From the July 2013 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Perfecting Your Tech Image

How do your clients view your firm’s use of technology?

Illustration by Ellen Weinstein. Illustration by Ellen Weinstein.

It is quite common for advisors to discuss their firms’ technology solutions and processes with other advisors, service partners and consultants. These conversations often occur during conferences and study groups with the goal of making sure that advisors are aware of the latest technology solutions as well as identifying new ways for their firms to be more efficient. However, have you considered how your prospects and clients might view the way your firm utilizes technology? Is their impression that your firm is technology-savvy? Here are some areas to think about that can influence how your firm measures up with clients when it comes to technology.

When you first begin working with new clients, they will quickly get an idea of the role technology plays in your firm. During this initial process, take a close look at how you gather information from clients for developing their financial plan and investment strategy. Is this process still primarily paper-based with questionnaires and other documents? If so, this isn’t automatically a negative, but paper and the clutter it brings can easily be interpreted as inefficient and behind the times. Therefore, you have the opportunity to improve this experience and the early impression of doing business with your firm by adopting paperless processes. Consider offering the ability for your client to provide this information via an online template tool, perhaps through your website or other channel. A core feature of many financial planning solutions is a collaboration tool, which allows both you and your client (either together or separately) to input this information directly through the website and then make changes accordingly as time and circumstances change. The use of such technology helps solidify client relationships for many advisors.

Another area to consider that could influence how your clients view your technology is to make it very easy for them to send you information securely. Encrypting documents is generally not very hard to do, but unfortunately it can be confusing for clients to do on their own. In addition, there is always the question of what password to use and whether they entered it correctly. Instead, consider offering a method for your clients to securely send and receive documents directly with your firm. This could be accomplished via portals, secure mailbox services or other file-sharing websites like Egnyte, Sharefile or Dropbox. You could also check with your current website provider to see if they offer file-sharing solutions. Offering this type of transmission service sends the right message to your clients regarding the importance you place on protecting their information.

Advisory firms that have replaced paper reports and presentations with tablets for in-person meetings could certainly be considered early adopters. However, I would argue that the “early adoption” phase is over. The fact is your clients are seeing tablet-type devices used frequently in other businesses. In fact, recently while having dinner at a hotel restaurant, I found that the wine list was provided on an iPad as an app. I wish I could tell you that this was the most expensive restaurant in town, but it wasn’t even close. Clearly the restaurant had figured out that it was better for its customers to view the wine list on an iPad, and it is easier and less expensive in the long run for the restaurant to keep it updated on a tablet as well. Needless to say, I left thinking that this restaurant understands how to use technology in its business, and now I’m telling you about it. Your clients may soon be doing the same about you.

How you make your firm available to the clients who do not reside in your city is an additional way for you to demonstrate your utilization of technology. Ask yourself whether it is easy for these out-of-town clients to access the same support and information you offer clients who live in your city. Your website, electronic account access and reports should immediately come to mind. Is there anything you provide local clients that you cannot readily provide clients who reside far away? You should also consider conducting webinars or scheduling webcam-based meetings for these out-of-town clients. The reality is your clients are potentially already fairly comfortable with this technology given the popularity of services like FaceTime and Skype. Therefore, if you plan to host an event for local clients, consider delivering the same presentation as a webinar on a later date for out-of-town clients.

Certainly one of the challenges of being viewed by your clients as a firm that leverages technology is that expectations and needs can change, sometimes very quickly. You might think that your clients would never care to see their performance reports on an iPad, only to learn that half of your clients use these devices. Just as your needs and uses of technology evolve, the same is happening with your clients. More importantly, you probably do not want your clients or prospects to think that they use technology more effectively than your firm.

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