The nature of the financial advisory business drives growth-oriented professionals to use increasing amounts of technology to manage information. Advisors get plenty of advice on buying and using hardware and software from experts (including those who write for Financial Planning). But do you really know how to manage and use clients information, and how best to deliver updates and advice to them?
Efficient and effective information delivery is important to your business success. Unfortunately, technology comes at a price and many advisors have trouble evaluating the real cost-benefit ratio of adding technology to their business. While upfront fees, training and time costs may seem obvious, there are also the hidden costs of managing unwieldy software and inadequate hardware or figuring out what to do next.
Then there is the specter of disruptive technology new things just around the corner that will change the way you interact with clients. Should you wait or go for it now?
While technical experts make interesting evaluations, there is no crystal ball to help us perfectly predict the advent of new industry-changing software or hardware. To get a sense of the next big thing, however, we can look at how data-driven firms are using technology to enhance the client experience and improve communication efficiency.
At a recent TD Ameritrade conference, I was immersed in one high- tech, high-touch experience. During a panel discussion attended by about 150 people, the audience was presented with 10 successive questions and asked to quickly respond to each question via smartphone. The votes were tallied on a big screen in a matter of seconds.
The audience was totally engaged. And panel members knew immediately what the audience was thinking, allowing them to react accordingly. The experience was captivating.
In another conference session one that did not employ this technology Mitt Romney cited half a dozen issues that he considered important to the country.
Imagine what could have happened if the thousands of people listening had been able to quickly vote on what they thought was important. With instant feedback, would Romney have changed his discussion to better connect with the crowd?
Think for a moment of how you could use this with your clients. If you present seminars, imagine the level of interaction you could have with your audience with this sort of technology.
And instead of carrying out time-consuming and expensive surveys once every year or two, how about electronically presenting one issue or question every week or two to all your clients, asking them to respond if interested? After your instant vote weekly survey, you could respond to those interested in the topic. The results would be powerful, timely, efficient and high touch.
Most professionals now have some variety of smartphone; many also have an iPad or other tablet. My previous firm developed an iPad app that helped clients connect easily with the company, email their advisor, use an online virtual vault for personal reports and documents, and get our latest news. We even considered giving each new high-net-worth client an iPad loaded with apps we developed.
Technology is also offering new communication options. Like many of you, the advisors at the firm where I work, Savant Capital Management, write plenty of studies and blogs; some use Twitter, as well. But short video clips may replace blogs and tweets altogether, and enable higher-quality remote interfaces with clients.
Why video? Ample evidence suggests that most people connect more with a video presentation than written text it can be very effective. (A few decades ago, CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite who spoke to millions of people each night with sincerity and humor was known as the most trusted man in America.)
Successful financial advisors already have developed communication styles that work effectively with clients. With training, such skills are transferable to video presentations. As Internet bandwidth has fallen in cost, Savant equipped several offices recently with high-quality video equipment for teleconferencing.
Every year, our firm conducts a number of client lunch and dinner events. They are time-consuming and expensive to produce, but they result in increased connections with those who attend typically, about 15% of all our clients. Yet what can we do to connect with the other 85%? By now, you might have guessed my answer: high-quality video conferences, using interactive technology.
In an attention experiment a few years ago, people watching a video were instructed to count the number of times a basketball is passed around. More than half of the first-time test-takers failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walking among the people passing the ball.
I use the phrase gorilla scanning to mean being sensitive to seemingly unrelated events, trends or issues the unexpected gorillas, so to speak that could affect your business. Employees at Savant look for trends in their particular areas of expertise and, if appropriate, pass them along to senior management.
One piece of information that bubbled up was the annual Society for Information Management 2013 IT Trends Study, based on responses from 484 U.S.-based organizations, which reported on top IT management issues and concerns.
Interestingly, many concerns of IT managers did not line up with the concerns of senior management. For example, IT managers second and third most pressing concerns were data security and disaster recovery; these matters were ranked 14th and 11th, respectively, by senior management.
Could this mean many publicly traded firms we invest in are ill-prepared for a natural disaster? And while were on the matter: How is your own disaster recovery plan? Im not thinking just of data recovery. Could you recover from a disaster that wipes out your entire office building?
Another interesting technology trend is the apparent takeover of mobile communication by companies like Facebook, which recently paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, with hundreds of millions of text message subscribers. A federal court recently threw out the FCCs proposed Internet neutrality rules, which would have guaranteed equal access to telecom companies (a majority of advisors use traditional telecommunications to call clients) and technology companies such as Skype and text message providers (which are rapidly taking over nontraditional communications).
Imagine that the monthly costs for the fancy new telephone system you just installed suddenly triple or drop by two-thirds. Would that affect the way you connect with clients?
Be aggressive in looking for ways to make incremental efficiency improvements that require nothing more than using more features in the programs and equipment you already have. Professionals at Savant can push a few buttons on their office phones to get email notification of a voicemail and listen to a voicemail from their computer. My office phone is on my laptop, so I can talk with a client who calls my office even if Im traveling thousands of miles away.
And think every day how your systems can reach out and touch your clients more efficiently and effectively because your competitors certainly are doing so already.
Glenn G. Kautt, CFP, EA, AIFA, is a Financial Planning columnist and vice chairman of Savant Capital Management, based in Rockford, Ill.
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