December can often feel like the final mile of a marathon. You have made it most of the way, but there is more work to be done. Sometimes you do not have a choice in the matter and a technology issue unexpectedly presents itself during this busy time of year. Even without an unexpected event, there are routine chores to attend to, so let’s discuss a number of technology and operational items that should get your attention in the home stretch of 2016.
There is a fair amount of consistency in the annual operational tasks of serving your clients. Examples of common date-driven tasks include retirement plan contributions, required minimum distributions, charitable distributions, Roth conversions and establishing tax-exempt accounts. Often, the risk (and worry) is that something that must be done before year-end is overlooked. Assign someone on your team to audit last year’s activity versus this year’s activity regarding these time-sensitive items.
There are a number of systems that can help with this audit. The most common would be your reporting system or tools provided by your custodian. In addition, a good place to record and track this information is at the client record level of your CRM. This essentially helps you manage your to-do list to ensure what needs to be done in 2016 from an account and transaction perspective actually gets done.
It is also important to review any residency changes for clients who receive periodic retirement distributions. Something that can be easily overlooked when a client moves to another state is the state tax payments on those distribution. For example, if your client’s monthly retirement distribution includes a payment to the state of California, but they moved to New York during 2016, are the monthly tax payments now being sent to New York? This is much easier to resolve prior to the end of the year while you have time to adjust the state tax payments rather than having to address the issue when the client files their personal taxes.
Coordinating Staff To-Dos
It can be helpful to create a shared calendar of all the critical dates and deadlines for your firm. Then you have one location for each staff member to access this important information, especially for responding to questions from your clients and other business partners like accountants and attorneys. It sounds simple, but too often firms rely on one or two associates to know this information and everyone else hopes to remember the correct dates.
You should also consider sending reminders and updates of broadly applicable dates and deadlines using your social media channels. Ultimately, clear communication strategies will assist in a successful year-end period.
December Tech Freeze
Many companies and organizations implement a “technology freeze” at some point in December so no system updates or changes are deployed until after the New Year. The goal of this freeze is to maintain a stable systems environment and to remove any variables that could potentially impact productivity during this busy time of year. Items to defer include operating system updates (Windows, IOS), new versions of core systems (CRM, reporting, trading) and installations of any new software or hardware. An important exception to a technology freeze policy is security-related items, especially critical updates to virus and firewall software or hardware.
One technology idea you could consider during this freeze includes communicating with your staff about how they utlize your current technolgy solutions. GoPro, the action camera company, encourages its employees to use the GoPro camera in new ways when they are out of the office, then share their footage with their colleagues when they return. This ultimately fosters new marketing and product ideas based on the employees’ experiences.
Your firm can implement a similar program with your employees during this holiday season. Whether it entails the technology offered to your clients, systems specifically for your employees or even the type of devices used (mobile, tablets, etc), there is always more to learn and discover. You could even make it a contest with a prize for who identifies the best technology that is currently underutilized.
Unfortunately, the year-end period often entails a fair amount of pressure for you and your staff to get everything done, while balancing all the external activities that come with the holiday season. Given this environment, consider minimizing the amount of non-critical messages sent to your staff during the holidays, especially outside of regular business hours. This small behavior change will allow your firm to be available for last-minute client requests. And don’t worry; it won’t be hard for your staff to revert back to the regular communication volume next year, and they will likely appreciate the short reprieve.
— Read Forget Robos; Regulations Now Top Driver of Advisor Tech on ThinkAdvisor’s TechCenter.