13 Reasons Advisors Should Be Emperors of Their Technology Domains

We’ve seen so many webinars since the pandemic began that “Zoom Fatigue” has become a trending term. But I believe that the majority of us are enjoying the remote discussions and savoring the free time that has been gifted to us from not having to commute to an office or fly across country to attend a conference.

I covered the previous two sessions in this webinar series and they were some of our most viewed posts this year:

So, it seemed only logical to jump in on the third episode and see what nuggets of wisdom would be shared.  I wasn’t disappointed.  And you won’t be either!

Top Advisors Roundtable

Switching things up for the third installment, six top advisors took over the conversation and brought their “A Game” of best practices and lessons learned from their decades of experience running successful advisory firms.

Here are the advisors who participated in this webinar:

I thought it was a terrific mix of different firm types with different points of view and experiences to share. There were a lot of takeaways that I tried to capture while live-tweeting the event.

We pulled some of the best points and consolidated them here for you.

Just Do It!

I can’t tell you how many firms bring us in to review their technology platform and create a current state assessment only to tell us that they’re not quite ready to implement the changes we recommend. Then a few years later we hear back from them, usually with different management, inquiring about us coming back to do the same thing all over again!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb

As Spotswood noted, there is never a “right” time to fix your technology, so you just need to jump into the pool and do it now.  Of course, we highly recommend doing some planning first and hiring outside help to provide guidance and advice.

The sooner you take that first step to begin optimizing exiting systems or replacing them entirely, the sooner you will start on your way towards reaching your firm’s goals. (See Why “Build It And They Will Come” Doesn’t Work With Advisor Technology)

Client Onboarding is Dynamic

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  – Will Rogers

The onboarding process is usually the first time a new client interacts with your firm’s technology.  It can set the stage and highlight the seamless coordination between your operations staff and software platform.  Or it can be a disaster that forces your client to reenter key data multiple times or correct simple mistakes that leave a bad taste in their mouth for years to come.

Spotswood recommended that onboarding not be looked at through the lens of a one-off event, but as an ongoing process to regularly touch base with clients. This is a terrific idea!  I’ve often noted that financial advisors are one of the only professions that doesn’t want to talk to their clients too much.

Building in regular touch points with clients across multiple digital channels is a great way to engage a broad range of your base and strengthen your connections. There needs to be more than just quarterly or annual meetings or emails.

Client experience guru Julia Littlechild recommends building a service matrix that defines different contact frequencies, services and products based on your firm’s client segmentation.  This helps everyone on the team know exactly what needs to be done for each client at each service level. (See The Secret Sauce in the Top 6 Client Onboarding Vendors)

The Right Technology Can Reduce Costs

Nina O’Neal, partner at Archer Investment Management, noted that her firm reduced their operations staff by 30% after implementing new technology.  This is an outcome only seen by the top quartile of firms, in our experience, since most improvements in efficiency aren’t measured in full FTEs, but in partial savings across many positions.

According to a study last year of independent advisory firms, 58% planned to invest in new technology with the top reasons including wanting to serve more clients (38%), reducing manual work (20%), letting employees focus on high-value work (17%) and improving security (11%).

If an RIA is relying on a lot of manual processes to keep the business running, new technology can quickly render some staff obsolete as it automates key workflows.  A common practice among firms is to “throw bodies at a problem” if the technology cost is too high.  But as costs come down over time, the breakeven point is reached and the new software can be implemented efficiently.

O’Neal noted that technology and human capital are where her firm invests the most capital, which has enabled them to grow into a $1 billion RIA.

How to Scale Client Communications

After scoring some big savings on operations staff through new technology, O’Neal wasn’t done yet.  Another new technology, marketing automation software from Snappy Kraken, enabled her firm to increase client communication by 300%, she said.  This was done primarily through email and social media channels, which are still the best ways to digitally reach prospects and clients.

A recent report published by Snappy Kraken titled State of Digital Marketing Financial Adviser Online Marketing Report and Benchmarking Study analyzed over 14,000 digital marketing campaigns and 2.5 million emails and determined that email accounted for almost 70% of campaign traffic with social media making up the remaining 30%. Of the social media traffic, two thirds came from Facebook, 25% from LinkedIn and the remaining from Twitter.

More importantly, the study found that email had the highest conversion rates, which is defined as when a landing page visitor provides their contact information, of over 19%, more than double that of paid or organic social media posts.

The end result is that every RIA should utilize some kind of marketing automation tool. Either a comprehensive, omni-channel campaign source like Snappy Kraken, or similar software that automates delivery of curated articles, newsletters or other targeted content to current and prospective clients. Especially in these quarantine times, digital marketing is even more important for financial advisors.

Be the Emperor of Your Domain

Some farms are hoarders. They purchase new technology but never really use it and keep acquiring new software products as though they are collectors items. This might make the owners feel good about their infrastructure but it’s not the most efficient way to run a company.

At some point someone is going to look at the budget for technology and realize it’s just too high. And that the firm isn’t getting the benefits for the money they’re spending. Deciding to cut a piece of software that you’ve invested a lot of time and money into is a difficult decision. Many firms just kick the can down the road by saying “we’ll start using it soon,” but never do.

Randy Dippell, founder of Nest Egg Advisory, made an excellent point when he said “you must be ruthless when reviewing your technology stack and deciding when to get rid of something.”  Some software may be particularly important to one or two advisers in the firm but not the others. Or someone they feel it was their decision and their money spent and don’t want to admit they made a mistake. This is not the time for pride of ownership. This is the time to make the tough decisions to keep the company afloat.

 

Don’t Get Lost in a Tech Maze

Similar to the point above when buying new technology you need a plan. Don’t just purchased new software that seems cool and flashy without knowing how it’s going to fit into your overall infrastructure.  Those bells and whistles might look good now but if it doesn’t integrate well with what else you have, it will turn into a waste.

The time effort and money you’re going to spend integrating new technology that isn’t quite right for your firm is going to more than outweigh any benefits you get from that piece of software. This is what Dippell referred to as the “labyrinth of technology”. And it’s easy to get lost in there!

I can’t begin to tell you how many firms call us in I don’t even have a diagram of how their software fits together. Or even an inventory of all the software that they have at the firm! If I had a nickel for every time I discovered a new piece of software that the people who hired us didn’t know about I’d be a rich rich man.

Especially for firms that are 10 or more years old there is often been turnover in the IT and or operations staff and institutional knowledge about the technology infrastructure has been lost.  That’s why we always recommend documenting your technology as you go. As new software and or hardware are installed update your documentation well that’s diagrams or even just a word document or notebook somewhere to keep track of everything you have how it fits together where you got it from when you got it and why are you got it will help you down the line.

Exceed Client Expectations

I very much appreciated this comment by Corey Westphal, CEO of Mobile Assistant.  Some software vendors believe doing just enough is all that they have to do. But that’s not good enough! With all the competition and new software products being launched almost daily, it’s important to stand out by going the extra mile your clients.

Remember that you’re not the only vendor they are working with! If you fall into that trap of believing that you’re not replaceable, you soon will be!

Just as an example, I recently wrote an article titled, 47 Portfolio Management Systems Can’t Possibly Survive. There are 47 portfolio management products all targeting the wealth management space. There are probably just as many options for other categories of advisor software as well. If you’re goal isn’t to continually exceed client expectations, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

 

Be Positive!

A recommendation from Westphal is for technology vendors to think positively when working with their advisor clients. Many of their clients might feel overwhelmed helping their own clients. A positive thinking can act as a beacon of hope for those that you’re interacting with.

A terrific article from the Provide Support Blog says one tip for maintaining a positive attitude is to overcome problems with creativity. A flexible approach can help find solutions to problems and eliminate unhelpful thinking.

Whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation, remind yourself gently that it’s up to you whether to perceive it as a disaster or the notorious last straw. In fact, you always have the power of seeing any problem as an opportunity to creatively find a way to fix the failure or draw a useful lesson from the situation. Start with asking yourself what you should do to solve the problem, then come up with a list of options (and there’s always a few) and pick the best one.

Positive thinking can be contagious, just like a smile.  When you pass you positive thoughts to someone else, they are more likely to do the same with someone that they interact with and so on.  Create a chain of positivity!

Always Be Prospecting

It’s wrong to think that just because we’re in a crisis you shouldn’t be prospecting, warned Alicia Howard of Snappy Kraken. There are still clients out there who need your help! In fact now may be the best time to reach out to them!

“While we may be tempted to put prospecting on hold during a crisis, that would be a mistake,” according to a sales expert who has worked with Many Fortune 50 companies.

“The time is now to manage your visibility in your marketplace. Now more than ever, you are positioned to provide desperately-needed solutions to your clients and prospects.”

Her advice is to make phone calls that are value added. Being reluctant to call on prospects during a crisis is a natural urge. If your revenue depends on sales, you need to resist the urge!

Advisors who continue to be visible and engage in empathic conversations with their prospects have a better chance of solving problems than those who don’t.

Build Your Processes

This is a trap we see many firms fall into.  Implementing new technology but not spending the time to build solid processes around them. Documented processes are the key to scaling any business, especially so in advisory.

Because you’re dealing with a significant portion or even all of your clients life savings, any mistakes can have a serious impact. Your clients are relying on you to get it right the first time and this is not as likely if you don’t document your internal processes.

Even the most expensive technology you will not perform as promised if it’s not used in a consistent fashion. Documenting how your processes fit together which systems are being used in what order is critical to the efficient operation of any firm.

Make sure you have people from all parts of the business involved in creating the documentation so that no steps are missed. Obtain agreement from every team that they will use the documentation as part of their regular work. Set an annual schedule to review your process documentation to identify steps that have changed or been eliminated. If documentation isn’t kept up to date, staff is less inclined to use it.

How to Tell Engaging Stories

Orion Advisor Tech has been had at work to improve their ability to deliver financial planning capabilities to their clients.  This includes spending $50 million on software provider Advizr in 2019.  This software will be offered for free to Orion’s clients, but there’s more to delivering a terrific client experience than just the software.

As television personality Jason Silva said in a 2014 article, “Our humanness is built on the ability to understand ourselves in the context of a story, so we’re basically hardwired for stories.”

Orion recently launched a new marketing platform for advisors call Market*r that is based in part on technology acquired from Advizr.  Market*r connects clients to the newly christened Orion Planning module, which allows them to setup financial goals and view their progress towards them over time. They also can ask for or set up an appointment with an advisor.

For advisors, the platform provides a lead-tracking dashboard that’s integrated with Orion’s advisor portal, so they can use new information to build investment proposals.  They are also able to sign up to receive  marketing campaign materials, additional technology or consulting from Orion’s in-house marketing staff.

More choices for advisors around marketing automation is beneficial and allows different types of advisors and those with niche client segments to find the right platform for them. (See Diamond in the Rough: Orion Finds a Financial Planning Gem in Advizr)

Three Reasons to Use Technology

Randy Dippell from Nest Egg Advisory explained there are three reasons for advisors to use technology:

  1. Operational efficiencies
  2. Client Experience
  3. Marketing

All three of these areas can be greatly improved by implemented the right technology solutions.

When selecting technology it’s important to remember the following:

  • Take note of which one of the above three areas you are looking to improve. You should have a good understanding of this before seeing your first demo. I can’t tell you how many firms go into a technology selection process and are flying blind without any plan or understanding of their actual needs.
  • Don’t look at more than three vendors at any level of depth. There just isn’t enough time to do the necessary vetting with more than three vendors. Most likely the top three vendors can do 80% of what you want. And the time spent finding a venue that provides just a little bit more won’t be worth the effort when all is said and done.
  • Speak to some of your peers about technology that they’re using. It’s always good to get a second opinion and hear what similar firms are doing with their options.

Go in with a plan. Even if it is written on the back of a napkin, having a plan always delivers better results than not having one. (See Why “Build It And They Will Come” Doesn’t Work With Advisor Technology)

Text Messaging with Clients

I read somewhere that our industry has made a decade’s worth of progress implementing digital technology in just the past few months due to the COVID-19 crisis. Redtail Speaks has been around since 2017 and allows advisors to communicate in a compliant fashion with clients via text messaging.

McLaughlin reported that they have seen the highest usage in their history which is another example of how broadly digital channels have been booming. The $64,000 questions is how much of a drop off will we see once the lockdowns end?  Will clients go back to the office or are they done with in person advisor meetings? And if the later, what additional services will advisors offer to differentiate from digital advice vendors?

 

 

 

More Support for Advisors

Howard from Snappy Kraken noted that their firm has plans to deliver more support for advisors’ through their marketing automation software and pre-built lead generation campaigns.

The Florida-based vendor recently produced a webinar, “Marketing Secrets of Billion-Dollar RIAs” that brought an expert panel of CMOs to deliver tips for maximizing time, getting the most from your team, and making technology work for you (and not the other way around).

Some of the most useful tips included:

  • Be open to listening to other perspectives and trying out new initiatives that can potentially help their businesses
  • Post information that clients are most concerned about such as new legislation that impacts small business owners
  • Sponsor free online lifestyle events for clients including virtual yoga classes
  • Spend marketing dollars on social media ads, which many advisors have seen strong results
  • Offer free consultations for prospective clients, especially small-business owners, many of whom are “confused” about what they need to do now

Financial Advisor Technology

I thought this was a terrific way to close out the webinar series hosted by Mobile Assistant.  Always good to hear from advisors who are in the trenches every day doing good work for their clients and experiencing the ups and downs of delivering advice through turbulent times.

I covered the previous two sessions in this webinar series and they were some of our most viewed posts this year:

Also, kudos are in order for the other five companies who participated in all three events: Asset-Map, Orion Advisor Tech, Redtail, Riskalyze and Snappy Kraken.  Doing their best to give back to the community and share information to help everyone in the industry.

Thanks!

 

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