Artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, virtual reality, voice-controlled assistants — the pace of technological change is breathtaking.
From a financial advisory business perspective, though, many of the headline-grabbing tech developments aren’t that useful — at least not yet.
While some advisors like to adopt cutting edge tools, most industry sources seem cautious and want proof that a technology will help their business before they try it. The advisors and consultants interviewed for this article only suggested using a particular tech tool after they determined that it really works, not simply because it’s deemed the latest, greatest innovation.
CRM: The essential hub
Advisors and consultants agree that customer relationship software (CRM) is the essential tool to manage and grow an advisory business. Current software goes well beyond serving as a digital Rolodex™ for contact information, says Joel Bruckenstein, who produces the Technology Tools for Today website and conference. Earlier CRM offerings often required advisors to do their own analysis by exporting CRM data to a program like Microsoft Excel. But the leading developers are building more powerful analytic capabilities into their CRMs, making the programs more robust and indispensable for marketing and practice management. These programs can track client preferences and demographics; they also track an advisor’s work flows and provide valuable management insights through easy-to-use analytic dashboards. “You need to know how much revenue you’re making per client, what your client trends are as far as age,” says Bruckenstein. “If every year your book is aging, for example, you have a dying business.”
Bruckenstein mentions Ebix, Junxure, Redtail and Salesforce as examples of programs widely used in financial services.
Bill Winterberg, CFP, a technology consultant for financial advisors and publisher of the FPPad.com tech news site, says that some CRMs are adding more collaboration and social networking capacities. These features won’t benefit solo advisors, but they do appeal to firms with larger staffs, he says.
“There are CRMs that have timelines, if you will, where just like you check the Facebook feed to see what your friends and family are doing, you can actually check what employees and other advisors are doing in the office and stay informed on what’s going on, what might be falling through the cracks, or things that might be aging a little bit. It helps any advisor or agent stay in tune on what’s going on.”
Those collaboration features appeal to Aaron Clarke, CFP, financial planner with Acorn Financial Services in Reston, Virginia, who says a desire to save time motivated his firm’s search for a new CRM. The office work flow had several inefficiencies and he wanted to automate the steps needed to complete routine tasks as much as possible. His search led him to WealthBox, which he describes as having an easy-to-use interface that is like working with Facebook. In addition to providing a familiar user interface, the program allows the firm to automate internal tasks and workflows. It takes some time and effort to build the automation templates, but once those automated procedures are in place, the cumulative time savings are significant, says Clarke.
How much time have you and your staff wasted looking for documents and files stored somewhere on your computer network? (Photo: iStock)
Where’s that document?
The need for robust document and content management is another opportunity to boost productivity growth, Winterberg says. The software now goes beyond scanning into PDF files, he explains. “The content management (software) allows you to ascribe the date of a document; you can identify what kind of form it is, if it’s a tax form or if it’s a property casualty application or if it’s a will,” he says. “And based on what type of document it is, you can put in additional information like the date it was drafted or other types of descriptions.”
Faster document retrievals save time and, even if the time saved per search is small, over the course of a year or years the savings can add up to many hours, Winterberg says. Speedier retrievals also improve client service by allowing for faster responses. That benefit might not be measurable from a dollar perspective, he adds, but it increases client satisfaction. Winterberg mentions Cabinet Paperless, Laserfiche, NetDocuments, Worldox and Microsoft SharePoint as well-regarded programs.