A year of major acquisitions from the biggest names in the fintech space has been a gut check for many advisors. As they pay increasing attention to the utility and future-readiness of their own tech stacks, one big move that the market has overlooked is the ascent of Eric Clarke to the helm of the newly-rechristened Orion Advisor Solutions.
Eric has assured many industry interviewers, in his self-effacing Midwestern way, that he will lead in concert with Dean Cook, CEO of Orion Portfolio Solutions (formerly FTJ FundChoice), shepherding the tech side of the business while Dean oversees Orion’s TAMP offering. The brand unification, he says, will eliminate marketplace confusion and will strengthen Orion’s hand as it approaches enterprise-level prospects with a holistic solution instead of an alliance of closely-integrated sister companies, as was previously the case.
These things are all true, but I believe there is more going on under the hood of Orion than a new name and logo on their company stationery. Eric’s leadership of the sum total of Orion Advisor Solutions represents a significant promotion and an internal vote of confidence in his ability to chart a course for a business that could give competitors a run for their money.
From the outset, Clarke has driven the rapid growth and innovation of Orion Advisor Tech, guiding the company from the days of physical installs and block trades from reams of print-outs to an era of web-based APIs and cloud-based solutions. Orion’s tech business “has increased fivefold” since the investment of their private equity partner TA Associates, per managing director Roy Burns. What’s more, the trajectory of their product updates and integration announcements has skyrocketed in recent years. Eric and his team have shown they can push themselves to move fast and bring tools to the marketplace that add efficiency, enhance the client experience, or both.
Eric Clarke and Dean Cooke add up to excellent leadership for Orion Portfolio Solutions. Dean has underscored the long-standing relationship between Orion and FTJ FundChoice even before the latter’s 2018 acquisition. What’s more, Eric practically grew up at CLS Investments, a $4 billion TAMP and a firm that, while retaining its brand name, is slated to play an integral role in Orion’s new unified offering.
Orion appears poised to compete as a single, cohesive offering of a continuum of technology and outsourcing services, guided by Eric’s singular vision. Orion has already promised a wave of tech synergies with CLS and Portfolio Solutions in the months to come, and has hinted at more M&A activity in the near future. I have no doubt that Orion will follow through on these promises. It will be interesting to see what potential companies might be in Orion’s crosshairs.
Orion’s brand unification coincides with an M&A landscape where deals are the new normal for everyone from advisor firms to the people who build the technology they use. The industry collectively casts a look over its shoulder at tech megafirms like Apple and Amazon, who have for years threatened to bring their polished client experience and inescapable ecosystems into the realm of finance. There is a collective realization that the resources and benefits of scale may be the best way to build a moat not only within the industry but around it.
In the wake of a busy fintech M&A season, some are questioning whether or not there is sufficient competition in certain advisor tech verticals. Clarke now presides over an array of synergized technology and outsourcing solutions, which should put some of those concerns among advisors to rest. I look forward to seeing how the competition in the advisor tech plays out in the months ahead.