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How Can Advisory Firms Build for the Digital Future?
The financial services industry can’t afford to ignore the digital revolution any longer. If advisory firms had any lingering doubt about digital transformation’s importance, the COVID-19 pandemic swept it all away. In the blink of an eye, firms across the globe found themselves managing remote or blended teams and relying more on technology to handle day-to-day tasks, communicate with clients and keep their whole operations running smoothly.
The pandemic may have been the final straw, but digitization was coming for advisory firms one way or another. Now, firms need to build for a future that revolves around digital technology and experiences. How do you prepare your workforce to thrive in a hybrid environment, where you might not be able to meet with a client in person or walk down the hall to ask a coworker a question?
For the answer, we turned to Erin Kincheloe, co-founder of All About It Consulting. With 30 years of experience working in the financial services industry, Erin’s seen and done it all. She’s helped countless advisory firms come to grips with their technology needs and show them how to keep building for the future. There’s no one more qualified to share her insights on the best ways to reshape your firm to grow and thrive, no matter what comes down the pike.
Define your key processes
Streamlining and improving everyday processes is absolutely essential if you want your firm to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible — both today and down the road. But first, you need to know what processes are already in place and how they impact day-to-day tasks. Through all of her work over the years, Erin has found that it’s pretty common for firms to have a major disconnect between how leadership teams think their organizations operate and how staff members actually go about their work.
“What firms really struggle with is defining routine procedures and getting them into a system, so everybody knows what’s going on,” Erin says. “From a management perspective, you should be able to easily answer, ‘What are we doing?’ ‘Where are we falling behind?’ ‘Where are we doing a great job?’”
If everyone handles tasks a little differently, then firms won’t be able to standardize processes, let alone optimize them. Start by clearly defining the work you do and how you do it. Odds are you’ll find more than a few inconsistencies. Figure out the best way to manage those jobs and formalize those procedures, so everyone’s on the same page.
“You have to get those processes and procedures in place and you have to get that information in the CRM,” Erin explains. “Everyone needs to know how to use that platform and find information whenever they need it.”
Kick your addiction to paper
Advisory firms typically do a lot of work on paper — printing out account information, taking notes during client meetings, keeping financial records close by to reference while planning a financial strategy, etc. Paperwork is simply a fact of life for many advisors. It could be a bitter pill to swallow, but firms need to wean themselves off their paper addiction.
As Erin explains, relying on paper and printed documents simply isn’t always feasible when firms have employees working remotely or in blended environments. For instance, some team members may not have printers in their own home offices.
Even more worrisome are the compliance implications firms have to face if they allow advisors to continue handling sensitive physical documents away from the office. How can firm leaders be certain that advisors are doing their due diligence when it comes to their compliance demands? There’s really no way to be sure employees are shredding sensitive financial paperwork from home to prevent that information from falling into the wrong hands.
“Rather than roll the dice and let employees continue working with paper, it might make more sense to store sensitive information and documentation electronically in a system that provides security and visibility,” Erin says.
Rethink your client experience
A lot of firms have made the mistake of giving their advisors too much leeway in the way they manage data. If you don’t have standard policies and practices in place to guide your staff, you’re going to find that the quality and completeness of your data will vary pretty significantly.
Consider how your firm documents client phone calls, for instance. There’s a good chance each of your advisors handles things differently. Some jot down just a few bullet points while others type out entire paragraphs. Without any consistency in that process, you’ll never know what information — or how much of it — is going to be available.
In a similar vein, you need to be sure that advisors are documenting client relationships using the same fields and uploading the same type of data into your CRM platform. A good way to get everyone on the same page is to create note templates so advisors have a standard list of fields to fill in according to different scenarios. If, for instance, a client calls the office, your team will have a clear process to go through to ensure that interaction — and all the information discussed — is consistently documented.
Build stronger client relationships
From what Erin has seen and heard, clients increasingly expect advisors to quickly respond to any question or request they might have. Many clients cut firms some slack in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis since everyone was scrambling to adapt to the “new normal.” But their patience could be running thin now that advisors have had plenty of time to get situated and back into the rhythm of things.
With the number of technologies and digital platforms available to help firms dig up information and respond to clients as quickly as possible, there’s really no excuse for any significant delays. Erin has a philosophy that firms would be wise to follow: She calls it her “three-minute rule.”
“Let’s say a client calls me and asks, ‘Do you know if that check went out in the mail yet?’” Erin explains. “If I can’t get that information for them in three minutes, then I’m doing something wrong.”
Three minutes may not sound like the highest benchmark to clear, but a lot of advisors struggle to find the information they need when they need it. The only way to consistently respond to clients in a timely manner is to document every call, every task and every to-do item in a central platform, most likely your CRM or business management platform.
Looking toward the future, it’s clear that advisory firms will need to take advantage of the technology at their fingertips to support a better client experience any way they can. By using business management platforms such as Practifi to centralize information, document every aspect of the client relationship and monitor daily activities, firms can steadily improve the work they do and how they do it.
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About Erin Kincheloe
Erin is an expert in working with motivated and engaged firms to change and successfully adopt CRM technology. As a long-term industry veteran and principal of All About It Consulting, Erin has helped 100’s of firms uncover new efficiencies, create systems and craft effective workflows, all the while encouraging firms to embrace the changes and recognize the opportunities that technology implementation can bring.