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Before every article, I think “What can I tell my readers that will save them time, money or frustration?” Tech issues seem to tick every box. After two trips to the Genius Bar in one week and spending over four and a half hours with some darling geeks, tech problems are really on my mind.

My goal for any tech is:

  1. It needs to free me up to spend more time with clients. This is mandatory for creating a profitable business and happy, satisfied clients.

  2. It needs to free up team time. I want to reduce their stress and make their work environment as good as possible.

  3. It needs to create happy, sticky clients. We want clients to get an experience with us they can’t get elsewhere.

Here are some of the tools we are using, how they stack up against our tech and business goals, and a report on the success and the failures we have had.

Hardware Help

We are an Apple shop through and through. When we were using PCs, we were constantly getting crashes. Apples have saved us a vast amount of time and were a great move. I can’t remember the last time our system crashed. Whenever I have tech problems, I can always sign up for a date with a geek at the Genius Bar.

One downside to using Apples is a surprising number of our employees are not familiar with Macs, so it takes a little longer to get them up to speed. Another downside is, some programs (including the one we use for our own accounting) do not work on Apples. This has become less of a problem over time, but years past, I couldn’t do all of my CE, because most of it was only available for PCs. Even our kludge accounting system has finally become cloud based.

Inside tip: Apple has a service for an extra fee (of course!) that allows you to jump to the front of the Genius Bar line. We are looking into this now.

I use an iPad mini for client presentations. I have an Apple TV and big monitor, so I can just put client data up on a big screen using a mirroring system. I found it was easier for clients to relate to the numbers when they were on a large screen, than looking at paper or a smaller monitor. Most of our clients prefer to receive documents electronically anyway. Now I save the paper for clients over 50.

I use an IPad Pro and Apple Pencil for taking notes. I recently started using an app called Notability (costs about $6) for taking electronic notes in client meetings. This has been a lifesaver, a tree saver and a time and money saver. The first week I used it in our Rhode Island office I only copied three pages of paper! This allowed us to go back to our printer/fax/copier/scanner company (Ricoh) and negotiate a much lower rate for usage and ink. It also meant my team got needed documents much faster and more legibly than faxing them to the home office. This has been a big savings all round.

I also use Notability for client deliverables. This program was invaluable this week because with our most complicated cases, there are a lot of moving parts and many complex reports. When I am taking a lot of notes, I switch the mirroring from my iPad mini to my IPad Pro, and now clients can actually see my handwritten notes on the big screen. From there I email the reports with my notes to the clients during the meeting. The clients have the information right away and it saves the team time.

Software Selections

For our CRM, we are currently using Redtail Technology. We briefly and unsuccessfully experimented with Grendel. Redtail is priced right and gets the job done. Their new release is prettier. It is not as robust as other CRMs, and it doesn’t integrate with Outlook, but we are limited in our choices since it has to integrate with other technologies we are using.

Financial planning software: we used MoneyGuide Pro for many years and just recently added eMoney. We were using MGP as a static reporting tool to generate our financial plans. The advantage for me was that I didn’t have to spend any time inputting data or massaging results. Our para-planners could easily handle that for me, saving me a lot of time and allowing me to spend more time with clients.

MoneyGuide Pro gets the job done, but over the years I found I was only using about five pages of the entire report. The report I most needed was eliminated a few years ago. It was a one-page summary of the clients’ different savings options and their probability of success. It was visually attractive and was a simple way for clients to grasp how much saving they needed to do. When MGP deleted this report, it added a lot of extra work for our client service managers (CSMs) because they have to take the data and summarize it on one page.

We are hoping that eMoney, which is more interactive, will save our CSMs time and be more compelling for our clients and help with the stickiness factor. The downside is, I have to master it, too. This takes valuable time away from meeting with clients.

For aggregation and reporting, we have been using Blueleaf. Once again it is a lower cost option. However, I began to notice that the return calculations were off, way off. The year-to-date returns were particularly troubling because they took the percentage a portfolio was up or down, and projected it out to the end of the year. This has the effect of exacerbating down returns to look much worse than necessary and has the positive returns looking much better than they should.

Occasionally, the longer-term reports were also off. This created a lot of extra work for the team as they had to do the calculations manually and I spent a lot of time reviewing them for inaccuracies instead of (you guessed it) meeting with clients.

We also had some problems with the aggregations accurately pulling over account values. Going forward, we will use the aggregation of eMoney and will be using Black Diamond for reporting. We haven’t integrated Black Diamond yet, so I am cautiously optimistic that it will help.

Dictation Demands

Up until recently, all of my meetings had handwritten notes along with dictation. Using Notability allowed me to dramatically reduce the number of dictations I had to do. Dictations would usually take me about 15 minutes per case. So you can see with an average of 15 cases per week, this comes to almost four hours a week. To me that is two extra client meetings; over the course of a year, it could either mean increased revenue of 10% or going home earlier. Both good results.

This particular issue has really contributed to my tech hassles. For a number of years, I used Copytalk. Unfortunately, it only allowed a limited number of minutes for my cheapest version. Most of my dictations were longer. Also, one of the big laughs my team got was the quality of the transcriptions. It degenerated over time. Sometimes it was impossible for me to figure out what the transcription meant, even though I dictated it!

From Copytalk, we tried to migrate to Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This was another exercise in frustration. The learning curve for me (and the software, which uses AI!) was steep. It about doubled the amount of time I spent dictating and then started crashing. We never could get it to work. So I will be looking for a refund on this one.

Then I tried using the dictation programs that come with Word and with our email program. This was adequate for simple dictation, but usually I can type faster than I can accurately dictate with them, so it wasn’t a good solution either.

Recently we went back to Copytalk. It has improved a lot in the last few years and I am hoping it is a keeper.

So let me know about your tech solutions. I would love to hear them.