Indiana financial planner Craig Dunn says his client relationship management system “brings organization out of chaos.” Minneapolis financial adviser Tiffany Brynteson says CRM “is our life.”
CRMs are Web- or software-based tools for organizing and tracking client dealings and accounts. They can store a wealth of information about clients – from whether they take cream in their coffee, to copies of their trusts. They can streamline office procedures and improve efficiencies. CRMs, ever-evolving to handle more tasks, are exploding in popularity as more financial planners learn just how valuable they can be.
“The planning profession is getting increasingly serious about practice management issues,” says Bob Veres, publisher of Inside Information, a newsletter that helps financial planners improve their practices.
“As the question ?How do I do this better?’ comes up more and more often, CRM software becomes a more-obvious choice to incorporate into a practice,” Veres says.
But how does a planner decide what type of CRM tool to buy and when to buy it? There’s a staggering array of products that fall under the general CRM umbrella. Products range from task-specific tools – such as: software to track prospects or software to ensure compliance – to comprehensive offerings with dozens of functions to help streamline practices. They range in price from a few hundred to many thousands of dollars. This is no easy knot to unravel.
Who needs CRM?
Do you need to figure out the puzzle for your financial planning practice? The short answer is probably yes – if not immediately, then soon. Even a small financial planning practice that’s just starting out expects business to grow. When it does, the old slip-of-paper or Rolodex approach quickly becomes unwieldy.
“Even if you’re a two-person firm, there are so many things that can slip through the cracks,” says Brynteson, manager of client services and asset management for Wade Financial Group (a Minneapolis-based business with about 130 clients, more than $500 million in assets under management and a staff of 11.) A CRM system “solves that for you.” Wade Financial’s CRM has been Junxure-i, a comprehensive office management software system, or its predecessor versions, for 11 of Wade’s 12 years of operations.
Larger, more established firms should definitely consider CRM tools if they don’t have them – or make sure they have the right one if they’ve already adopted a system.
“I was on a first-generation system and it was a nightmare,” recalls Dunn, a registered principal with Liberty Financial Group in Kokomo, Ind. An investment advisor since 1982, Dunn’s earliest client records were kept on index cards. He’s used several CRM systems through the years and now relies on Investigo, another comprehensive office management system, to track his 140 clients and their assets of about $130 million. Moving to Investigo “is by far the easiest conversion I’ve ever had,” he says.
Why invest in CRM?
Better customer service tops the list of CRM advantages, users say. Dunn, for example, uses Investigo to track every client contact, or touch, he has and then can ask the system to tell him which clients he’s missed talking with recently. He’ll often print a list, take it with him on long driving trips and make catch-up calls on his cell phone. He also uses the software to create quarterly reports for each client and then personalizes each one with a handwritten note.
“Every Series 7 broker in the country can sell what I’m selling,” he says. “The only unique commodity I have is my service.”
A vast majority of Dunn’s clients are oblivious to how the CRM system helps him provide good service. They just like being pampered. “It’s like watching a magician,” the planner says. “They like the magic trick but don’t care to see what’s going on behind the curtain.”
The beauty of such a CRM tool is that it helps everyone in an office deliver personalized service, says Gregory Friedman of Novato, Calif. With software developer Ken Golding, Friedman co-founded CRM Software, maker of Junxure-i, in 1994.
When a client calls in, whoever handles the call can access personal information at the touch of a button.
“They can talk to a client like they know him intimately,” Friedman says. “That turns around to the client saying, ?These people really know me. They understand me. I’m not just one of a bazillion people.’”
With most CRMs, financial advisers also can standardize handling of new clients and ensure follow-up.