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Consumers accustomed to doing business digitally, like shopping and banking online, increasingly expect a similar experience when working with their financial professional. If you’re not taking advantage of technology to meet their expectations, you’re not only jeopardizing their loyalty, you’re also missing out on advances that could help you grow and run your practice more efficiently.
Advances in technology have given Americans more options than ever for accessing financial advice and investment management services.
Is your practice keeping pace?
Today’s best financial practice tools help you automate day-to-day processes like prospecting for new clients, developing and implementing investment strategies, and keeping up with compliance responsibilities.
Embrace them, and the technological tools we feature here can help you grow your business faster while simultaneously leaving you more time to give your clients the one-on-one attention they want and deserve. Ignore them, and you risk losing business to more forward-thinking competitors.
At a high level, these technologies fall into three broad categories. The first includes applications that help you communicate with clients and prospective clients. The second features applications that help you formulate and execute plans for managing clients’ money. The third encompasses applications that help you meet data security and compliance requirements.
It is simply impossible to manage a growing financial practice efficiently without relying on client relationship management (CRM) software. If you are familiar with Microsoft Outlook, the widely used personal information manager that includes an email application, calendar and other simple tools, you can think of CRM applications as something like that—but on steroids.
CRM apps function as a central repository of contact information about your clients. They let you track all of your office’s interactions with them, alert you to calendar appointments, and help you track your sales “pipeline,” or potential new business opportunities.
They also allow you to segment and report on your clients and their activities by any number of characteristics, so that you can accurately target communications and services to them. The best CRM apps integrate easily with other popular applications to eliminate redundant data entry and include advanced features like workflows, which guide you through and, in some cases, automate common tasks. According to a 2019 survey of more than 5,500 financial advisors, 85% use some form of CRM software1. Among the most popular application are Redtail and Wealthbox, both of which are designed specifically for advisors, and Salesforce, the leading CRM software across all industries.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person gatherings have become nearly impossible, making virtual meetings a necessity for many businesses. Videoconferencing applications, such as Zoom, Skype, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams, may provide a good way for financial professionals to connect with clients – who may want more than a phone call while social distancing – or to reach out to multiple clients simultaneously.
A range of other communications tools may also be useful. Email capture applications like OptinMonster and Sumo can collect emails from “opt-in” forms completed by visitors to your website. This can be helpful in building out your email list and reaching a broader swath of prospective clients.
If you are using emails to prospect – or to stay in touch with clients – you might also want to take advantage of email marketing automation software, which can send a predetermined sequence of emails to every subscriber on your email list on a schedule you establish. These programs also let you set up rules to adapt the sequence of emails to individual clients or prospects based on actions they take, such as scheduling appointments or failing to respond to an inquiry. It is important to make sure that these systems also retain copies of emails and keep track of subscribe and unsubscribe requests. Popular email marketing programs include Mailchimp, Hubspot Marketing Hub, Drip and Constant Contact.
In a similar vein, social media automation tools like Hootesuite and Buffer allow you to load social media posts in advance, send them out at predetermined times and approve and retain posts for compliance purposes. You also might want to consider using an online scheduler like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling, which will let you include a link to an online calendar on your website or in your emails. Clients and prospects can then use it to schedule appointments without the time-consuming back-and-forth of phone calls and emails.
The core value that you bring to your clients is your ability to help them define their financial goals and challenges, craft and implement a strategy for achieving those goals, and keep them on course during the inevitable ups and downs in the economy and the financial markets. There’s no software application that can replicate or automate all of those capabilities, but there are tools that can help with many of them.
When providing financial advice or crafting an asset allocation strategy, for example, it’s important to understand a client’s complete financial picture. Data aggregation tools such as Morningstar’s ByAllAccounts can collect your clients’ account information, including holdings and balances, from thousands of financial institutions. That can save you time and potentially fill in any gaps that might be missed when collecting data manually.
When you’re ready to build a financial plan, financial planning software—currently used by 64% of financial advisors2—can help you pull it together and deliver it in a consistent format for clients. Popular examples include MoneyGuide Pro and eMoney. Portfolio management software, meanwhile, can help you devise an asset allocation strategy for each client, populate that strategy with appropriate investment selections, and generate performance reports. Eighty-four percent of advisors indicate their office employs portfolio management software, although actual usage rates were significantly lower for some groups. Fewer than 60% of advisors with one to five years of experience were using the programs, for example, including only 45% of advisors at the very smallest firms (those with less than $200,000 in assets under management)3. Among the most commonly used portfolio management programs are Envestnet, Orion and Morningstar Office.
Your clients share some of their most valuable information with you, not only about their personal lives but also about their financial accounts. They expect you to protect that information. Cybersecurity software can help by functioning like a checkpoint to protect your website and software systems, controlling access to the applications and sensitive client information they contain. Companies like Norton and McAfee offer software that can act as a digital firewall between your systems and potential intruders, and also protect against computer viruses.
Of course, clients aren’t the only stakeholders who care about how you conduct your business. So do regulatory authorities. Depending upon how your practice is structured, failing to adhere to the regulations governing your operations can land you in hot water with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Department of Labor, or your state government.
Compliance software such as SmartIRA Pro can help you keep pace with the ever-changing regulatory landscape by helping you perform, track and document compliance tasks and archive documents. Even if you work with a compliance consultant, compliance software can help you streamline your compliance activities. Overall, financial professionals should always use software that has compliance functions built in, including email and social media tools that retain copies of activities.
As a financial professional, you likely wear many hats: salesperson, marketer, financial planner, investment advisor, customer service manager, data security and compliance officer, and maybe even office manager. Even if you’re running a larger practice with multiple producers and support staff, the time and resources needed to meet all of your office’s many demands are significant. By taking advantage of technology, you can keep pace with those demands, grow your business and serve your clients more effectively.
1 “2019 Software Survey,” by Joel Bruckenstein and Bob Veres, sponsored by Orion Advisor Services and Morningstar Inc.
Specific software companies mentioned in this article are not recommended or endorsed by Thrivent. Be sure to check with your firm for approved software options and available technology as well as complete your due diligence before utilizing any software.