Efficiency-Starved Advisors Are Embracing “Single Dashboard” Approach

By Scott Martin, Senior Editor, thetrustadvisor.com on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Far from liberating the industry from time-wasting distractions, technology is actually getting in the way of the real business of working with clients and generating revenue. But some see the pendulum swinging back.

It looks like the high-tech revolution has finally hit a pain point in the financial industry.

Advisors are grumbling about too much switching between too many programs, none of which talk to each other. Their desktops are too crowded and their resources, they feel, are stretched too thin.

Statistics from the Aite Group back this up. In a 40-hour week, the typical front-line advisor now spends an hour  more time just keeping the office running than he or she does getting in front of new prospects.

In other words, the technology has stopped being the savior and become part of the problem.

“Advisory firms have limited personnel resources,” acknowledges Martin Dickau, co-founder and chief technology officer of advisor software company ByAllAccounts.

“The more of those resources they allocate to assembling the information they need and getting it cleaned up, the less time those perfectly good human brains have to think about growing the business.”

Streamlining the flow

It’s not necessarily the technology vendors’ fault. If anything, they did their jobs too well over the last decade by carving out opportunity after opportunity for advisors to squeeze efficiencies out of their working days.

The rise of the paperless office eliminated endless clutter and filing time, but left advisors chained to their computers as the only source of the data they needed.

Those computers then started filling up with automated trading windows, portfolio management tools, research applications, client relationship management systems: each a time-saver in its own right, but a drag in combination.

The underlying problem, Dickau says, is that these programs were created in isolation to manage isolated operational tasks.

Even if they could acknowledge each other’s existence, the fact that they draw on different data streams -- or even just different data points in the same stream -- forces an advisor who wants to use both programs to duplicate effort or, at best, waste time flipping between windows.

That’s why they’re spending an average of 8 hours a week flipping between windows while their support teams burn 35% to 55% of their time keeping the “automated” office environment running.

While advisors are grumbling, relatively few have pinpointed the problem yet. Most are allocating their 2012 technology budgets to adding even more programs to their platforms in an attempt to squeeze even more incremental efficiencies out of their staffs.

Barely 8% of their overall tech spend is going toward integrating what they already have. That’s a potential advantage for those advisors who are making a real effort to simplify now.

Toward the unified dashboard

Imagine life with every single aspect of a client’s finances on your screen. No flipping back and forth, no logging in and logging out of multiple programs to get what you want. Everything right there at your fingertips.

That kind of “unified advisor dashboard” is on the horizon, but in the meantime, simply finding a way to get all your legacy programs to talk to each other goes a long way toward reclaiming your work week.

After all, it’s not the applications’ fault, Martin Dickau tells me.

“It’s really the information sources with which advisors have to work,” he explains.

“Every time people add a particular relationship to their platform or an application to their desktop, it will access different data sources in different ways.”

As the applications add up,  some advisory firms are already discovering that aggregating data from across various sources is a lot more than a way to market “360-degree service” to clients and prospects -- it’s a way to maintain sanity.

Think of your clients, with their finances fragmented across dozens of little accounts and relationships in banks, retirement accounts, trusts, and under your management.

Now think of your firm’s overall data footprint. You might have assets spread across five or six custodians and multiple brokerage accounts, and in the post-Madoff world, the trend is toward more relationships and not less.

If your clients can’t keep track of their assets, can you and your staff keep track of your feed?

“We were at dinner with some clients awhile back and I asked them what they liked most about having a more streamlined technology platform,” Martin Dickau recalls.

“The No. 1 thing I got was that it eliminates frustration. Operations people sit there doing this stuff by hand, reconciling the data because the computers can’t do it themselves. The computers can do it and stop wasting money and morale -- if the advisor is willing to make the change.”

Scott Martin has been tracking various aspects of the financial industry since 2001 for publications like Research, Buyside and Institutional Investor. Previously, he was a market writer for CNN. As an advocate for the trust industry, he has testified to the Nevada Senate Committee on Commerce, Labor and Energy on issues of national competition. He is also active as a marketing and editorial consultant for registered investment advisors. 

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