling software for CIOs at Fortune 500 companies – and we saw how transparency & clear communications to stakeholders could transform companies.Â We wanted to bring that concept to the Investment Advisors world.
The name was originally born from our deep love of all things Northwest (weâ€™re a proud Seattle-area company that likes to show our roots) where youâ€™d have these great bands with two seemingly unrelated words that just â€˜fitâ€™ (ex. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Modest Mouse).Â But as we stumbled into Modestspark, we realized those two words symbolized exactly what weâ€™re about – â€œmodestâ€ comes from us knowing how special & important the relationship between the Advisor and Client truly is.Â We play a humble, modest role in that relationship.Â The â€œsparkâ€ comes from the belief that we can be a source of innovation, of creativity, through our products.
AQ: The simplest way to explain your product is to describe it as an overlay to any portfolio management system (an advisors current system) and portal to provide visually interactive reporting for clients. (See screenshots below) How do you describe what Modestspark is and does to provide a rich and interactive reporting experience for clients?
BB: Modestspark is a fantastic visualization layer on top of your existing portfolio accounting system that provides the Client and Advisor a rich, dynamic way to view their investment information.Â Traditionally, client reporting was very static in nature – not visually appealing and certainly not engaging from a clientâ€™s point of view.
With Modestspark, we bring a mint.com/consumer approach to help your clients better understand their investment data.Â Instead of static client portal, a firm truly gets a Client Experience that was built from the ground up to be simple to use, easy to understand and navigate by your clients.Â And by harvesting the existing data in your back office system (positions & performance), we can automatically generate client reports, statements and billing invoices to help a firm scale their operations without needing to replace their back office system.
AQ: How do firms leverage the data in their portfolio management system using Modestspark? Explain the process of bringing in the data from the portfolio management system and how reports are created and saved to the portal?
BB: The whole process is super simple.Â Youâ€™ve already got the data in your portfolio management system and we take pretty basic and readily accessible exports to power what we need.Â We simply need positions and intervals (for performance) – data comes out of your system either from an export (using whatever tool(s) your portfolio management system provides) or we can integrate with whatever APIs are available.Â That data flows into Modestspark and literally thatâ€™s it!Â Thereâ€™s no button to â€œgenerate reportsâ€ anymore – the information is immediately available to you and clients once in the system!
Again, weâ€™re different than a traditional client portal that was very static in nature.Â Essentially those systems just stored filesâ€¦.weâ€™re dynamic in every sense of the word.
AQ: In addition to producing visually engaging reporting for clients, Modestspark also offers advantages to advisory firms. Tell us about how advisory firms benefit from implementing Modestspark?
BB: Weâ€™ve got a great set of capabilities for just for Advisors!Â Advisors use Modestspark as much or more than their clients.Â We start by providing Advisors with a fantastic Dashboard that lets them see their clients and they can quickly pull up any clientâ€™s investment information.Â Next, Advisors can use us to generate a Client Review for those business review meetings – a great time saver and lets Advisors have a review with their clients thatâ€™s not paper-based anymore.Â Also, Advisors can have a view into Firm Analytics where they can track and trend key metrics to their business. Plus, the whole app is mobile-friendly so an Advisor can be on their tablet at home or in a coffee shop with instant access to their clients data!
AQ: One of the things we talked about during the demo was how firms that have portals (with static reports) arenâ€™t being used as expected or to their full capability by either clients or advisory firms. Why is the typical portal not being utilized (or has not been used effectively) by advisors and their clients and how Modestspark addresses these shortcomings?
BB: We see a few reasons:Â 1) traditional client portals are static in nature 2) advisors donâ€™t use these products themselves and 3) traditional client portals are complex to set up and administer.Â Those three things were the primary reasons client portals were not fully utilized by firms.
People donâ€™t consume information that way anymore.Â Thanks to the mobile revolution, people want to get answers to their questions quickly – not read through a 10 page document.Â Having a client portal that acts as a file share is not the client experience youâ€™re going to want if youâ€™re growing and trying to differentiate yourself.
Also, having a product that an Advisor doesnâ€™t use confuses clients.Â If Iâ€™m a client and I see my Advisor using something other than what I use that tells me I shouldnâ€™t be using it!Â Thatâ€™s why weâ€™ve re-imagined the client portal to be a tool used by both Client AND Advisor.
Finally, Advisors donâ€™t have the time to customize a client portal to every client.Â The key is not customization – itâ€™s configurability.Â Turn things on/off at a firm level, control your story but at the same time keep the product simple enough to use!
AQ: One of the features I really like, and believe is extremely useful, is the ability for the advisor and client to easily discuss reporting even if they are in different locations. The advisor and client can simply â€œpull upâ€ the identical report in Modestspark. Explain the advantages of having this capability and how this feature can be used to strengthen the advisor/client relationship?Â Â Â Â
BB: How frustrating is it as a client to have a question and then have to wait for your Advisor to â€œrecreate the reportâ€ youâ€™re looking at?Â We solved that.Â Again, having a product that both the Advisor & Client use connects the two together – they have a conversation using the same tool, seeing the same thing.Â Both are operating from that â€œsingle pane of glassâ€.Â Now the Advisor & Client are in lockstep and have a conversation about the content and not on how to (re)create it!
The first time Advisors that go through what I described using Modestspark, we typically hear back from them saying â€œWow.Â I donâ€™t think I appreciated how both the Client & I can see the same information until nowâ€¦â€Â We love that type of feedback because it means weâ€™re doing our job right and helping connect the Advisor with their Client.
AQ: The â€œclient experienceâ€ is becoming increasingly important for advisors to create an experience that separates them from the competition. Advisors need to create a stronger relationship with clients. How does using Modestspark help advisors create a deeper experience and stronger relationship with clients?
BB: We agree – the â€œclient experienceâ€ is no longer a nice to haveâ€¦itâ€™s a critical requirement as a firm battles the robe-advisors out there.Â Clients are looking for a firm that has the right philosophy AND toolset.Â Paper statements just wonâ€™t cut it anymore.
Modestspark helps out on the toolset side – weâ€™re purpose built as a client experience (not portal) app that helps firms by providing a branded, fully mobile and integrated experience.Â No more multiple logins that confuse clients.Â No more waiting for statements.Â A client can open their smartphone, tap on their Advisorâ€™s logo and have a window into their investments.Â This is kind of product thatâ€™s a must have for todays Advisor
AQ: During the demo you mentioned that firms can be up and running with Modestspark in a few hours.Â Explain how you are able to get a firm running Modestspark so quickly?
BB: We know how to â€œtalkâ€ to every major portfolio accounting system out there, so weâ€™re prescriptive with what we need and can really make a firmâ€™s on boarding painless.Â Remember, weâ€™re an overlay on a system that theyâ€™ve already got running.Â We were able to use this to our advantage and understand exactly what we needed, put tools in place to make data intake and configuration simple.Â Within a few hours, a firm typically has 2-3 years worth of history, with their households set up and are using it internally.Â If weâ€™re difficult to use for a firm, then we havenâ€™t done our job right!
AQ: What ways are your current clients leveraging Modestspark to create a better reporting experience for clients? What feedback have you received from clients about their experience using Modestspark?
BB: The whole product was designed around and for the client.Â Letâ€™s have an integrated experience where investment information, historical statements, documents and social content can mix and be accessible.Â When our clients rollout the app to their clients, the overwhelming feedback is that theyâ€™re extremely pleased with the results – theyâ€™re seeing high adoption & usage rates by their clients.Â We hear that clients love the simplicity, the ease of use and the overall user experience.Â Advisors love the fact that they control everything and can provide (or not provide) access to the system.Â Modestspark becomes an invaluable tool to help Advisors and Clients communicate in ways they couldnâ€™t before.
AQ: Advisors are able to integrate Modestspark with social media accounts to enhance communication with clients. Tell us how this works in Modestspark?
BB: Content outside of the dollars & cents of investment data is a key element to the overall client experience.Â With Modestspark, the content from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ can be pulled in and distributed to clients.Â We saw firms spending the time and effort to be social – revamping websites, getting active with blogged and Twitter – and while that helped with prospective clients, existing clients were not going to those sites to get important content.Â Modestspark can link to those social sites, draw in that content and help get that in front of your clients.
AQ: How are advisors able to track firm analytics in Modestspark?
BB: Since weâ€™re getting data fed to us daily, weekly, monthly and no limit to the historical data a firm can put into Modestspark, we have a unique ability to mine that data to track & trend key metrics – AUM, average AUM per account, number of accounts, asset class breakdown over time, etc. All this data is at our fingertips to mine & provide a window into firm to help Advisors with their business.Â With Modestspark, a firm gets a data warehouse in the cloud!
AQ: You mentioned that your current users have been a huge help in suggesting additional features. Are there any new features that you are working on or that will be added in a future version of Modestspark?
BB: Weâ€™re always Â adding new features and our primary source of inspiration truly does come from our clients.Â Theyâ€™re a vocal and passionate bunch and we truly appreciate the feedback we receive.Â I canâ€™t tell you exactly what weâ€™re working on, but I can say that thereâ€™s some big things planned for 2015.Â Youâ€™ll see new visualizations coming up in the first half of the year followed with some new offerings that Iâ€™d like to keep under wrapsâ€¦for now!
AQ: Brian, Thanks for telling us about Modestspark.Â Best wishes for continued success in 2015.
BB: Thanks Reid!Â Really appreciate the opportunity and weâ€™ll keep look forward to reading more great articles from AQ in 2015!