On the Black Diamond team, we don’t often have the luxury of looking at things in retrospect. We are so busy focusing on the future, working on the next new set of applications, that we rarely raise our heads to reflect on past accomplishments. Fortunately, the end of the year affords us the opportunity to do just that. And by every measure, 2018 was pretty remarkable.
The numbers alone tell much of the story. Over this past year, we grew the Black Diamond client base by 17 percent over year-end 2017. Over 1,300 clients rely on the platform to run a total AUM of $900 billion, up 28 percent over the previous year, and manage some 1.9 million accounts. Hands-on users at those firms total around 17,000. That’s a lot of people who depend on us every day. To make sure we continue to exceed their expectations, we bolstered the full Black Diamond team by 30 percent, and now have 390 dedicated associates.
Against that backdrop, 2018 was a year that saw some of our most important long-term initiatives come to fruition. Black Diamond R&D investment hit an all-time high, and the results this year were genuine game changers.
In June, after exhaustive testing, we rolled out the Black Diamond Client Experience, our highly anticipated interactive portal. Since then, more than half the Black Diamond user firms have introduced it to their clients. The Client Experience enables advisors to offer a custom-branded online environment that elevates their value in the eyes of HNW investors. End clients can stay connected to their advisors and portfolios from any device - tracking all the key aspects of their financial lives.
We also completed development and delivery of an all-new Rebalancer engine, built from the ground up to accommodate the increased complexity of today’s client portfolios. Based on extensive input from both clients and non-clients, we built a solution with robust modeling capabilities, asset location, tax efficiency features, and proactive portfolio monitoring for changes that require rebalancing. On the trading side, the Rebalancer has FIX connectivity, so advisors do not have to download data and then upload trades to custodians.
To provide advisors with efficient access to a variety of investment strategies, we entered into an exclusive relationship with SMArtX, a full-service Turnkey Asset management Platform (TAMP). This integration enables our clients to access traditional, index and alternative investment strategies through a Unified Managed or Separately Managed Account (UMA/SMA) structure with low minimums, sleeve reporting, real-time performance and intraday liquidity. Leveraging a third-party exchange like SMArtX enables advisors to focus on bigger-picture strategies and long-term goals with their clients.
Innovation has been a hallmark of the Black Diamond platform since its inception. The challenge is to always stay ahead of the pace and deliver improvements that enable our clients to serve their clients more effectively. In 2018 we met some ambitious milestones. The road ahead looks no less exciting. We have the talent, vision, and drive to do amazing things.