The following is excerpted from the InvestmentNews webcast, “Adviser Technology: Six Steps to Results and Returns,” that was featured March 5. The webcast's panel included Amy Flourry, senior operations manager for Rehmann Financial Group; Christopher Valleley, director of institutional technology solutions for TD Ameritrade Institutional; Timothy Welsh, president and founder of Nexus Strategy LLC; and InvestmentNews technology columnist Davis Janowski. Mark Bruno, director of digital and data strategy for InvestmentNews, moderated the webcast.
The technology basics that every firm should have
Mr. Welsh said that the base technology for advisory firms should be programs for customer relationship management, portfolio management reporting, financial planning, a client portal and a document management system. The latter is becoming extremely critical because of increased regulation. Mr. Welsh also said that firms need to look at how they can make the work flows dovetail. “Many firms approach these conundrums where they get the [program] with the coolest features, and it may not do what they need it to do,” Mr. Welsh said. “What is the process you're trying to solve?”
On when to evaluate your firm's technology
“We have a three-year rule where we evaluate our technology every three years and take an in-depth look at it,” Ms. Flourry said. “But the reality is, it's a process that we do all the time on an ongoing basis ... You have to ask more questions and you have to ask different questions [than you did three years ago], and you have to be in the know.”
How a firm should begin upgrading technology
Mr. Valleley said that a firm has to start, quite simply, at the beginning. This begins by asking what problems you are looking to solve. Once a firm understands its current work process, it can develop a “process map” that the firm can show to a technology vendor. “If the current technology isn't a good fit, you can use that process map to review that technology with each vendor and make sure they have a solution to meet your needs,” Mr. Valleley said.
Where can advisers gather research about what new technology products are out there?
Mr. Janowski said that advisers should utilize social-networking sites such as LinkedIn to connect with other advisers about the technology they employ. “I get sick to death when I hear that social media is just a marketing tool,” Mr. Janowski said. “Advisers really need to use it to use it to do research. When you're at a conference and exchange notes or cards with your fellow advisers, link up with them. That way, when it's time to make a technology purchase you're not starting from scratch.”
Mr. Janowski that it's important for advisers to find firms that operate in a way that is very similar to how they run their own business. Not only is it good to talk to other advisers about what technology they use, but even more importantly, find out what problems they've had and what they've discontinued using, Mr. Janowski. said
On differentiating between technology products
Ms. Flourry noted that with so many technology products out there, an adviser is bound to find many that are very similar to one another. This means that the real differences can often be found in the vendors, she added. “So often, people focus so much on the product and forget to think about the partnership you'll have with the vendor,” Ms. Flourry said. “Talk to the support team and see if you click. Ask for references from the vendors and talk to other people who have used that product. Conferences are a great place to also meet people and get feedback on technology. I sometimes serve as a reference because I know how important it is to the end-user and to get feedback from people in the trenches.”
The importance of training your staff
Mr. Janowski said that as technology gets increasingly comprehensive, it is also becoming less intuitive to use. This means that training staff to use the technology has become more important. “I have heard hundreds of examples anecdotally about a firm that bought a particular solution that is very rich and deep but their staff doesn't have the training to fully implement it,” Mr. Janowski said.