October 16, 2012

Top 10 Tech Trends for Advisors and Their Partners: The Roundup

What are the 10 key technology trends for advisors? What are the 10 key technology trends for advisors?

There are some important technology trends that are making a major impact on the lives of financial advisors, broker-dealers and custodians. Ignored, these trends have the potential to put you out of business. Embraced, they can increase your revenue, profits, employee satisfaction and client satisfaction. In this, a roundup and slideshow of the 12-part blog series, we highlight some of the factors in each of the 10 trends. 

These trends vary in how far they’ve developed and in how far-reaching they can be. Some of them are impacting your business today and it’s likely that you are acting on them as I write. Others are issues and opportunities that might not yet be on your radar, but will likely impact your future. 

For example, crowdsourcing is an example of a trend you’ll likely need to deal with in the future. Most firms aren’t doing anything with crowdsourcing at the moment, but it is going to be increasingly important way in which firms accomplish tasks. On the other hand, a trend like mobility is, most likely, already impacting the way your firm works today. 

Depending upon the type of firm you have, and your role within it, some trends may be more relevant to you than others, and some might not affect you at all. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the direction in which things are moving. Some of these macro trends might well be affecting your clients and other key stakeholders including advisors, shareholders, vendors and others. Even though a technology trend might not impact your daily life, it’s important to remember that it may be dramatically changing the lives of others. 

So here are the Top 10 Technology Trends for Advisors and Their Partners, which is not listed in any order of importance, as the importance will vary based on who you are, your business model, etc.:

Increasing technology capability1. Increasing Technology Capability
(bandwidth, storage, computing power)

The first trend underpins all the other nine trends. The concept of increasing technological capability covers a lot of territory and includes cheaper/faster storage, increasing processing power and increasing bandwidth/wireless speeds.

The practical effect of that is financial institutions can use the extra data to ensure compliance with regulatory and legal requirements and store client and advisory data that was previously not retained. This will result in financial services companies investing more in ‘business intelligence’ to leverage this data in order to make better business decisions.  

If these trends continue at the pace that we’ve seen over the last five years—which we predict it will—then advisors and firms can expect an entirely new range of computer infrastructure management options that will open up capabilities that no one has yet thought about.

Mobility2. Mobility

The world is going mobile, and fast. What does this mean for financial enterprises and advisors? Quite simply, firms need to acknowledge that advisors and clients are accessing accounts via mobile devices. In practical terms, firms will need to ensure that their websites and online resources are mobile compatible. What might look good on a PC may not work at all on mobile devices.

In addition, mobile computing introduces an entirely new security issues. Obviously mobile devices are easier to steal. Where does client data reside? How secure are passwords? As mobile computing advances at light speed, it will be important for firms to stay current with the latest technologies to meet clients’ expectations.

It is important for advisors and institutions to realize that their clients are going to increasingly expect that the tasks that they can perform on their mobile devices with other businesses such as looking up information, contacting employees and conducting simple analyses will spill over into the advisory space. Within five years, every advisor and institution will need to have a credible mobile offering or risk becoming irrelevant. 

The Integrated Workstation3. The Integrated Workstation

The desire for more technical integration has been a trend for so long that it is, in many ways, hard to actually call it a trend. From linking stock quotes to news stories in the 1980s to today’s challenges of connecting social media to client records, the financial services industry has been a leader in making technologies work better together. 

So if integrated technology for advisors has been in existence for decades, what exactly is different now? A major issue with past integrated platforms is that it required advisors to lose some of each technology’s functionality in the name of integration. For the most part, advisors have cared more about the functionality of each software component they use and have not been willing to conform to a technology with sub-par integrated components.

If one looks at the number of vendors providing solutions solely focused in the CRM, portfolio management, financial planning and document management space it quickly becomes evident that functionality has ruled the day. In summary, advisors have preferred to use tools that fit their needs, even if not part of an integrated desktop, over integrated offerings.

Integration4. Integration

In the previous trend we discussed the integrated workstation and its role in providing efficiency to advisors. The fourth trend we will discuss is integration itself. From email to word processing to marketing resources, in today’s integrated world, the expectation is that data will only need to be entered one time. For example, it’s becoming an expectation that a client letter written in a word processing program will automatically integrate with the client’s CRM system user record, automatically populating the client’s name and address, as well as storing the document in the client’s account history. 

The benefits of integration are clear: 

  • First, integration eliminates multiple instances of manual data entry which both saves time and eliminates errors.  
  • Second, integration provides a better and more consistent user experience because the user does not have to go back and forth between different software to enter key data.  
  • Third, integration can provide a cost-effective way to improve the experience a client has with his or her advisor. For example, preparing an in-depth snapshot of a client’s portfolio would be cost prohibitive if the advisor had to manually enter data from multiple systems, and then cut and paste data into a report creation tool or word processing program. True integration, however, allows an advisor to offer this type of information on a client-by-client basis with a button click.

Workflow5. 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.

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?

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.

 Cloud-based computing6. Cloud-Based Computing

The ‘cloud’ is another name for remote servers operated by a third party. In the cloud, digital storage space and computing power becomes virtually unlimited because you’re reliant neither upon the physical space where you can house servers nor upon your budget for purchasing and maintaining computer hardware. In the cloud, you’re instead renting server space and, with high-speed wireless Internet access, anything stored in the cloud can be accessed just about anywhere, at any time. 

The greatest trend and perhaps the greatest cost savings for advisors related to the cloud is that software no longer needs to reside on the user’s servers or computers. The software program itself actually resides in and is accessible from a cloud-based server. Cloud-based software means that firms don’t have to purchase and maintain their own often high-priced server rooms for storage, nor do they have to maintain multiple software licenses.

The cloud computing trend also brings an entirely new level of security, backup and compliance issues.

Outsourcing7. Outsourcing

Outsourcing is no longer a negative term associated with shipping jobs overseas. It is not something only done to replace menial manual tasks. Rather, outsourcing has become a mainstream way of getting more done with less. The outsourcing trend, thus, is the continued evolution of outsourced solutions.    

There is a lot to be said for the phrase “focus on what you’re good at, and outsource the rest.” If you’re a great financial advisor, that doesn’t mean you’re a great advertising copywriter. The key to effective outsourcing is figuring out what you’re good at and what you like to do, and outsourcing the rest to others who have a specific talent as it relates to the task that needs to be completed.

Yes, the outlay of cash to pay for outsourcing can be expensive; however, compared to doing it yourself, getting it wrong, and really causing problems within your firm, the cost of outsourcing can be an incredible deal with superb ROI.

Other ways to outsource include using online services such as Guru.com and Elance.com.

Social Media (Photo: AP)8. Social Media

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island for the past few years, you know that social networking and social media is all the rage. It seems you can’t turn on the evening news without hearing “Twitter this” or “Facebook that.” With many technology trends, financial services firms have entered the market slowly, because of the unknown compliance and regulatory risks. Despite those risks, financial institutions and advisors are increasingly using social media including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Chatter and other services. 

For those in the financial services industry, there are really two core uses for social media. The first is an obvious one, as a new medium for communication. The second is less obvious but just as powerful, and that is as an intelligence gathering tool.

In addition to maintaining legal compliance, anyone in business—and advisors in particular—needs to be very careful what they post online because of ‘reputational compliance.’ It’s important to remember that anything in digital format is probably archived, and thus searchable, forever.

Crowdsourcing9. Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is the act of sourcing tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to a group of people or a community (crowd) through an open call. While the outsourcing trend discussed earlier typically consists of hiring an individual or firm to perform a task, crowdsourcing is accomplished by a group of people helping you accomplish your task.   

For the financial industry, a simple example of crowdsourcing is coming up with a logo for a new advisory firm. In the past, if you wanted to start your own practice, you may have hired a marketing firm and paid them several thousand dollars to create a firm name that captured the essence of who you are and what you’re trying to achieve.

The bottom line for advisors is that for many tasks and projects where it was previously difficult to find the right resource or prohibitively expensive to hire someone, those same tasks can now be done affordably and efficiently through crowdsourcing.  As client expectations increase and advisors need to get more work done, crowdsourcing may be the right solution for your firm to get tasks accomplished quickly and cost effectively.

 Big Data10. Big Data

The Big Data trend is the explosion of the amount of data available in both structured and unstructured formats.  The key characteristic is around the challenge of sorting and analyzing the data so that meaningful insights can be gleaned. 

Don’t get bogged down in the Big Data trend. Rather, start first by taking a critical look at what information you would like to have and how that information would help you make better decisions. How can you turn information into knowledge that, when acted upon, can help you achieve a specific business objective? By knowing what you want to achieve first and envisioning how your business would be different if you had the right information, you can then make a better decision on what data to track, how much of it to keep, and how it will be analyzed.

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View all the articles in this series at the Top 10 Tech Trends home page.

View Spenser Segal's previous practice management primer blog series.

More Top 10 lists from AdvisorOne

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