Selecting a customer relationship management system is likely to be one of the most important technology purchases an adviser will make — and one with which the practice probably will live for years to come.
CRM has grown increasingly sophisticated over the past few years, especially in the versions intended for financial advisers. No longer is the software simply just an electronic Rolodex or a task list in Outlook; it is now at the heart of most firms and is relied on to increase the efficiency of many processes, as well as to act as a communications hub.
"It is absolutely crucial that if I, as a user, land on a particular client in my CRM application, I should be able to see everything surrounding that client as far as their activities, scheduled tasks and meetings, and recent activities or meetings," said Bruce Moulton, a principal with Moulton Strategic Partners Inc. in Flower Mound, Texas.
He was a participant on a panel of CRM experts at the Financial Planning Association/InvestmentNews Technology Expo, held last month in conjunction with the Denver-based FPA's Business Solutions Conference in Rosemont, Ill. Joining Mr. Moulton on the panel to discuss developments in advisers' use of CRM were Ken Golding, vice president of CRM Software Inc. of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., the firm behind Junxure CRM software; and Brian McLaughlin, chief executive and chief technology officer for Redtail Technology Inc. of Gold River, Calif., the makers of Redtail CRM.
The panelists noted that the best adviser-oriented CRM systems go beyond a mere listing of clients and their related events by providing a snapshot of all assets held by the client, including financial accounts and insurance policies, and all relevant data, including estate-planning information.
"In a quick instant, when I pick up that phone, I should be able see my firm's entire relationship established right there at the client record," said Mr. Moulton, whose firm is the purveyor of XLR8, an adviser-specific overlay for Salesforce.com Inc.'s extremely popular online CRM application. Salesforce.com is based in San Francisco.
Mr. Moulton and the other panelists agreed that advisers must look at their CRM system as being in a constant state of evolution.
"It's not like there's a time or day that the CRM implementation is done. A true CRM is going to be changing and evolving over time," Mr. Moulton said.
Advisers often want to know how implementing a CRM system has measurably improved productivity at other firms.
One way, said Ken Golding, is that CRM-equipped firms are able to handle increased workloads without having to hire more staff. Monthly account withdrawals provide a specific example of a labor-intensive task that can be handled automatically by Junxure or other CRM software, he said.
"Because we can integrate with the portfolio management system and know how much money is in those accounts, we have the ability to track how much must come out of those accounts. We run a report and instead of having to go through 80 different accounts, we can see that just three have a shortage and we act just on those," reducing what could easily take a firm an entire day down to just a couple of minutes, Mr. Golding said.
Since a CRM system becomes a repository for all sorts of important data, both current and historical, it can do other tasks as well. For instance, an assistant can click a button and generate a list of all a client's tax returns for any year — so long as the adviser has collected the data.
The experts agree that selecting the optimal CRM software — or a planning program or portfolio management software, for that matter — requires time, due diligence and thoughtful self-analysis on the part of the adviser.
Two places where advisers may start their software research are yoursilverbullet.net and Iatechforum com. Both sites are maintained by independent consortia of software providers. Portola Valley, Calif.-based Your Silver Bullet provides a reference grid of independent software products that either are already integrated or can be fairly easily assembled to work in concert. Using software that is produced by member of the consortia enables an advisory firm to mesh its current software with new purchases.
The IATechforum.com, which is designed for registered representatives who are interested in becoming independent, provides reference material to help guide advisers in their technology planning. It also provides an interactive user forum.
E-mail Davis D. Janowski at -email@example.com.