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Do you wonder what technology to choose for your business needs? Do you use the tools you currently have? Most advisors understand the importance and would like to more effectively use and choose technology tools. We sat down with Tim Minert of Advisor Virtual Pro, a leading advisor technology adoption firm, to better understand the following:

1. Technology to consider
2. Creating a technology roadmap for your firm
3. Pitfalls to avoid along the way

Q. When it comes to running a growing business, advisors know that they need to utilize technology, but they don’t know where to start. Where do they begin?

A. Advisors ask clients to commit to a financial plan to reach their goals, and in the same sense need to develop and commit to a technology plan. Buying every new technology tool that comes along is not going to help advisors reach their goals; in fact, it could hurt them.

It is important to align business goals with technology choices. The process of creating a technology roadmap, just as in a financial plan, starts with an analysis of your current state of affairs. Identify your core goals and objectives and be as specific as possible. For example, instead of saying you want to grow your business, decide you want to add $50 million in AUM or add 30 new clients this year. Other goals might be to streamline your client onboarding process, decrease client support calls or increase referrals.

Once you identify your goals, make a list of all your current technology solutions. Include smartphones, tablets, email systems and calendars. Before you add new items, look at your list and think about workflows and integrations as well. Once you have identified where technology can improve your practice and help you achieve your goals you can create your roadmap.
Avoid replacing all your technology at the same time. Implementing new technology requires you and your staff to complete training, learn best practices and work through integrations. Identify key components in your business and develop a technology plan implementing one piece at a time.

Q. Are there specific pieces of technology that every advisor should consider?

A. Absolutely. Advisors first and foremost require a centralized place to manage their tasks, those important items they need to do on a daily basis. Completed task records and note keeping are recommended. Some use a paper planner, while 55% of advisors use Outlook. The system needs to include a calendar where they can track appointments, meetings, and deadlines. Given this list of requirements, you can see why a CRM (Contact Relationship Management) system is a vital tool.

When choosing a CRM make sure it works well with your other tools. Because there is data exchange, it needs to flow smoothly. For example, consider how the new CRM will work with Outlook if you are currently using it. You need to sit down and map out a strategy for how the devices you own will work with your CRM, will talk to smartphones, tablets and what adjustments need to be made.

CRM tools are only valuable if the advisor redesigns their processes to take advantage of their automation capabilities. The next step is to create processes and workflows using technology, like document management systems and forms population to gain efficiency and save time. Advisors also need to take the time to input and clean-up information, since the system is only as valuable as the quality of data you put into it.

Assuming your firm now has a CRM with supportive workflows and processes and clean data, you can start using that data for marketing. Use a technology like Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Hubspot to target your clients and prospects with specific messages based on the data you have collected and stored in your CRM system. You can also use content providers like Broadridge Forefield, Marketing Library, Emerald or Zywave to provide you with compliance ready information to send to your list.

Having a quality website that supports social media, simple enough for mobile viewing, hosts interactive video, gathers data and schedules appointments will be critical for both client service and marketing activities. Specialized website providers such as Advisor Websites will help develop your strategy and give you best practices tips.

Financial Planning software is another technology to consider, especially since it is one of the fastest growing segments, with around 50% of advisors currently using some kind financial planning tool. There are providers that offer core planning technology and a few new firms like Finance Logix that have added enhancements like dashboards, client vaults, and client access.
When shopping for technology, consider your vendors and options. Start by examining your relationships with affiliates. For example, if you work with a broker dealer get their list of approved vendors. Also look at vendors who have relationships with your custodian(s), sometimes they’ve negotiated discounts for advisors on their platform.

Q. Are there any red flags or pitfalls advisors should try to avoid when evaluating and choosing technology solutions?

A. Some common pitfalls to avoid are using consumer technology for business. If you do use a consumer-oriented technology, like Google and/or Dropbox, you will need to customize it for financial advisory services. This could cost you considerable time and money. Before you install a consumer-based system, look for what is available within the industry, so you can use it out of the box. This is especially true for advisors on a budget who don’t want to invest in custom development work.

Another thing to consider is ease of use. Bells and whistles don’t necessarily make it better. Simple systems that meet your needs and have concise training will help you reach your goals. Your support staff will use this technology in their workdays, so make it as easy as possible for them to learn, adopt and support your new$99.

Technology tools have to be able to talk to each other, this is typically done via an API (Application Programming Interface). Come to the table with a realistic expectation of what those integrations mean. Integrations can start as a single sign on from one application to another where no data is being exchanged and can advance to viewing screens of one application within another with all data being shared and synched automatically. Don’t just look at the technology vendor marketing material, talk to people who use it and develop a full understanding of what you are getting.

Q. Now that they have purchased the software what is the best way to implement these solutions? How do you get your staff to adopt the new technology?

A. Start by working through the roadmap on your own and then with senior staff members. Together decide areas of focus and problems to solve. Once those are determined, include staff members so they feel some ownership over the technology decisions.

Once you make the final decision, give staff time to get through the implementation and conversion process and don’t second guess your decision during the initial learning curve. You may want to offer an incentive to further motivate your staff, I have seen it work for some of my clients. Appoint a project manager to make sure everyone is on board and trained. You can give this person a bonus based on target dates and set deliverables.

One of the challenges advisors have, and I am guilty of this myself, is that we don’t want to endure training, we just want to jump straight into using the technology. The truth is that all those who use the new product should go through basic training, so they have a general understanding of what the system can do. Then, based on job roles, you can provide more detailed or hands on training in specific areas. As the business owner it is your job to encourage adoption and training by setting the right example for your team.