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The advantages of leveraging externally developed tools over internally developed ones are obvious, whatever their purpose will be, experts suggest. Very rarely will an adviser have the technical competency in-house to compete over the long term with the large national providers, which, given their tremendous scale, can afford to hire and retain the top technical minds in the field. In fact, this is one of the driving forces behind the industry provider consolidations seen in the last several years—small, independent firms finding it difficult to match the rapid technological developments of larger peers, making it harder to compete as a standalone entity.

Perhaps the most important perk of leveraging outside providers’ tools is that there is much less risk of getting stuck with resources soon to become stale—all the top providers have clearly signaled their intent to keep investing in new and developing capacities, such as digital and automated advice, as well as offering services and products including plan benchmarking support, client management tools and the like to deliver to advisers and their clients.

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According to Kathleen Roche, vice president for retirement consulting services with Commonwealth Financial Network in Boston, service providers in today’s marketplace will often let the adviser present planning tools and other client-facing deliverables with his own practice’s unique brand and “feel.” Roche highlights how important this practice of “white labeling” is for many advisory practices—which are generally very keen on maintaining tight control of the client experience.

“There is so much choice and opportunity out there that it can, frankly, be overwhelming when thinking about getting the most from service provider partners and deciding which to work with,” Roche says. “The first step is to set very clear goals, and once you [do that], it’s about finding the provider that can be the most consultative.”

Tim Seifert, vice president and national sales manager with Lincoln Financial Group in Philadelphia, agrees that many powerful tools are available. Many can be accessed as a paid or complementary add-on to existing partnerships. Therefore, advisers looking for new support solutions may want to start their search with providers they already work with. Often advisers find that their current providers have added new tools and services, or improved existing ones, since the adviser last inquired. “The large asset management providers and recordkeepers are pouring millions upon millions of dollars into developing their tools and services [to] back up advisers on the ground,” Seifert says.