By Lisa Brignoni, CFA
Deployed effectively, technology solutions can be a financial advisor’s best friend. But done haphazardly, an advisor may end up spending more time managing the different technology solutions rather than working with clients. Whether you’re an established advisor searching for technology upgrades or a freshly minted advisor setting up your technological foundation, the first step in implementing new technology solutions is having a deep understanding of your practice structure and your strengths as an advisor. This is key to determining what adds the most value to your particular business. Next step of course, syncing these needs up with what’s available.
Companies are making it easier than ever to optimize one’s practice for efficiency so advisors can focus on the tasks they enjoy and excel at. But in the world of fintech, there is an overwhelming assortment of advisor solutions for every task imaginable, and determining what’s necessary and what’s just cool to have can be difficult. In their decision-making process, advisors should strive to intelligently integrate the digital touchpoints with the personal ones, rather than adopt all of the latest gadgets and gizmos in a frantic bid to keep up with the latest technology. Considerations should be made for what complements your practice rather than just what functions can be fully replaced.
So, how do advisors then determine what technology best integrates with their practices and complements their individual work styles? Start with a prioritization of work functions.
The first consideration is determining your technology line-up that is absolutely mission critical. If you’re an established advisor, chances are you already have these components in place and your current concerns lean more towards whether you’re getting the most value out of your existing technology solutions. But if you’re just starting to break off on your own, you’ll need to build that strong technological foundation. Here are the must-haves:
This is arguably the least exciting part of a financial advisor’s job (I can’t think of any advisor who was driven to this profession because he was passionate about rules and paperwork). But, it is necessary to sort out this function of the job before you have any contact with clients. Turn-key fintech solutions for compliance1 are not as plentiful as CRM and financial planning functions, so it is worth the time to map out all aspects of compliance and ensure they can be adequately covered. In practice, this area of the business should be set up once to be executed in methodical and repeatable processes. Distinctions should be made between registration as an advisor and social media compliance2 if being used.
This can also be thought of as account administration – all the things a financial advisor does to ensure data and information that depict a client’s financial picture are complete, accurate and reported. This also covers billing for advisory clients. All clients need to see how their accounts are performing and of course, advisors want to be paid for services rendered. With the current products available, advisors have plenty of options with a wide range of functionality and levels of integration with other applications they use.
Options are great, but getting lost in a maze of endless promises of functionality can be counterproductive. Advisors need to have a clear vision of what their practice looks like and where it’s heading. Some common considerations when performing due diligence of providers are: AUM, number of clients, client expectations for reporting, availability of personnel to complete non-automated tasks, and how you bill your clients.
Financial planning is no longer thought of as a “nice-to-have” for clients. The growing popularity of roboadvisors3 is driving awareness of the higher advisory fees paid with traditional advisors. Therefore, the human advisors need to do more than manage investments and report portfolio performance even though this part gets most of the attention and drives many of the calls from concerned clients. The “humans”, need to add value by providing a holistic approach to wealth management. Financial planning is part of this added value and though a significant portion of this task is dedicated to interactions with the client, advisors need more than an Excel spreadsheet to plot out the different paths towards the client’s financial goals. For technology solutions, there are options from both established players and start-ups4.
An Orion Advisor Services survey5 of advisors showed that 57 percent of firms with less than $50 million AUM used CRM software. In the greater than $50 million AUM category, that number rises to 73. This signals that many advisors are already aware that a CRM system is more than a high-tech phonebook and beats managing contacts in a spreadsheet.
Client interaction is one of advisors’ greatest opportunities to shine, but also falter if insufficiently prepared. A CRM system can be thought of as having a personal assistant that manages your appointments and provides you with a briefing package before each interaction6 so you can avoid the faux pas of missing an important life event. After all, top executives get briefings before big meetings, why shouldn’t advisors get the same treatment?
At this point, you’ve selected the first tier of technology needed to run your practice and have already invested a significant amount of money. Unless you have a limitless budget, you’ll need to be more discerning and take a closer look at your own capabilities for the second tier of advisor solutions in your technology mix. Your solutions should enhance your strengths and fortify areas of weakness.
Outside of the wealth management industry, financial advisors are commonly associated with stock brokers. They’re thought of as “investment people”. And though a solid foundation of investing principles is a prerequisite for the profession, it doesn’t make up the majority of an advisor’s expertise. In fact, only 5% of total CFA® Charterholders,7 the highest distinction in investment management, reported as being financial advisors compared to other positions such as portfolio manager and research analyst. Looked at from a different perspective, the CFP® designation, which is more popular with financial advisors, only dedicates 17%8 of its testing on investment management.
What does this mean? Investment management is not a main focus for most financial advisors, but we know that all clients expect returns on their investments to meet their goals. So, how do advisors balance client expectations with the rest of their duties? They can carve extra time out of their days to do it themselves, delegate this function to experienced investment strategists, employ technological solutions, or rely on a strategic mix of these options. How these available resources are best deployed depends on your strengths as an advisor and your practice.
Whether investment management is your strong point as an advisor or not – it’s still an area where you can connect with your clients or own the room at networking events. Continue to nurture this skill set with resources that dig into thought leadership on market insights and how to weave those naturally into your client conversations.
Thinking about your practice, consider what your portfolio recommendations look like. Do you lean towards active or passive managers? To what extent do you use individual securities or alternatives? The more you lean towards active and/or complex portfolios, the more sophisticated your toolbox needs to be in terms of personnel and technology. Solutions run the gamut from robo-advisors for enterprises9 to sophisticated portfolio stress testing10 so consider the needs of your current and future client base to determine what works best for you.
- Betterment for Business
- Morningstar Advisor
- Windham Portfolio Advisor
If investment management is the first skill set that comes to mind when thinking about financial advisors, then perhaps marketing may be the last. Whether it takes the form of paid advertisements, social media, inbound marketing or good ole fashion networking, advisors need to have a coordinated strategy for acquiring new clients and retaining existing ones. If prospecting and existing client referrals are sufficient to maintain profitability than going lite on other marketing efforts is a suitable option. But, if approaching prospects at social events is not a strength, other strategies such as inbound marketing11, are something to consider to supplement your client acquisition efforts.
ROI is an important decision factor when it comes to marketing strategy. First, determine the value of each incremental client to your practice. If each client is worth $500, spending $1,000 to get those clients would be an unsustainable business practice. Second, understand the expected outcomes from the promotional channels available to you. How big is the audience? What are the expected conversion rates? Third, think about the resources necessary to manage those channels – how much time out of your day, software applications and even additional personnel.
With all of the technology, tools and resources readily available, running a practice is within the grasp of more qualified advisors. Optimizing the use of these tools to complement an advisor’s unique practice structure can set the foundation for business success. No decision should be made in a vacuum.
References to any specific products, services, or companies is for the information and convenience of our readers, and does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by Clearnomics.