June 12, 2012

Top 10 Technology Trends for Advisors and Their Partners: Pt. 6, Workflow

In the previous post of our twelve-part blog series on the Top 10 Technology Trends for advisors and their partners, we discussed integration and how it involves more than just an integrated workstation. The fifth trend we will discuss in this post below is workflow.   

Many software applications—document management, CRM, and some portfolio/trade order management systems—come with built-in workflow capabilities that allow advisors to systematize their work. Systematization ensures that the client experience and operational processes are consistent regardless of who in the firm is doing the work. This makes it much easier to add new staff, and when a staff member is on vacation or otherwise out of the office it ensures that the client receives the same high level of service. 

In addition, the efficiencies created by systematization allow the advisor to spend more time providing higher human value-added client activities (e.g., determining strategies that will improve the client’s financial situation, meeting with the client’s CPA or estate attorney, etc.).  In addition, the advisor can spend more time working on growing his or her business (e.g., meeting with prospects, planning marketing activities, etc.). 

One of the challenges is determining where you will store your workflows and which applications will drive specific workflows. 

If you’re an advisor, in order to achieve workflow’s efficiency and consistency benefits, you will need to invest time and money mapping out your firm’s processes down to the task level. This most likely means dedicating internal resources or outsourcing the workflow documentation, as it is not optimal for the task owner to accurately map out all the necessary steps related to executing a process.

It’s not that the person doesn’t know the steps; rather, it’s because they are “unconsciously competent,” meaning that there are many steps that appear so obvious that an expert in the task wouldn’t think of documenting them. But to effectively map out the workflow, you need to know what all of those steps are, including the ones that are seemingly very obvious. This most often can only be done by someone observing the task being done, and documenting all of the necessary steps.

The good news for advisory firms is that those that do embrace the workflow trend and systematize their business will create more business value than firms that do not. Why is that? Because a firm that has effectively mapped its workflow and embedded its processes into software is a firm that is not reliant upon a single person or persons in the firm and their unique way of doing things. It allows a firm to recruit employees and get them up-to-speed on the “firm’s way of doing things” versus each employee or team member managing tasks in their own ways. Instead, those unique tasks or steps become systematized, scalable and repeatable by any current or future employee. 

Many times people confuse having a systematized practice with a “cookie cutter” approach. Nothing can be further from the truth. The more systematized your practice is, the more time you are able to spend on the unique intricacies of a specific client situation. In addition, the firm is able to create career paths for employees and enable them to move up the value chain and easily delegate the lower half of their responsibilities to less expensive resources. 

The reality is that workflow will constantly evolve as the systems and the size of the firm change. Similar to the way an advisor might rebalance his or her portfolio models on a regular basis, the advisor should also rebalance her workflow portfolios. At ActiFi, we go as far as to recommend that a firm implements a process committee that functions in a similar way to the firm’s investment committee.

The bottom line is that running an efficient and systematized business is a very achievable goal that yields many business and client benefits. However, it is not achievable with a “simple project.” It is an ongoing effort to continually optimize and improve the business functioning just as managing the client portfolio securities requires continual effort. If you’re willing to invest this effort, you’ll find that the return is well worth it.

View all the articles in this series at the Top Tech Trends home page.

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