Ideally, Gary Zaugg would chat with his computer, have it input client notes, and file appropriate details into the correct folders--all without the Virginia Beach, Virginia planner having to lift a finger to the keyboard. Until advisor nirvana arrives, however, he's happy juggling the same customer relationship management (CRM) software he's had for the past ten years. "If it's not broken . . . " jokes Zaugg, an advisor with Raymond James.
But new developments in CRM could change Zaugg's mind. While a software program that perfectly grasps voice command--and files as well as a seasoned assistant--is probably not on the immediate horizon, new features finding their way into CRM products might make it easier for advisors to not only stay in touch with clients, but also potentially turn them into life-long advocates. Sure, CRM won't automatically order birthday flowers and send them to the client just because it's noted on Outlook, although that level of automation may not be too far down the road. But get real, a bunch of tulips is hardly going to nail, or secure, a $10 million account.
"A high-net-worth client doesn't want to be sold, he wants to buy into something," says Duncan MacPherson, co-founder and co-CEO of Pareto Systems, based just outside Vancouver.
CRM software can help an advisor stay in touch with a client, but the key is using it in the right way. While new bells and whistles are fun, most experts and advisors agree that no piece of software can replace the person-to-person interaction clients usually seek. Still, CRM software makers are now combining clever programming with more robust software to offer advisors a more streamlined, smarter way to keep current clients happy and bring more clients into their financial family.
The Missing Link
Clipping a golfing story from the newspaper and mailing it to a client who spends his weekends on the greens is a common way an advisor builds connections. But e-mailing an article about the best cooking schools in France to a recently retired client with a fantasy of being a master chef -- especially one whose assets can support his dream? Perhaps a bit more meaningful.
"We got an e-mail from an advisor who had a client taking a trip to Napa," says Joe Lanza, head of sales and marketing for Dow Jones Newswires-Americas. "The advisor found a story on a new winery in the area and sent it to him. The client e-mailed back, thanked him, and said, 'By the way, I have $300,000 that needs to find a home. Let's talk when I get back.'"
With two decades in the financial services industry, Lanza understands what's necessary to sculpt a successful advisory firm. That's why he has helped oversee the launch of Dow Jones's new CRM tool, Wealth Manager Direct, which links client management software with a newswire service that automatically searches and stores, then e-mails, articles that fit a client's profile.
Dow Jones is no stranger to Wall Street, but following the collapse of the Internet bubble, the company says brokers and advisors challenged the financial research and news giant to come up with features that would help them grow and deepen their relationships with clients, and bring in more assets.
The company poured nearly a year into research, building prototypes and adding beta testers before launching Wealth Manager Direct in September 2005.
The program's strength is its ability to mine news databases including The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires to find stories that match a client's preferences. When an advisor launches the Web-based program, client data, along with stories that have been captured, appear on the front screen. Names and e-mails also emerge in a pop-up window allowing the story to be immediately sent, if the advisor chooses.
"We know that affluent clients like to be contacted at least 28 times in a one-year period," says Lanza, quoting the study "Capturing the High-Net-Worth Investor" by CEG Worldwide that was commissioned by Dow Jones. The firm believes its new product will help create not just random reasons to fulfill that quota, but ones that carry some significance.
A subscription-based tool, Wealth Direct Manager requires a 10-user minimum. It's not ideal for an independent advisor --or one who wants to supplement the CRM software his firm pre-installs on his PC. Moreover, a barrage of e-mailed stories--even if they relate to a client's interest--could quickly be perceived as spam. So judiciousness is critical. "CRM can be misused," warns Art Grant, president of the Syracuse-based independent B/D Cadaret, Grant. "You have to be very careful."
Grant is cautious when it comes to turning a client relationship over to a software program. Which might be why it took him until last November to actually install CRM software on some of his advisors' desktops. He enlisted the help of Pareto Systems, which customized a version of its program for the B/D and its advisors.
Cadaret, Grant looked at a number of CRM possibilities. There were concerns that some software wouldn't tie into its existing back-office programs. The B/D also toyed, briefly, with the possibility of building its own system. "But we didn't want to reinvent the wheel," says Marypat Ganley, the company's VP of business development. What management did want was something that would be easy to use and could work with the mobile nature of many of its advisors. The idea was that an advisor could meet with a client, access data on a PDA, go back to a hotel room, update notes on a laptop, and even see what his administrative assistant had done that day in terms of client contacts.
Ganley says the firm was adamant about being able to see what an admin had done--without having to get an e-mail update from him. "A lot of e-mail can be more annoying than helpful," she says.
Another no-no was anything that became too automated, like linking the CRM tool to Caller ID so data including a client's most recent trade, or even the color of his hair, would come up when the call came in. "That was the rage maybe six or seven years ago," says Grant. "But we believe that preconditions the response from the advisor, so it's less spontaneous." Most important, it had to be simple so people would use it, says Grant. "Otherwise it's a waste of time and money."
In all, it took the firm almost a year from idea to contract before it came up with a system that worked with its back office, wouldn't cost too much, and could help its advisors grow their businesses. Ganley knew that off-the-shelf software could cost as much as $1,000 out of the box, which the broker/dealer felt would be too much of a burden on its advisors. "We got that down to as little as $300 a year, which we charge our advisors," she says.
The firm had installed the software on just 45 computers at the time of the interview, but expected a full rollout to all of its 950 advisors by the end of June.
That Ol' Card Catalog
David Rockefeller, former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank and grandson of John D. Rockefeller, was no stranger to tools that helped him remember, connect, and convince those he dealt with in business. Instead of a software program embedded on a computer, Rockefeller had a card catalog that held about 150,000 names, and sat in his office on the 56th floor of Rockefeller Center, according to a 2000 story in Forbes.
Scott Abboud can relate. When this former advisor moved offices at one point, he found several index cards with names of contacts that had, quite literally, slipped through the cracks between his desk and filing cabinet. "Obviously, I had never called them again," he says.
So he bought a laptop, and ACT, then a DOS-based system, and began putting all his contact information into the program. He kept electronic files about discussions, and notes on when he should schedule a follow-up. There was even a calendar to keep track of meetings. "It was wonderful," he says. "It kept me on cue."
But then he got creative, started customizing the program, adding features he thought he needed like a field not just to mark his client's birthday but the client's kids' birthdays, too. Abboud loved ACT, but he realized that adding some other features would make it more appropriate for an advisor. By 2002 he left his own advisory firm, moved the business out of his basement, and started selling his custom software product, now tagged Act4Advisors, full-time. His idea remains similar to the card catalog approach in one important way--ease of use. "Every company is going to try and come up with some fancy way to sell software," he says. "But some CRM programs are so cumbersome, advisors don't want to use them. When you add features you also add complexity, and that freezes people."
An added bonus is that unlike subscription services, Act4Advisors works right out of the box at $400 a pop, although users also have to have ACT already installed for the customized program to work. For an additional $299, advisors can get six hours of telephone support.
Advisors building their own systems line the playing field.
Take Greg Friedman, who found his Novato, California-based financial advisory business, Friedman & Associates, booming in the mid-'90s. That was about the same time that the dot.com era began, when nearly any breathing college graduate could find a job bursting with stock options. "It made staffing a challenge," he says.
Playing with technology was always a hobby for Friedman, so he hired a programmer and the first version of Junxure was born. Within three to four months, Friedman was using what he considered his proprietary software. It broke down the client relationship into 14 steps complete with spreadsheets and checklists, along with business metrics that showed how much time a task took, how much money it brought in, and even if the firm was profitable.
Friedman would go to meetings, show his software program, and have other advisors clamor for it. But he felt it gave his firm a competitive advantage, and refused to share it until an executive coach explained to him that his clients stayed with the firm for his expertise, not his software.
Friedman got the message and the software side of his business took off. But here's where it gets confusing. Friedman says he brokered a deal with Schwab to let it market and support the program--but allow Friedman to continue to control the software. Schwab eventually dropped the name Junxure, and completely revamped its program to one with a SQL database, now known as Schwab Portfolio Center Relationship Manager. However, Friedman kept upgrading the original program, sold his version under the name Junxure-I, even though he refers to it as just Junxure, and it is now available off the Web, is used in more than 550 offices, and sits on more than 3,000 desktops.
Junxure's proven so popular, says Friedman, that he's launched a new program called Client View. It works with Junxure and creates a private Web page for an advisor's clients where they can find activity reports and other data about their accounts.
Ask the Experts
Raymond James, as one of the larger broker/dealers in the business, should be a font of expert knowledge on CRM. The firm did believe, for a while, that it knew best, spending two years trying to build its own contact management system. "None [of it] was very good," admits Mike Shelly, VP of technology.
Finally the firm turned to two vendors, whose names Shelly would not divulge, and started discussing price. Their first phase, with a light customization of the existing software, is already in place. There's automatic householding, so all accounts come up for each Social Security number, rather than listed individually. The program even reminds an advisor when five days have passed since a client opened an account, and that it might be time to say, "Welcome."
Shelly also wanted to offer Raymond James advisors the ability to do their own customization, but with some restraint, so that they when they called in for tech support, the help desk would still be able to resolve the problem.
Shelly knows an advisor can do a great job on his own, but to turn into a "top producer," to connect not just with clients, but with future prospects in a thoughtful, and more important, profitable way? "You need that 'Wow' factor," he says. "And you just can't do that without some help."
Lauren Barack is a New York-based freelance business writer who specializes in stories on technology, finance, and parenting. She can be reached at email@example.com.