Outside-IN

By moving sales materials to the cloud, advisers stay nimble and compliant

In a world of instant information, available everywhere, investors increasingly expect something similar in communications from their advisers

May 14, 2015 @ 11:10 am

By Doug Winter

Nearly every one of the roughly 300,000 financial advisers in the U.S. across all channels is out every day, making presentations and meeting with clients and prospects. The meetings involve materials, and clients expect those materials to contain the latest product and performance information and reflect as closely as possible the individual's personal situation.

What's more, those expectations are constantly being ratcheted up.

We live in a world of instant information that's available everywhere. Investors are increasingly being conditioned to expect something similar in their communications from their advisers. But there's a major difference in the nature of these exchanges – the need to conform to industry compliance standards.

(More: 9 compliance takeaways from the SEC, Finra senior investor report)

It's a reality of the financial world that the regulatory regime continues to grow in scope and complexity. This increases compliance teams' workloads, creating more bottlenecks for marketing and sales materials. While marketing teams do their best to adhere to the rules, they're always under pressure to meet deadlines and deliver projects on time. Plus, they're only human, so sometimes they make mistakes. That's when another trend in compliance comes into play – tighter enforcement and steeper fines.

Earlier this year, for example, regulators fined a major brokerage for not following its own compliance rules. The infractions occurred at internal meetings where in-house consultants gave presentations to a group of the firm's advisers. The slides weren't approved by the firm's compliance team before the meetings and didn't include required compliance language. Even though the meetings were internal and no clients were harmed, regulators hit the firm with a multi-million dollar fine.

(More: Merrill fined $2.5 million for supervision violations )

TECHNOLOGY EVOLVING

For many firms, existing compliance processes are outdated and inefficient, leaving them open to the risk of major fines and brand damage. However, technologies are evolving to provide a solution. Cloud-based software services allow a company to pull product and client data from multiple repositories – both internal and external – and deliver it in real time on virtually any platform, from a desktop to a tablet. They can do all this while using rules-based systems to add the required disclosures.

These systems allow compliance teams to set rules and parameters – guardrails, in effect – that are incorporated in prebuilt templates for client-facing materials. Manual and repetitive steps are replaced with templates and menu-driven choices. This ensures that the right compliance disclaimers are always included in the right marketing deliverables, from client presentations and pitch books to fund fact sheets.

For marketing teams, this accelerates the production process because the materials are essentially pre-approved. These systems also make the most compliant way to produce materials the fastest and easiest, thereby eliminating the need for shortcuts and the problems they create.

SPEED AND RELIABILITY

For advisers, brokers, relationship managers and other sales staff, these systems put fully compliant and up-to-date materials in their hands more quickly and reliably. Instead of waiting for a key piece of collateral to be approved and produced, they can be in the field using that piece weeks ahead of their competitors.

Automation systems can also improve the efficiency of other areas of marketing operations, such as the quarterly update process. At most firms, this is a mostly manual process for collecting updated information such as performance data, ratings and corporate information, and dropping it into fund fact sheets, pitch books and client review documents. It's a repetitive, time-consuming and error-prone task.

Automation systems simplify and accelerate these production processes by utilizing shared content and linking data sources directly to the deliverables. With this approach, the latest data can be automatically incorporated into the document or other deliverable as soon as the data are available. This can cut weeks out of production wait times after quarter-end, giving advisers, brokers and wholesalers more time to spend in front of clients.

New automation systems also make it faster and easier for advisers to access materials they need to prepare for client meetings. Instead of searching through large and confusing content repositories, advisers can simply fill in details about their upcoming meeting, such as the client's profile, investment vehicles and strategies, firm type and industry sector. Based on the input, the system provides the adviser with the latest, most relevant and compelling content for that particular opportunity. This significantly cuts prep time, helping advisers to schedule more meetings and interact more productively with clients and prospects.

Improving the efficiency of marketing operations is no longer just a good idea – it's imperative. Regulatory changes and stricter enforcement make it critically important for firms to streamline their compliance processes. To meet the current demands and be well-positioned for whatever changes come next, firms should consider supporting their marketing operations with more automation.

Doug Winter is chief executive officer of Seismic, which provides automation solutions for financial services firms.

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