This article is a summary of a Webinar delivered by Sue Viskovic and Graham Burnard from Elixir Consulting on how to approach the challenge of leveraging technology in a financial advice business.
Technology decisions are one of the most critical decisions that owners of financial advice businesses will make. Getting the right technology in place and having it embraced by the business can deliver efficiency gains and enhance the client experience. The challenge is that with the rapid growth of Fin Tech solutions, the crowded and ever-expanding market place for technology solutions is increasingly difficult to navigate.
Is technology letting us down?
The expectation of technology is that it should enhance productivity, profitability and the client experience. Yet in financial advice we constantly hear that advisers are working harder than ever but with no improvement in net returns to the business. In the 5th edition of Elixir’s Adviser Pricing Model’s report, 74% of respondents said they were dealing with increased workload and stress in their business, and that was before Covid hit!
The many reasons for increased workload and stress are evident to anyone involved in the industry, but the question arises, has technology failed to deliver the improvements we should expect, or are advisers (who are typically NOT tech geeks) simply ill-equipped to navigate the options and implement effective solutions?
Technology as a compliance tool
The increased focus of compliance has not surprisingly seen technology evolve as the solution to deliver robust and compliant processes in advice businesses. Technology has been designed to ensure the business will tick all the compliance boxes and ensure clients receive the services they signed up for.
It is a given that compliance is mission critical and must underpin how a practice operates, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus.
Have you lost sight of the client?
Because businesses often approach technology as a way of more efficiently delivering to their compliance obligations it is possible that they are missing something important.
When we work with people on clarifying their purpose and business vision, nobody says they want to deliver the world’s most compliant process. The purpose people usually articulate quite rightly has the client at the heart. Generally advisers focus on their desire to work with clients to help them achieve their best life.
As a result, we often see businesses that have the client at the heart of their purpose but technology that is focused on ensuring compliant processes. The technology used, or possibly the way it is used, often fails to deliver an awesome client experience that people will rave about, it just ensures all the compliance boxes are ticked.
What if you put the client experience at the heart of the design process instead?
What is the BBQ conversation?
If one of your clients was at a Barbecue and they were asked why they use you as their adviser, it is safe to say that it is not because your FDS is provided on time and is accurate or that the SOA was fully compliant. You would want them to talk about their engagement with you and your team, how much you understand them, how much you care and how relieved they now feel having you in their corner as their adviser.
If they also spoke of how simple it was to engage and stay in touch with you and see the ongoing impact you’re making on their lives, in real time, on their phone or laptop, that’s a client for life right there.
For many clients, the annual review is the main point of personalised contact with the adviser. When personalised contact relies on one-on-one contact with an adviser it is very hard to scale without increasing costs and reducing capacity. Advisers need to be thinking of ways of increasing the level of personalised engagement with clients throughout the year but doing so by leveraging technology, not just their time commitment to each client.
Your client will experience major events or milestones through the year. What is your ability to identify and engage with these “moments of truth” in your client’s lives when they happen, rather than hearing about them at review time? For many advice businesses a client milestone is preparing and delivering an FDS, or an Ongoing Service Agreement and significant effort is put into making sure this happens. While these are important to the business for compliance reasons, what are the opportunities for engagement that mean something to the client?
What are the technology options?
When we think of financial advice software we tend to think of the all-encompassing solutions that control pretty much every aspect of the advice business. This might be XPlan, Midwinter, Adviser Logic or other solutions that aim to deliver an eco-system for the firm to run all the aspects of the business including client management, portfolio management, advice document generation and revenue management.
Problem is, some of these tools ‘can’ do everything in theory but either don’t do them well or firms struggle to find someone with enough skills to customise them to their needs and train their staff properly.
The alternative to this approach is for a practice to build their own “tech stack” where they can take advantage of best of breed solutions for each of the different activities they need to complete. Until recently, this approach was more difficult as data transfer and system connectivity made this a serious challenge.
Two things have changed. There are now many more purpose-built tools that can do one or more of the technology requirements better than the end to end solution. These providers can focus on being best of breed at that element and ensure it is market leading. The other change is that many more systems are designed as open architecture tools that can very simply and reliably connect with other tools and share data between systems.
For example, there are solutions that help advisers identify, track and manage clients’ personal goals and objectives. Systems such as Lumiant address the challenge of engaging clients in a deeply personal way throughout the course of the relationship, supplementing the face to face engagement from the adviser with meaningful digital support.
Advisers can also look at CRMs built specifically for financial advice businesses such as Worksorted or those built around the financial services version of Salesforce. Depending on your business needs you can identify the system that is the right fit for your business rather than adapting your business to the software. Roar Software has a great solution to connect various advice apps (Astute Wheel, Chantwest, Omnium, SOA Wizard and Dynamic Docs etc) to build your own fully integrated tech stack.
It’s not just about the right technology, it’s how you use it.
The best technology solution in the world, used poorly, will still fail to deliver the business benefits you desire. For the true benefits of any technology to be felt within your business the whole team needs to fully embrace it in every aspect.
The CRM can be likened to the central nervous system in your body. It should connect together all the key elements and represent the source of truth for all client interaction. For this to be the case there are some mantras that your team need to embrace.
- If it’s not in the CRM it didn’t happen. Every activity, task and interaction needs to be recorded within the CRM. And we don’t just mean file notes and emails of client interaction. Every activity or request allocated to team members needs to be set up as a task and tracked through the CRM (either through the CRM task management system or a custom-designed task manager like Asana or Wrike that sync’s back to the client record).
- Everyone in the team uses the system in the way it’s designed. The first screen opened in the morning on everyone’s computer is the Task management system, (and the CRM is second if they’re not one and the same). When all work is allocated, tracked and managed through the system it will be the way in which everyone plans and manages their day. No-one should manage their daily workflow from their email inbox – or worse, post-it notes!
- Garbage in, garbage out. We always ensure client data is 100% accurate, but the tracking of task activities can sometimes be looser. When the team accurately updates the progress and completion of tasks you will have an accurate picture of how the machinery of the business is running, where the bottlenecks are and what additional resources may be required.
- Always ask, “is there a better way?”. The Japanese term ‘kaizen’ refers to the ethos of continual improvement. When you have implemented a new technology solution it is tempting to sit back and think “job done”. Good businesses are continually tweaking processes to improve outcomes and deliver efficiency gains. Always challenge yourself and your team to think “what can we do better?”.
- Embrace the simple. Sometimes there is a simple addition to how we operate that can be easily implemented but delivers significant gains. For example, using a voice to text tool like Otter for preparing file notes can save time and improve productivity yet requires no change to core systems or processes so can be quickly and easily implemented.
- Always think about the client experience. When you put the client experience at the centre you can often find ways to have a bigger impact. Using video is a great example. If you want to convey a message with emotion, be it a calming influence during market volatility or excitement at the achievement of a major milestone, hearing and seeing you via video will always be more compelling than email. Many tools exist to do this easily. We use Loom, which can run on your computer or your phone and is simple for both you and the client to engage with. Give it a go, I am sure you will be pleased at the client reaction.
Start with the end in mind
The sheer volume of technology solutions makes the process of determining the best solutions for your business daunting. Our recommendation is to start with a blank sheet of paper and design a client engagement process that will wow people. What are things you could do that will have your clients raving about the experience that your business delivers. To do this, think about amazing experiences you have seen or heard about.
For example, I recently heard about a Toyota dealership that is sending a personalised video message from the service manager showing exactly what has been done to the car and any other issues they found. A much more engaging experience than just providing a list of parts replaced.
With your new client, and ongoing service experiences mapped out, you can then look at what elements can be systemised and what technology can enhance the process. What elements can be programmed to automatically occur, therefore freeing up staff for high value tasks? Is there the opportunity for improved efficiency through tools like Otter or would a video message introducing the business and explaining what to expect be a better way of engaging with prospect clients?
If you’ve been using one all-encompassing system and you’ve finally had enough of paying a huge cost and only using a fraction of its capability, that’s a bigger project than finding some quick wins. Our advice (having done this many many times with our clients), is to start with a clear picture of what you’re wanting to achieve, and compare options looking through this lens (otherwise you risk getting distracted by ‘shiny’ functionality that distracts you from the core outcome you need). It’s possible that your best option is to stick with what you have, at least for some components – and train your team to use it better; or if you plan to implement something new, you’ll want to be clear about the project plan to implement a significant change management piece.
We have a handy analysis tool that our Evolve Alliance members can use (that link will take you straight to it when you’re logged in). If you’re not yet an Evolve Alliance member, you can find out about the plethora of resources and sign up here.
The key is to adopt a mindset of finding the best technology to help you deliver the client experience you want to deliver, not adapting your business to the limitation of the software you use today. If you’d like some help, as always, our consulting team are available for a confidential discussion – you can book a time directly into our diaries at this link.