Category Archives: Technology

FinTech Trends

Ed Van Deman
By Education, Technology

We pride ourselves on being a solutions-oriented family office software company so it is not surprising that our newsletters address such varied topics as private data centers, efficiency tools for the family office, and disaster recovery procedures. Today, however, let’s step back from operational issues and take a broad look at some “big picture” trends in our home space of technology and financial management, also known as the “FinTech” industry.

FinTech Growing

The FinTech sector is red hot, with the Venture Capital community funding many new entrants to this field. These new players are taking advantage of the latest technological advancements in Cloud Computing and Big Data to offer new services like “robo advisory” portfolio management, investment analytics including risk metrics, data aggregation and much more. Such developments present excellent opportunities for us to integrate our bedrock services with these new innovations, in order to continue to add value for our family office clients.

Push for the Comprehensive Product

With the advent of such new technology, it is possible to do more with one product. Efficiencies can be achieved by integrating with other systems that provide complementary capabilities like bill payments, document management, customer relationship management, etc. We clearly see this trend and are working to include as much functionality as we can.

The World Is Flat

There was a time when the United States led the world both as developers and users of financial technology. That is no longer true. Many parts of the world are now just as sophisticated as the U.S. and want the same data management tools to address their financial reporting concerns. At the same time, software developers in other parts of the world are also creating excellent products for their local markets. They seek broader distribution opportunities and see the U.S. as an attractive market to enter. These dynamics increase the choices available to clients while keeping downward pressure on prices.

Outsourcing Is In

Cloud Computing has revolutionized FinTech in terms of matching talent with requirements. The need to find local talent is gone and so is the need to relocate. Now you can easily access skilled personnel far away from your physical location. Having a well-trained, in-house software development staff is one solution. But, there is no need to stop there. Another approach is to outsource part of the task to an outside consultant who works for only a limited time to address a specific issue. Likewise, you can use an outside staff person to perform on-going record keeping and produce reports. This person could work for an accounting firm or have their own practice. Any of these arrangements can be successful, as long as they meet the needs of all the parties involved.

Security Never Sleeps

As products become more comprehensive and operate in a remote environment, the need for security grows even more. Fortunately, the power of the environment can be used to protect your data. Data encryption, private virtual networks, and two-factor authentication are just a few of the system-based measures that can be utilized to ensure privacy. As technology continues to evolve, this issue will remain in constant focus for the entire FinTech industry for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

The emergence of new technology may be exciting, but it does not guarantee any benefit to the customer. Customer utility will ultimately determine which developments are truly viable and which are merely interesting.

Much of our corporate attention is therefore directed to improving product functionality in order to make our clients’ work lives better. Rest assured, however, that we also remain alert to developments in the overall FinTech industry. Only by doing so can we continue to chart a course to future success for our family office softwareCPAs serving high net worth clients and our Company.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

David Campbell

Anyone hearing the news knows that disasters can happen. Being headquartered in California, Financial Navigator, Inc. (“FNI”) has long been aware of the threat posed by earthquakes and other potential calamities. Natural disasters can disrupt a company’s normal functioning and, in extreme cases, endanger its ability to continue in business.  

We also realize that the repercussions of a catastrophic event to FNI would reach far beyond our own company. Our family office software clients would suffer as well if they could not obtain needed technical support to fully utilize our products or if they were unable to renew their high net worth reporting software licenses on time. An inability to use, or even access, their accounting software system would seriously impede normal operations for most of our clients.  

In light of the above concerns, we have taken the necessary precautions to insulate ourselves and our clients from the impacts of potential disasters that could affect us.

Access to Data

A client’s main concern, naturally, is its ability to access and utilize FNI’s accounting and reporting system without any interruption.  Of course, users who have FN 9.5, or an earlier version, installed directly on their own computers or networks, behind their own firewall, will experience no problems whatsoever in using that software if FNI has to deal with a natural disaster. Those clients possess and control their own data. FNI has no access to it, so no harm can come to that data through FNI.  

For clients using our online Polaris product, their data is stored in the cloud with Amazon Web Services (AWS). That data is backed up every night and is stored in separate and distant locations in the U.S., so it will always be available and never more than one day out-of-date. As a result, so long as a client can access the Internet, its Polaris data and reports will always be available.  (See further information on using AWS for backup and disaster recovery.)

Other Client Support

Although less immediately critical, clients might still need to connect with Financial Navigator for technical support, to expand their software’s capabilities, to order supplies and to renew their software licenses upon expiration. Fortunately, the occurrence of a natural disaster will not prevent this. FNI’s phone system uses VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) technology with the phone server located off-site in a secure data center. Even if our offices were damaged or completely destroyed, our phone system would remain operational. FNI personnel are able to log in remotely from anywhere to answer calls and provide the necessary support for our clients.

Internal FNI Operations

Because FNI backs up all its records and files to the cloud every night, nothing important would be lost in the event of a natural disaster. Therefore, even if our office space was unusable, we would still have access to all the information and tools needed to communicate among ourselves and to provide service to our clients. Of course, depending on the nature of the disaster, it might take a few days for FNI personnel to secure shelter for their families before they can devote their full attention to our clients’ needs. However, based on the above systems and precautions, the only impact on our clients should be nothing more than a few days’ inconvenience, if that.

Your Plan?

Given the uncertainties of today’s world, every family office, trust and estate manager and business needs to have a disaster recovery plan in place. After a local disaster, the world will continue to operate.  It is your responsibility to put procedures in place that will ensure your ability to continue to operate as well.

Because critical financial records and documents may be irreplaceable, it is imperative to safeguard such items so they will be accessible to you in the future under any circumstances. We urge you to put a plan in place now, if you have not already done so. It is not just a good idea – it is a necessity.

7 Benefits of a Private Data Center

Daniel Serrano
By Technology

Given the constant evolution of technology, we should all be on the lookout for ways to improve how we do our work. Often this means replacing an old system and moving to a new approach that will increase speed and efficiency. As a family office software and technology provider, we believe it is helpful for us to recommend new solutions to our family office clients and trust and estate managers when we find an innovation we think can benefit them.

Earlier this year we wrote that using a Private Data Center was a better, more reliable way for certain FN 9.5 clients to meet their computing needs. In light of the outstanding success some clients have experienced with this approach over the last few months, we thought it was worthwhile to bring this idea to your attention again.

What is a Private Data Center (PDC)?

In its basic form, a PDC is a collection of servers in a remote location that provides all the computing power a client requires. All of your software applications (such as Financial Navigator, Microsoft Office, database, email, etc.) and data files are stored at the private data center and are accessed via a reliable Internet connection. This method of network management is powerful because a virtually unlimited number of servers can be utilized to support the applications you need to run.  

How is It Better?

The following are seven benefits we have seen our clients gain from this approach:

1. Fully Remote Access
Clients really enjoy the ease and convenience of being able to use their programs and data from any location that offers Internet access. And anywhere means anywhere in the world: main office, remote office, accounting office, home office, vacation home, hotel, car, yacht. Because all the computing is done at the PDC, this is equally true for Mac users and Windows users. The result is that no one needs to carry backup files of data or to install programs on multiple computers.    

2. All Applications in One Place
Certain offices run some applications on the desktop, others off the local server and still more in the cloud. Because access protocols and security procedures differ for each source, confusion and frustration can easily result. All of these conflicts go away, however, when you use a PDC to host all your applications. With the PDC, there is one log-in and one set of security procedures. This allows you to easily share data between apps (e.g. export from Financial Navigator to an Excel spreadsheet, open up the spreadsheet with Excel, modify it, print it, attach it to an email message and send it – all from one virtual PDC desktop). Life is simpler and users are happier.  

3. Faster Processing than Older Networks
Users who have experienced a decline in the speed of running FN 9.5 on their own in-house networks find a Private Data Center completely solves this problem. If you have very large data files or generate data-intensive reports that take several minutes to run, using a PDC will greatly speed up your work. In fact, for some clients this was the main reason they switched to the PDC solution. The time savings they achieved resulted not only in increased efficiency for their staff, but also in improved employee morale.

4. Enhanced Data Security
We all know the importance of maintaining your servers with the latest security upgrades and patches to defend against virus attacks, ransomware or other malware. The looming risk of a data breach from a hacker attack is also ever-present. The PDC provides you with the highest level of protection available against such threats. In the past few years, data in small businesses and home offices has become more vulnerable to hackers because the hackers are increasingly automated while the technology security of small and medium sized businesses has evolved little. In contrast, in a PDC environment, security is regularly audited and certified by third parties and consistently improved to meet threats. The PDC’s rigorous enforcement of its state-of-the-art security protocols provides peace of mind that is hard to duplicate if you alone are responsible for securing your internal network.

5. Data Backup and Disaster Recovery
Everyone understands the critical need for procedures that ensure we maintain backup copies of data files in the event of a disaster or hardware system crash. Despite mandating such precautions, there can still be a gnawing unease about whether these procedures are being properly followed for your in-house network. That worry goes away with a PDC. The sheer number of servers in a major data center requires that its back-up procedures be automatically performed and routinely verified. For extra protection, your data is also encrypted and copies are saved in a geographically-remote data center. (For more information read our article on how we have prepared for Disaster Recovery at Financial Navigator, Inc.)

6. Reduced Pain of Lost/Stolen Laptop
One of the worst things that can happen in your technology world is if your laptop is lost or stolen. Not only is it a huge inconvenience, but important data can be compromised. Further, configuring a new laptop can take many hours of high priced consultant labor. In contrast, with a PDC environment, your laptop does not have data or application software on it, so those items do not need to be replaced. As a result, you can be back in operation quickly, cheaply and with no risk of data breach.

7. Improved Infrastructure Support
In any computing environment there will be times when it is necessary for a technical support person to have access to the server where the applications are running.  In the on-premises IT environment, this often means an expensive technician trip to your office or a waste of your time, sometimes after hours, coordinating access. With a PDC, these costs are not required because the environment is designed from the ground up to be served remotely. The advantage is that the technical support team can do their work more efficiently and can do it in the off hours, when you are not using the applications.   

For More Information

These are just a few of the benefits enjoyed by our clients who use a private data center instead of an on-premises solution. If any of these interest you, or if you would like to learn more, please contact us.  Call 800-468-3636 or email us at: customersupport@finnav.com.

We will be happy to answer your questions and can even connect you with a company that provides this service for some of our clients.

Company Objectives: 2016

Ed Van Deman
By Technology

When traveling around the country and meeting with our users, they often ask, “What are your company objectives for this year?” The most important aspect of that question, of course, is the unspoken part: “How will your progress benefit clients like me? Recognizing this, I thought it would be helpful to share the answers with all our users.  

Major Objectives for 2016

Our three major company objectives for this year are as follows:

  1. Continue to develop our new Polaris™ product, so that it becomes the data management and reporting standard for all our family office software clients, existing and new.  
  2. Enhance the support structure for Polaris, so users can easily learn how to utilize all the functions they need in order to accomplish their work assignments.
  3. Selectively add users for Polaris that can help us enrich the product.

Let’s examine these objectives in more detail.

Polaris™ Product Development

To accomplish our first objective, we need to achieve the following goals:

  • Update and enhance the user interface – Updating the layout, terminology and functioning of Polaris™ will allow it to appear and work in a manner that is more consistent with other software products currently on the market. This revamp will make Polaris more user-friendly and easier to learn by providing a more familiar experience for the user. The shortened learning curve will reduce frustration and generate greater productivity, along with increased user satisfaction.
  • Incorporate all of the extensive functionality of our current product – Our FN 9.5 product was developed over many years, specifically for our target market. It provides the extensive functionality needed by our users to meet their diverse accounting and portfolio tracking needs. While Polaris already includes many of these capabilities, certain remaining aspects have not yet been incorporated into our new product. Adding that remaining functionality will enable Polaris to do everything that FN 9.5 does.
  • Add functionality to Polaris that was not available in earlier products – No one wants to upgrade to a new product unless that transition can yield significant benefits. Users want greater speed, simplicity, functionality and flexibility. Such improvements have been and will continue to be incorporated into Polaris, guided in large part by feedback from new and current Polaris users.  

Enhance Polaris Support Structure

We know that clients’ skill level in using our system can erode over time as staffing responsibilities change or turnover occurs. Therefore, an important component of supporting our users is to help them bridge the gap between what they need to accomplish and what they currently know how to do. Fortunately, today’s online world offers convenient ways to store and effectively deliver extensive, detailed educational content that can greatly aid users in becoming more proficient in the use of our software.

We are developing the Polaris Support Center to contain a variety of resources to assist users as they seek to gain full mastery of the features in our system. Because documentation in any form relies on screenshots and lists of specific steps, we cannot finalize the Support Center until the product is close to its finished state. However, we have already started to build the underlying pieces. In addition to SmartText searching and meaningful graphics, we are preparing extensive video materials that focus on key topics users will need to learn. These tools will play an important role in making Polaris a great success for our clients and us.

Selectively Add Polaris Users

Transitioning existing users from FN 9.5 to Polaris has not been a high priority for us. The data-conversion process, combined with the required training time for clients, will require a significant investment of our internal resources. Instead, we prefer to focus our energies at this time on more fully developing Polaris’ capabilities and support system, as noted above. Consequently, we are being selective about adding Polaris users.

As previously noted, Polaris already possesses much of the functionality available in FN 9.5. Logic might therefore suggest that existing clients would be the best kind of users to evaluate our new system. After all, they are already familiar with how FN 9.5 works and what it does. However, we have found that the most effective users are often new clients.

New users are a good match for Polaris because:  

  • They are motivated to learn the product, from the basics through its advanced features, since they have no alternative solution.
  • They often do not require all the functionality that FN 9.5 offers. As a result, Polaris can meet their needs in its current state.  
  • Lacking experience with FN 9.5, they are not burdened by the memory of how things were previously done. As a result, their feedback comes from a fresh perspective that helps us consider new features and possibilities.

Of course, new users sometimes want additional functionality that was never part of FN 9.5. This can be a good thing. Their suggestions have caused us to add capabilities that we had not previously considered. This process results in a stronger product that helps us to better meet the needs of our clients, to the benefit of all.

We hope this discussion provides some insight into our objectives for 2016 and how our new Polaris product will be taking shape over the next year.

Happy Navigating!!!

Edward Van Deman
CEO

Windows 10: Six Months Later

David Campbell
By Technology

Microsoft Corp. released its newest operating system, Windows 10, about six months ago. This article will update comments published in Financial Navigator’s newsletter for Q3-2015. At that time, we recommended you wait before upgrading your computers.

When that opinion was issued, shortly after the release of Windows 10, we felt it was prudent to allow time for the system’s inevitable bugs to be worked out. Since then, Microsoft has continued to make improvements and its newest operating system has received widespread adoption. With 200 million devices now running on Windows 10, we felt it was time to revisit this topic.

FNI’s Experience

At FNI, our experience with Windows 10 has been very encouraging. The computers we upgraded to Windows 10 are running fine and the Financial Navigator family office software we run on those computers are also performing with no problems.  As a result, upgrading to Windows 10 may now be a good choice for you.

Please note: FNI only supports version FN 9.0 and newer, so no attempt was made to test older versions of our Family Office accounting software and Trust and Estate accounting software.

Some Concerns

The news is not all positive, however. There are certain aspects of Windows 10 that many users have expressed strong concern over, including:

  1. Privacy concerns with the collection of personal data
  2. Trouble with Wi-Fi connections
  3. Issues with child safety features when upgrading to Windows 10
  4. No Windows Media Center in Windows 10

We point these out to help you make a well-informed decision. Fortunately, there are many excellent reviews available on the Web where these issues are discussed.

Recommendation

We believe the decision to upgrade ultimately depends on two factors:

  • Which version of the the MS operating system you are using.
  • Whether your are happy with your current operating system.

Windows 7 Users – If you are using Windows 7 today and are happy with it, updating is not recommended. Windows 7 is a reliable, well-functioning product that will be supported till 2020.

Windows 8.0 or 8.1 Users – If you are using Windows 8.x, we recommend an upgrade. However, before upgrading you need to check the other software you use, to ensure its compatibility with Windows 10. Also, ALWAYS backup your computer on external media before upgrading. Here is an excellent article that will guide you through the upgrade process, as well as suggest optimal settings after the upgrade.

Please note: Microsoft’s free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 is available only until July 29th, 2016.   

Final Thoughts

If you do upgrade to Windows 10, remember to periodically check your privacy settings, especially after a regular Windows update. The updates can often cause your preferences to revert back to the default Windows settings, which you probably do not want.

Your Experience

If you have upgraded to Windows 10, we would like to hear about your experience so we can share it with other readers. Please email us at: editor@finnav.com