What websites are well-rounded advisors visiting these days?
One thing’s for sure: There are a lot more than just 10, as alluded to by this article’s title. It might, therefore, be more accurate to say there are 10 categories of bookmarks corresponding to different aspects of running a financial advisory business. Advisors — particularly sole practitioners — wear many hats, often serving within the same day as financial planner, researcher, marketer, business manager and IT consultant. It’s knowing where to go on the Internet that makes this possible.
Financial Planning ToolsMost of the tools needed to develop a financial plan and manage a retainer client’s affairs are available online, the most obvious being financial planning and portfolio management systems. Financial planning software once used on the desktop is now migrating to the Web, like EISI’s Naviplan Central at www.eisi.com/products/us/extended/formats.htm. Other financial planning systems enjoying popularity today were designed specifically for the Web and have never been available for the desktop, like MoneyGuidePro at www.moneyguidepro.com.
Portfolio management services go hand-in-hand with financial planning if you’re a full-service advisor. Many advisors trade through their custodians’ websites, like Schwab’s www.SchwabInstitutional.com, while others do so on clearing firm sites, like Pershing’s www.NetXPro.com. Some advisors outsource portfolio reporting and billing to companies like Vista, Calif.-based Back Office Support Services (www.theBackOffice.biz), which hosts PortfolioCenter and other PMS systems on its servers for access by its own personnel and advisor-clients.
Yet, online financial planning and portfolio management systems are just the beginning. Advisor Russ Thornton of Thornton Wealth Management in Atlanta uses an online Client Relationship Management system — Redtail Technology’s “Redtail CRM” (www.RedtailTechnology.com) — which comes with modules for e-mail archiving and document management. He also finds useful sites like www.mind42.com for online mind-mapping — a visual brainstorming process for tackling those tough planning dilemmas.
Remote ConnectivityIronically, some of the Web tools advisors use most frequently are those allowing them to connect remotely to PC-centric software on their desktop computers. While the best-known Web-based connectivity software is probably www.GoToMyPC.com, Hussein Fawaz of Starfire Investment Advisors in Southfield, Mich., finds utility in www.LogMeIn.com, an alternate site competing on price.
ResearchThe third type of site we need is that which helps us research financial planning issues and investment trends, like www.Morningstar.com. Another example, when the client’s situation calls for it, is www.SavingForCollege.com — otherwise known as “everything you ever wanted to know about Section 529 plans.”
Or there’s a favorite of Macon, Ga.-based advisor Jim Beall — CalculatedRISK (www.calculatedrisk.blogspot.com), a blog that he says is, “…the best source I’ve found for what’s happening in the housing and mortgage markets.” Fawaz, meanwhile, says don’t forget about obvious research sources like www.IRS.gov, the place to go for tax-code research.
Navigation and Bookmarking ToolsEven bookmarking — the topic of this article — has been revolutionized by the Web. Because we now access the Internet not only from our own desktop browsers, but from Smartphones and public computers, we need a central location for all our bookmarks. Thornton is a big fan of Del.icio.us (yes, that’s the URL), a site where you store all your bookmarks for access from anywhere. Fawaz likes www.PageOnce.com, which calls itself a “Personal Internet Assistant,” holding not only frequently used bookmarks, but usernames, passwords and other navigational tools as well.
Industry NewsWe all need bookmarks to industry news outlets since keeping current is essential to our work. Thornton frequents www.BobVeres.com for the latest from Veres’ long-running Inside Information newsletter on industry affairs and practice management developments. Fawaz favors www.MorningstarAdvisor.com for editorial commentary by the research company’s stable of writers. Among Beall’s favorites is www.Bloomberg.com. Of course, don’t forget industry trade publications like Research (www.researchmag.com), which offers fresh content in addition to archives of printed material.
General NewsFor general news, those of us capable of reading a newspaper online have favorite sites like the New York Times (www.NYTimes.com) or Washington Post (www.WashingtonPost.com). Some advisors, though, follow particular columnists rather than entire newspapers. Corry Sheffler of Lion Financial Planning in Greensburg, Pa., is partial to the commentary of Gail MarksJarvis f the Chicago Tribune whose columns he accesses at www.chicagotribune.com/business/columnists/ and Liz Pulliam Weston of MSN’s Money Central (articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Commentary/Experts/Weston/Liz_Pulliam_Weston.aspx).
That said, the whole concept of bookmarks is almost obsolete in this category since most people get their news now through “feeds,” or RSS (Really Simple Syndication) systems that force-feed the articles to your computer or Smartphone’s RSS reader. Beall says he uses Google’s Reader [www.Google.com/reader] for his 50-plus feeds. “I click on the RSS buttons found on most news sites to set up feeds that automatically tell me every morning what news I missed the night before.”
Another popular way to access news content is through free, customizable website pages in which feeds and links can all be displayed together. Fawaz recommends www.iGoogle.com for this purpose.
Professional AssociationsLest we forget, our own professional associations deserve a bookmark, if for no other reason than their discussion forums. The forums available at the Financial Planning Association’s www.fpanet.org and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors’ www.napfa.org, to name just two, facilitate the swapping of practice management tips and expert opinions.
Communications and E-mailWeb-based e-mail providers are where many of us get our e-mail, so they, too, deserve a bookmark. Whether you’re with www.Yahoo.com or Google’s www.Gmail.com, you need a link to your inbox.
That said, some advisors are discovering business networking sites, like www.LinkedIn.com and www.Plaxo.com, where e-mail is just one of many communications tools. Part business networking and part social networking, these websites facilitate communication with existing colleagues and yet-to-be-met experts — and such sites are growing in number faster than anyone can keep track of. Although LinkedIn and Plaxo are two of the best known, Fawaz prefers a lesser-known upstart known as www.Pownce.com. Discover for yourself how business networking sites can help you develop business.
Practice Management and Technology SupportAs important as it is to keep up with the latest estate planning technique or tax law change, it’s just as critical that we stay informed on practice management and technology issues. For practice management guidance, there is the free site www.PracticeLifecycle.com of which (full disclosure here) I am an owner. Or check out the subscription site — www.AdvisorMax.com — produced by one of the industry’s trade publications.
As for technology, useful bookmarks span everything from system maintenance-oriented sites to technology news sites. Becky Martz, a Technology Analyst with Back Bay Financial Group in Boston, reminds us that many security functions for which we might otherwise buy an “Internet security suite” to handle are now manageable right from the Web. Want to run a virus scan on your computer? It’s free at www.Kaspersky.com. Want to remove that pesky spy software from your hard drive? Free at www.Webroot.com, the home of award-winning Spy Sweeper software.
Keep up on general technology news that affects your company’s technology platform by reading PC World (www.PCWorld.com) or PC Magazine (www.PCMag.com) online, as Fawaz does. Or set up an iGoogle feed like mine from www.CNET.com, a leader in technology news and reviews. These sites will help you locate and assess new computer equipment, among other things, as will www.Amazon.com, a favorite of Beall’s. “On Amazon, I can find a review for just about every product I need for the home or office. The prices are good and, with my Prime membership, items I purchase arrive at my door in two days with free shipping.”
Miscellaneous Online ToolsNot surprisingly, we end with a catch-all category for the many bookmarks that don’t easily fit elsewhere. Some enjoy this category the most because it contains those inexpensive, easy-to-use, single-purpose utilities that can make our jobs so much easier… like www.SurveyMonkey.com, for starters. Funny name, serious functionality. Whether you want to take a quick poll of 50 clients or survey 30,000 FPA members, www.SurveyMonkey.com is readily available at a reasonable price. Utilities like these abound. Visit www.TripIt.com for online travel agent services, or the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System at www.EFTPS.gov to make required corporate tax withholding payments. And don’t forget to check out the sites like www.ThinkFree.com and docs.Google.com that give you — at no cost — most of the performance of Microsoft’s Office Suite (Word, Excel et al.).
Are our 10 categories clear and distinct? Unfortunately, no — but it’s not our fault. A little phenomenon called “Web 2.0″ is behind it all with its trademark tools for transforming old-school, ho-hum websites into conduits for sharing all types of information via links, audio and video files, forums, surveys and collaborative tools. As Web 2.0 tools proliferate, bookmarked sites within our 10 categories begin to look more and more alike.
Is this helpful or not? It may be confusing initially, but we’ll come to appreciate this new Web functionality as it becomes increasingly likely that whatever you need to run your practice is somewhere online. Hopefully, you’ve now got the roadmap to find it.
David J. Drucker, CFP, is president of Drucker Knowledge Systems; see www.DavidDrucker.com.