Probably the only thing evolving quicker than the financial planning industry is the technology that supports it. It's nearly impossible to peruse an industry publication without reading about a new fintech merger or an update on the fiercely competitive robo-advice space.
Unfortunately, many advisers are creatures of habit and often averse to change, especially the technology kind. The firms and owners writing checks to cover increasingly costly solutions are even more hesitant.
The challenge of changing is not simply the hard cost of the price tag on a new tech solution, but all the soft costs that come with a major conversion: The seemingly endless amount of time it takes to settle on the right solution. Heavy lifting and headaches that come with a conversion. And the elusive trick of teaching old (and new) dogs new tricks.
With that said, we made the decision to change not one, not two, not even three, but all four key technology components of our business. And we did so in 12 months.
These are some of the critical steps — many of which have been learned the hard way — to convert successfully from one financial planning software to another.
ARTICULATE THE 'WHY'
Any change management project requires building buy-in and excitement. If the team doesn't understand the "why" behind the switch, and isn't excited about it, then why should anyone follow?
For us the why is about becoming "future ready." Operating on legacy systems that don't speak with each other is bad for business and client service. To stay competitive, we believe that systems must be fully integrated to make advisers and their teams more efficient, ultimately giving advisers back time that can be reinvested into meeting and counseling clients.
Hosting a launch party can set the stage for the change, establish the why, put expectations on a timeline, and clarify who to go to with questions. This can help alleviate concerns before they detract from excitement about making a switch.
One of the biggest challenges when changing financial planning software relative to say, performance reporting, is that with financial planning software you end up having to do a lot of the data transfer manually, because many solutions don't allow you to export data from one and import into another.
Because of this we were forced to manually convert nearly 300 financial plans from our old planning software to the new one!
We set an aggressive goal of having each adviser and their service team convert all plans from the old software to the new tool during the three summer months. On top of that, we built a plan conversion dashboard that served as a scoreboard to track progress towards the goal and key activities critical to meeting our goal (i.e. time spent converting). This helped to gamify an otherwise painstaking process and allowed us to reallocate support resources in real-time to anyone falling behind.
Lastly, while we could have paid a consultant to help with conversion, the time spent rebuilding client plans in the new software proved an invaluable training ground for advisers and client service reps to familiarize themselves with the platform.
Location, location, location, is to real estate as communication, communication, communication is to managing the success of a major tech stack overhaul. There was likely nothing more important throughout the conversion process than clear and consistent communication — which only becomes exponentially more important the larger the organization.
At our firm, we sent out a weekly email with an updated scoreboard. Everyone always knew where we were on the path to our goal. This also helped uncover crucial issues, for example if the new software treats Social Security inflation differently than the old software, as well as revealed new best practices and hard lessons learned.
Finally, we held weekly meetings to reiterate all information in the weekly email, and promoted group discussion and communication about best practices dealing with everything from presenting a life insurance analysis to analyzing college funding in the new software.
Matt Cosgriff is a financial adviser with BerganKDV Wealth Management.