The notion of automating client questionnaires sounds simple and makes sense. Technologist and adviser Don Whalen had that idea five years ago when he co-created the application PreciseFP to do just that. One of his marketing phrases, “Get out of the data entry business,” surely resonates with most advisers.
The Aite Group LLC research report “Account Opening Pain Points in the Front Office” from last September included a survey of 500 financial advisers and identified all sorts of reasons for losing prospects. Two stood out: taking too long to fix an error made when opening an account, and having the opening process itself take too long.
Hence it makes sense to get clients involved in the process.
Sloan Walters, a partner at Blakely Walters Wealth Management, said his firm has been using PreciseFP for three months. Several dozen clients have filled out the online questionnaires, which are customized to look like they come directly from his firm.
“We specialize in creating comprehensive financial plans for individuals as an employer benefit, and we work with large companies; our largest has 8,000 employees,” he said.
That level of volume makes attaining operational efficiency paramount for his four-person firm. Any tool that can offload some or all client data input to the client is worth trying, according to Mr. Walters. This process, he added, has the benefit of making the client more involved and engaged in a collaborative process.
Thanks to Mr. Whalen and other smaller, third-party entrepreneurial technology developers, the independent advisory industry is benefiting from a plethora of tools. PreciseFP, a product of Spectrum Input LLC, is not alone on the prospecting and personnel integration fronts. Several providers have offerings that share some similarities but diverge in other ways.
DO IT YOURSELF
Take Boulevard R, a small retirement-planning tech firm co-founded by Matt Iverson and his father in 2005. The firm initially began with an online setup assistant, or wizard, application for investors. That evolved into the Starter Roadmap, which adapted the wizard and helped match consumers in need of planning with advisers through a partnership with the Financial Planning Association.
Today, Roadmap and a goal-setting module are key components of Amp, an overall marketing campaign that includes those two do-it-yourself, wizardlike features that can be customized for an advisory firm's website, along with other prospecting features. Amp is available both online and as an iPad application that advisers can use in person with prospects during meetings.
Another tool, the Personal Financial Index from Omyen Corp., is a web-based self-assessment questionnaire for prospective clients visiting an adviser's home page.
“It allows clients to benchmark their own overall financial health in 10 to 15 minutes,” said Dinesh Sharma, chief executive of Omyen and creator of the index.
Prior to starting Omyen four years ago, Mr. Sharma spent several years working at Fidelity Investments, where he was responsible for developing wealth management tools and technology. It was there that he took note of how few tools were available to help advisers begin discussions with clients around certain sensitive areas, including long-term care and other health care issues — for which he also has built tools.
“The PFI score — you can liken it to a credit score — leaves [the client] and the adviser an actionable financial analysis to start from,” he said. “This is somewhat similar to what PreciseFP does in terms of relying on the client for input, but our tool drives the client to the adviser, and the adviser receives an e-mail saying that a prospect or client just completed it.”
Omyen has built additional web-based tools it plans to release in the near future. These include a portfolio-level, goals-based financial planning application and a separate account level, cash-flow-based financial planning tool; an insurance planning tool; another for asset allocation; a tool for creating sustainable retirement income; the previously mentioned retirement health care plan tool; and an estate-planning module.
“There is a revolution going on in financial planning,” Mr. Sharma said. “Rather than giving [the client paper forms], I send them to PFI and have them fill out much of it, but not everything. There are certain things that I, as the adviser, want to ask them myself. That's my value; that's why I'm getting paid.”
MUNDANE TO EXOTIC
This do-it-yourself process ex-tends into more-exotic categories, as well, ranging from portfolio analytics to macroanalytics to secure data transmission and storage applications.
Measurement of risk tolerance might not seem like a natural fit for a prospecting tool, but that is the origin of RiskalyzePro, which was launched a little over three months ago. Simply put, a client either visits an adviser's site first or the adviser sends out a link to him or her for an online questionnaire. It requires only five to 10 minutes to complete, and takes the investor through a series of simple questions with multiple-choice responses.
Taking the inputs, Riskalyze quantitatively measures a client's risk tolerance using the system's proprietary algorithm. It then reports back to the adviser, who can generate any of several reports — some for meetings with the clients or prospects, others for the compliance file.
Another case in point is Hidden Levers.com, a tool that started life entirely as a macroeconomic- analytics application for anyone in financial services. The firm recently created a tool explicitly designed to help advisers hoping to attract high-net-worth clients.
“This feature has grown out of our collaboration with advisers, and basically, we are providing them with a "stress test your portfolio' button and link on their website,” co-founder Raj Udeshi said.
Clicking that link takes the client or pro-spect to a page with 16 predefined scenarios they can test their current portfolios against, such as a “double-dip recession,” “China hard landing,” “back to March 2009 lows,” “climate change” and others.
The data they enter are captured, and at the end of the process, the tool asks them if they would like to be contacted by an adviser.
After two years of development, the firm has completed an integration with custodian TD Ameritrade Institutional that allows advisers to access client portfolio data and bring it over into the application.
TD Ameritrade, with its open-application programming interface initiative, has the most streamlined process among the four major custodians when it comes to working with third-party developers — taking as little as a few months to integrate with them. Most developers report that the total process, however, no matter the custodian, often takes up to a year — and for many, almost two years, after security vetting, navigating the bureaucratic hoops and the technical building of linkages.
Therefore, for the time being, many advisers will have to continue going it alone when it comes to making connections with innovative providers of third-party applications.
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