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Now is the time for investment professionals to determine how they will manage their business in 2004 to meet the years sales plans and production goals. The use of technology increasingly is important in giving your strategy a competitive edge.

No matter where you are on the technology continuum, the opportunities to impact your sales, service, marketing and customer satisfaction through technology are substantial. There are a number of products and platforms that can impact your business positively. And best of all, you wont feel as if you need a degree in computer science to become a proficient user of them.

Among the latest technology tools are those that help you reach more people more effectively. There are only so many hours in 2004, so you need to make the most of your time and that of your clients.

Now you can collaborate over the Internet with clients or groups of clients in a detailed manner that once required timely face-to-face meetings. Several vendors have created easy-to-use platforms that combine a phone conference line with the ability to share documents, slide shows and other Web-based tools with one or many other participants. The only capability required to participate in an online session is a traditional Internet browser. Clients simply log on to the Web site and enter a password to join the Web conference session.

Recent advances have made this technology feasible with even low-speed phone connections. You can even record the sessions for your clients to play back at their convenience (with the approval of your firms compliance department). This technology is especially useful for:

401(k) enrollment/

education sessions;

Sharing needs analysis, product modeling and illustration results;

Collaborating online with internal wholesalers for illustrations and other tools; and

Collaborating with advanced sales personnel to better leverage the tools they have at their disposal.

Many insurance and mutual fund product providers offer service platforms that can help save you time and money. Through these sites, you can perform an array of tasks that once required telephone hold time, an annoyance to your staff and your clients.

The common capabilities of product provider sites include: account inquiry, asset allocation changes, exchanges, fund performance, form databases (usually state specific), and access to marketing literature.

Your support staff also should be able to access the status of life underwriting and annuity 1035 exchanges, as well as a one-button view of clients fund profiles and quarterly statements. Helping your staff familiarize themselves with the Web sites of your key product providers will help make your business even more efficient and customer friendly in 2004.

As a growing number of investors become Internet savvy, they increasingly are exposed to sophisticated “do it yourself” financial planning tools. How will your sales process stack up to clients heightened expectations?

If you are not taking advantage of technology that personalizes key concepts to your clients, you may be missing out on a viable business growth strategy. Technology options range from general retirement planning needs analysis to sophisticated estate planning and deferred compensation strategies.

Consider how retirement planning has changed in the last few years. For many clients, the concept of risk tolerance has altered, as well as previous assumptions for retirement age. Unfortunately, many common risk tolerance questionnaires do not reflect the associated impact on accumulation goals. As an investment professional, you may have the opportunity to help your clients better manage their portfolios by leveraging Monte Carlo simulation tools, which help explain the impact of fluctuating returns on retirement income. Note that use of Monte Carlo is subject to approval from your firms compliance department.

Investment professionals who work with plan sponsors also can distinguish themselves by partnering with a product provider that offers robust fiduciary tools and education platforms. These tools assist in the explanation of fiduciary responsibilities, creation of investment policy statements, and documentation of the fund selection and review process. These platforms help simplify what otherwise can be an overwhelming experience for you and the plan sponsor.

In addition to helping you manage your business, technology can be used to determine if you should change the way you do business in 2004 by modeling the impact of entering into a fee-based platform or changing your business mix.

It is sometimes difficult for investment professionals to develop economically structured plans to migrate their product mix and associated revenue streams to strategies such as fee-based products. But tools now exist to help them understand how to finance the transition and how the transition will affect current income and value of their practice.

As technology advances, it becomes easier to use. Even the most techno-phobic investment professional need not shy away from these opportunities to grow and deepen his or her books of business. Determining what tools are necessary to help meet your 2004 plans can be critical to your success. And promising to implement the technology is a New Years resolution you are unlikely to regret.

is vice president of sales technology services for Nationwide Financial Services Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at lyonst@nationwide.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, November 21, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.