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The Rockville, Md.-based company was early in the high-end of the market but other outsourcers are catching on
September 12, 2011 — 1:51 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler
When it opened its doors in 1996, Fortigent LLC wagered that it could better succeed by outsourcing services to family offices and RIAs of ultra high-net-worth clients rather than going after clients directly.
That bet is starting to pay off as its client roster has tripled since 2006 and grown 80% since 2008. See: Fortigent and Adhesion staff up to haul in bigger fish in the outsourcing market.
Fortigent is currently riding a wave of advisors looking to explore outsourcing in an effort to reduce their costs in this volatile market. The company provides detailed research and performance reporting for regstered investment advisors who use its alternative-investment strategies on behalf of clients whose accounts range from $6 million to $10 million.
“I think they serve as a smart brand that can outsource the CIO function for legacy RIAs,” says Shirl Penney, CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners of New York, which provides a platform of several outsourcers to big RIAs. “If you can’t afford a CIO, Fortigent is a good alternative. That’s where they make their hay.” See: What exactly is Dynasty Financial Partners and why is the Smith Barney execs’ startup gaining so much attention?.
Fortigent officials declined to say how much it charges clients other than to say that investment research and consulting services are charged as an annual fixed fee that varies according to the complexity of the relationship. Clients pay for reporting services based on the number of accounts reported on, not on the assets under management in the accounts.
With this strategy, the Rockville, Md.-based firm has reached $50 billion in assets on its platform, to which it provides reporting and research. It also manages assets. The company does not break out how many assets are served by different portions of its platform. It has partnered with global asset management firm Affiliated Managers Group Inc. since last year. Companies such as Fortigent often seek out firms like AMG for capital to fund large payrolls.
In fact, AMG has been a minor investor since mid-2010, says Scott Welch, senior managing director of investment research and strategy.
Many turnkey asset management programs aim to capture ultrawealthy clients but few have been able match Fortigent’s record. In its 15 years of existence, the company has made a steady and steep ascent: It now has 90 clients, comprising the nation’s most respected RIAs, advisors and private banks. That’s up from 30 in 2006 and 50 in 2008.
The company has hit a sweet spot of providing research services on money managers like a Callan Associates, performance reporting services like a Black Diamond Performance Reporting and asset management like a CTC Consulting, and bundling them together efficiently.
“We’ve been able to help advisors navigate through alternative investments and it has been really helpful and is driving a lot of interest,” says Welch, “We’re seeing a lot of interest from high-end RIAs and multifamily offices.”
An elite niche
Getting into alternative investments is daunting and expensive for many advisors but is increasingly viewed as a necessity in today’s volatile markets. See: How RIAs can best pick alternative investments: Punt.
Because it began as an upscale advisory firm, Fortigent has been particularly effective at providing alternative investments and superior reporting, says Chip Roame, managing partner of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, who is a board member of Envestnet, a competing outsourcer. See: Envestnet and Chip Roame forge stronger tie.
“Fortigent is an impressive operation,” says Roame, who has spoken at Fortigent’s client conferences. “Many of its competitors would like to have their presence in that high-end segment.”
Some of those competitors include TAMPs and outsourcing firms such as SEI Advisor Network, which has $31.5 billion in traditional TAMP assets. See: Envestnet and other TAMPs keep the asset train rolling in the first quarter, Envestnet, and Adhesion Wealth Advisor Solutions.
Genworth Financial Wealth Management new chief marketing officer, Myra Rothfeld, says that her company doesn’t really compete head-on with Fortigent. “I don’t consider Fortigent to be a traditional TAMP,” she says.
Rothfeld’s company primarily serves IBD reps whose clients have assets of $1 million or less. But she allows that it will seek opportunities in “adjacent markets” and that its purchase of Altegris is evidence of this.
Indeed, unlike traditional TAMPs, Fortigent was an early participant in the alternative-investment market. It specializes in finding cures for the headaches RIAs face when dealing with clients with average assets of $100 million and the hodgepodge of investments they like to hold, research and view on one statement.
When Steve Braverman, co-founder and managing director of Pathstone Family Office, began shopping for an outsourcing firm, he found few that met all his needs. The Englewood, NJ-based firm oversees the assets of 27 families, totaling about $2.5 billion.
“The biggest point of pain for us is reporting, and the more complex the family, the harder it is to do — and we’ve got some really complex families out there,” Braverman says. “We did an extensive search trying to find firms and there are very few out there that deal with the ultrahigh-net-worth [client] and have great market research and complex reporting [capabilities].”
He was also seeking an affordable solution, and while not disclosing the fees, says Fortigent’s are quite flexible and are based upon the scope of services and number of accounts.
Braverman not surprised by Fortigent’s growth.
“They’ve been a success because they’ve stayed true to their knitting and they’ve listened to their clients and given us what we wanted and they’ve been rewarded by an increase in business,” he says. “Their work in alternatives is also quite good.”
Fortigent’s competitors say they’ve also grown, thanks to the turbulent market, which has caused advisors to seek outsourcing in order to cut costs.
Adhesion Wealth Advisor Solutions Inc. Inc. has seen substantial net-new-asset growth on its unified-management-account platform, adding $659 million in the first quarter to finish at $1.5 billion, says Michael Stier, president and CEO. In addition, the firm has $12 billion in assets from its reporting and outsourcing services. See: Little-known Adhesion’s big RIA wins less surprising when underlying pedigree is considered.
Stier says RIAs are interested in his Charlotte, NC, firm’s approach of offering multiple specialists in asset allocation and manager research and selection.
Bill Crager, president of Envestnet, says his firm is also seeing strong growth in the high-end RIA market. See: Envestnet to zero in on RIAs and family offices.
“Our platform’s ability to integrate core components of an advisor’s practice is highly valued by RIAs who are growing rapidly,” Crager wrote in an e-mail. “We believe the high-end advisory marketplace will continue to be competitive and several firms are likely to benefit.”
Crager points out that Fortigent and Envestnet offer different areas of expertise. He acknowledges that some RIAs will go to Fortigent because of the company’s strength in research and its alternatives platform but he says other RIAs prefer Envestnet because of the company’s choice of infrastructure that enables the implementation of advice and portfolio management as well as monitoring. See: Genworth, SEI and Envestnet make alternative-investments moves amid 'huge interest’.
“Both firms have tremendous opportunity to help advisors,” he says.
Whittling down the field
Fortigent has successfully enabled First Foundation Advisors — which has been using the firm for about a year — to screen and select managers, says Louis P. Abel, managing director and chief investment and officer with the $1.7 billion RIA based in Irvine, Calif.
Recently, Fortigent helped the firm, which formerly used CTC Consulting, to whittle down international manager candidates from a field of dozens to the top four.
“Since we’ve worked with Fortigent, they provide really great client service,” Abel says. “They’re very accessible.”
First Foundation manages assets for about 1,000 families with the average household holding about $2 million in assets.
Considering the alternatives
Fortigent has added managers and strategies to its alternative-investments platform to meet the needs of advisors who are seeking more options. Currently, the firm has nearly 40 alternative-investment solutions on the platform.
For example, Fortigent says its advisors are showing interest in its Access Overlay, a customized UMA program. In a low-return and highly volatile market, this program allows advisors to offer portfolios that are easy to implement and to re-balance. Despite the market swings of recent weeks, Welch says the company has seen net asset inflows and new account offerings in Access Overlay every week.
“I think the industry as a whole is finally understanding the value of the unified-managed-account approach,” says Welch. “We are big believers in the tax management aspect of UMAs.” See: TD Ameritrade paves the way for breakaway books of business to transfer intact.
Welch also says Fortigent stands out among competitors because the company is one of few that offers topnotch research as well as reporting.
“We don’t run into competitors very often who do both things,” he says. “Most of them do just one or the other.”
An earlier version of this article quoted Shirl Penney referring to a CFO. He referred to a CIO or chief investment officer. The change was made to reflect what he said.
Mentioned in this article:
SEI Advisor Network
Top Executive: Wayne Withrow
Tiburon Strategic Advisors
Top Executive: Charles Roame
Top Executive: Jud Bergman
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