Tech training at the top of the to-do list at many RIAs

For most, training is more of a priority than buying new tech products

Jun 27, 2014 @ 11:56 am

By Joyce Hanson

Sunit Bhalla, principal of OakTree Financial Planning in Fort Collins, Colo., took an advanced webinar Wednesday from Redtail Technology Inc. to sharpen his skills on the firm's customer relationship management system and learn about new product enhancements that might help him run his fee-only practice.

At Redtail's Summer Series online course, Mr. Bhalia brushed up on how to build checklists, complete workflows and review dates and client details. As a certified financial planner with a busy solo practice, he nevertheless felt that a morning training session to get reacquainted with his CRM's best practices was time well spent.

“I found it useful,” he said. “I definitely use Redtail a lot.”

According to a Fidelity Investments benchmarking study of registered investment adviser firms released this spring, RIAs this year are more likely to train staff on existing technology systems than buy new products.

Fully 58% of RIA firms ranked training of staff on existing systems as the second biggest technology opportunity, according to the online survey of more than 500 firms conducted by Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. The top tech opportunity reported by RIAs was implementation of automated workflows, at 68%.

Rick Williamson, who runs Redtail's training department, said the summer series course starts by looking at how advisers spend their time in the office, then moves on with what he calls “scenario-based training” to show how advisers organize their day and navigate their way through the CRM as they perform tasks such as retaining data and reporting notes.

“It's like telling a story. People love stories and the energy behind it,” he said. “We're teaching about software here. We're not teaching about the cosmos or the most interesting thing in the world, so we try to deliver it in an entertaining manner.”

To be sure, Redtail gets something out of training advisers on its system: customer loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals. Redtail is adding approximately 300 new CRM clients a month, according to the company.

“The happier you are with a product, the likelier you are to stay with it. People don't like what they don't understand, and that includes tools and toys,” Mr. Williamson said.

Not all training is done online. Depending on the software, and how RIAs use it, training may also be done via user manuals or live classrooms.

Shaun Dowling, a partner and director of financial planning at Howard Financial Services Ltd. in Dallas, said that when his firm implemented Salesforce.com Inc.'s CRM last November, all of the firm's 17 employees joined together in a conference room for an overview of the product before they headed back to their desks for three days of web-based one-on-one training by a Salesforce representative.

But in May, months after Howard Financial had implemented eMoney Advisor LLC's financial planning software, all of the firm's advisers attended three days of classroom training in Dallas.

“We implemented eMoney last fall, and now that we're in, we wanted to learn about best practices,” Mr. Dowling said. “Personally, I tend toward experimenting and playing with something until I figure it out, but I do think it's helpful for new people coming into our firm to take training to learn the basics and best practices before they experiment on their own.”

For RIA firms that decide it's time for a completely new platform of tech products, training is just as essential.

When Focus Wealth Management of Middleburg, Va., did a clean sweep of its technology and brought on Envestnet | Tamarac's Advisor Xi Suite, the RIA firm resolved to spend $100,000 and an entire year, from last September to this September, in implementation and training.

According to Helen Modly, executive vice president of the eight-employee firm, that meant sending principals and staffers for training to Envestnet | Tamarac three times already.

In adopting the Advisor Xi Suite, Focus Wealth made the decision to drop Junxure's CRM, partly because the firm's principals realized they weren't using it to its full advantage.

“None of us ever went through the full training on Junxure, so we had a lot of haphazard standards going on. We were sloppy with our data architecture,” said Ms. Modly, who is president of the National Capital Area chapter of the Financial Planning Association.

But when Focus Wealth made the decision to adopt the Advisor Xi Suite, the principals rallied staff and made sure everyone was ready to move full speed ahead with training on the new platform.

“When you can see the benefits down the road from the disruption, it's much easier to work with staff and get buy-in. The worse thing is when everyone smiles and nods and goes back to what they were doing before,” Ms. Modly said.

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