With more than 2,200 locations worldwide, Raymond James Financial is among the largest financial service institutions in the world. The most important working assets of the company are not buildings however - they are the 4,800 - plus financial advisors that serve many of the company's 1.2 million accounts. Providing those advisors with the best information is the surest way to ensure future growth and success.

Historically, advisors at Raymond James worked with online and hard copy reports that were generated nightly or monthly. In 2001, the decision to build a business intelligence system began to change that. "What we were looking to do was not only to give more frequent access to this data, but to allow advisors to analyze their book of business in many different ways," says Ed Ferrer, application development supervisor at Raymond James Financial. "We wanted them to see their assets under management, how much revenue was coming in, how many new accounts they opened, things like that." A central goal was to allow advisors to better identify clients and revenue sources in order to allocate their time toward the most promising relationships. As it turned out, a by-product of the solution would eventually allow the home office to understand the entire firm's client base: account, client and asset types; which advisors were doing the most business; and trends such as flows from fee-based versus commission business. As with all business intelligence programs, arriving at today's solution involved a number of requirement gathering and technology lessons learned along the way.

Infrastructure Needs

The project started officially in 2002 and was deployed in 2004. About five years of data resides in the Raymond James data warehouse, drawn from HP Tandem, Oracle and other sources that are replicated to a SQL Server environment. S&P market data, product ratings and classifications for market size and sector are also part of the mix. Because of the size and complexity of the data, an upgrade to SQL Server 2005 is in the works after the old SQL environment "basically reached its limit," due to the scale of Raymond James' infrastructure, Ferrer says.

Partly because of its commitment to SQL, the front-end chosen for the system came from ProClarity, recently acquired by Microsoft. While Ferrer does not make product endorsements, he says the synergies and close ties between the companies - reaching to ubiquitous productivity tools such as Excel - helped seal the deal. "We have many ProClarity supercubes with 40 dimensions; some dimensions contain several million members so it's a very large and complex solution. We're hoping SQL Server 2005 will provide some gains, from the relational star schema and ETL portion, and hopefully a lot more from the Analysis Services piece." He has plans for Reporting Services 2005 as well. Up to now, the solution has been primarily OLAP, a front end using ProClarity's multi-dimensional tool. Advisors, approximately 3,000 so far, and senior management have their own dashboards that confine access to the information they are allowed to see. A branch manager, for example, can view data for his location and advisors; the home office sees every single account. "You can see revenue for the previous day, the previous month, year or two years, see trends very quickly at a dashboard level or they can use ProClarity to delve into and slice and dice for additional analysis." This year, operational and managerial reporting is being beefed up and Ferrer is working on infrastructure to provide more detailed analysis than the drill-down users have now.

The Adoption Curve

For all the planning that has gone into technology investments, Ferrer spends at least as much time talking about the way users approach the system. "The learning curve is a bit heavy. While we've given advisors a series of reports on the dashboard, and a series of views within ProClarity to start off with, it's difficult at first for them to understand that it's not really a reporting tool and that it's more of an analytical tool." Frequent users provide feedback on the kinds of views and analyses they are creating, which are shared with other advisors. But Ferrer has found there will always be a broad continuum of acceptance and usage. "You have a set number of advisors who simply don't want to do their own analysis. They want to be told what to do. Then we have top producers who don't want to be force-fed what the home office thinks and absolutely want to do their own analysis." A good mix, Ferrer says, is neither extreme, but a middle ground of flexible and creative access along with education to inform analysts what they could or should be looking at. "There are patterns we can address that are of specific value to a fee-based advisor versus a commission-based advisor. The other thing we'd like to do is to better scorecard advisors to averages or particular KPIs that our top producers reflect." Programs are in place to give high-producing advisors access to beta products; the same producers are recruited to speak at conferences about tactics that help them be successful. "We'd like to allow advisors to compare their book of business and how they're doing business, without revealing exactly who their clients are. It can at least reveal their patterns, the types of accounts and business they are opening, the amount of assets, the product mix in accounts."

Return on Investment

Star performers tend to be heavy users of BI infrastructure, but it's hard to prove the direction of that correlation. While top producers use the system, it can't be empirically stated that their success is because of the system. Ferrer would like to turn this around to say those people who start using the system are the ones that are going to migrate toward the high end of performance.

Certainly all corporations have grappled with quantifying return on investment from business intelligence systems, and Raymond James is not unusual in this regard. "Our advisors have seen huge productivity gains in understanding their data and not having to constantly update our legacy reports. Going forward, we are seeing other gains in allowing our power users and senior management to see this data in a dashboard, and using the tool to slice and dice. Because the underlying data warehouse is in many cases the simplest and best place to get good clean data, we have found that alone has already given us a huge return on investment."

Even as projects are in the works that will generate new revenue that would have not been possible without the data warehouse and business intelligence solution, Ferrer says it's important to come to agreement with management that data warehouse teams work in a program rather than firefighting environment. "It is more of a commitment to BI at the firm level and the infrastructure you must have than it is trying to accomplish small projects." Hopefully, this will help stanch the trend of organizations rapidly cutting back on resources after Phase I infrastructure is in place. Though virtually all IT organizations are strained for resources, supervisors like Ferrer are always seeing problems waiting to be resolved for a lack of time, personnel and funding. "In the end, we'll find return on investment in some cases is tangible and directly related to queries and information that came out of the system. In other cases it's just the benefit of knowing your clients better and that's hard to put a number on."

The mission statement at Raymond James begins with putting clients first. In turn, this means giving advisors the best tools available for understanding and serving client needs. "One of the huge selling points for Raymond James has been to offer flexible choices in how advisors do business, as a traditional employee or owner of their business. But the other thing they pride themselves on is technology. Our company has a commitment to technology, and business intelligence and the data warehouse are core aspects of that."

This story originally ran in BI Review August 2006.

Raymond James IT executives state they are now re-architecting their BI solution to Analysis Services 2008 among other product offerings in the Microsoft BI stack. This BI technology upgrade will better position the company to continue as one of the premier financial services firms in the industry.

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