Want More From Your Technology? Don’t Stop at the Screen

By Scott Martin, Senior Editor, thetrustadvisor.com on Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

New survey shows that getting all the systems to work together is the top technological challenge advisors face. But simply bolting the passwords together won’t cut it.

From all the buzz I’m hearing, systems integration is a hot topic among advisors right now. Let’s get ahead of the curve and talk about what exactly it means for your office.

First, a whopping 34% of the advisors that ByAllAccounts recently polled say integration is their top operational objective, while 31% say a lack of integration is their biggest technological challenge. (Click here to download an executive summary of the results).

This urgency shouldn’t shock anyone who knows how cluttered advisor desktops have gotten over the last decade.

“It doesn’t surprise me that this number is so high,” says Martin Dickau, chief technology of ByAllAccounts, “We integrate with more than 35 of the industry’s leading technology platforms and people are still asking us to build more integrations every day.”

Integration is simply the process of making sure that all your software and the data in it can communicate with every other program you need to run. If your CRM and your portfolio management platform talk to each other without you having to tell a staff member to type in everything twice, they’re integrated on some level.

This is crucial for advisors looking to automate data entry and ultimately get by with a leaner and more efficient support team.

Unless the programs can reliably share information, your staff is simply going to have to type everything in at least twice: new client paperwork, revisions, every single update or correction. And account aggregation services only do part of the heavy lifting.

For that matter, while pushing an account update out to all your programs at once does save keystrokes, it’s only the tip of the integration iceberg. To get the real ROI, you need to integrate that technology more deeply into the way your practice runs.

“The way data flows throughout your office is the important thing,” Tony Leal, chief technology officer at MoneyGuidePro told a rapt crowd at Pershing’s advisor conference last month.

“Integration for its own sake is only the first step. Beyond the actual software, you need to make sure all departments have access to need-to-know information. Every sales assistant, everyone who interacts with the clients.”

Operations and technology go together

Your staff tells ByAllAccounts that a lot of them are spending 20 or more hours a month on data entry — and you might even be a top culprit there.

Even in big firms, advisors often do a lot of the typing themselves because it feels easier to get everything into the system right after or even during a client meeting.

That’s okay, but your time as a front-line advisor is actually the most precious of all.

Industry gurus still quote the old 2010 statistic from Schwab’s RIA benchmarking study as gospel because few firms have actually put its conclusions in practice.

A full 44% of firms that integrate just one software program — the customer relationship management (CRM) tools — into their everyday work flow are at least 20% more productive.

That’s an extra 90 minutes every working day that each advisor can spend calling prospects, meeting clients or otherwise growing the business.

And that’s a competitive gold mine.

Cleaning out the cobwebs  

The opportunity here is that years of advisors abstaining from big technology upgrades have left a lot of systems held together with patches and the software equivalent of duct tape.

Remember, the last time the industry really felt good about investing in expensive equipment and software was 2007, and that’s coming on five years ago.

Five years is literally a lifetime in the technology world.

If you’re finally buying a new system, now’s the time to ask whether it works with your aggregation service and existing legacy software.

Some vendors have taken a more open approach so integrating their code into your platform will be a breeze.

Others maintain a proprietary “walled garden” policy that won’t work with what you already have.

And with a staggering majority of advisors telling ByAllAccounts that they’re running four or more separate systems — CRM, portfolio management, planning software, you name it — it’s likely that your competitors are wasting a lot of time hunting around their screens for every single program they need to load and tweak whenever they update an account.

It may only take seconds to load, but those seconds add up.

Save your staff the seconds and the hours have a much better chance of taking care of themselves.

Scott Martin is the Senior Editor of theTrustAdvisor.com America’s leading wealth management e-newsletter and 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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