Advisors today rely on technology more than ever as applications for managing portfolios, client relationships, documents and other areas of an advisory business are instrumental in helping streamline key tasks. The average number of technologies in RIAs’ offices continues to increase, with the average firm using 4.8 out of eight popular systems, according to Schwab’s 2010 RIA Benchmarking Study.

And yet, advisors are still missing an important piece of the technology puzzle: integration—enabling all those disparate technology systems to communicate and work together.

Integration is becoming a growing area of interest, as the absence of integrated technology platforms may be crimping advisors’ ability to grow their businesses. For example, by having to enter data in each individual technology system and cross-check for errors, advisors end up spending more time on operational duties and less time on business development. A lack of technology integration also means advisors must pull together data from various systems to address client requests—resulting in inefficient, less responsive client service that may compromise client satisfaction and loyalty.

The CRM as command center

The possible solution: Consider making the client relationship management (CRM) system the command center of the entire RIA operation by integrating CRM with a firm’s workflow processes and its other technologies. The CRM is already a crucial technology in most advisors’ offices. By placing it at the core of an integrated platform, it becomes even more valuable as a portal—a single, centralized access point where staff can call up the information they need to manage important tasks and serve clients. That information might include up-to-date account balances and positions, email communications, and performance reports and other forms.

The potential bottom-line results: A higher level of standardization and automation that enables rapid, accurate and consistent client service—regardless of who at the firm a client works with at any time—along with greater internal efficiencies and staff productivity. In fact, as firms increase the level of integration of workflow processes and other technologies with CRM, they may experience higher levels of satisfaction and greater time savings.

Firms with a high level of CRM integration—integrating at least one workflow and one other system (such as portfolio management or email management) with their CRM—report being more than twice as satisfied with their CRM, compared with firms with no integration (see chart). Reported time savings are even more dramatic. Nearly half the firms (44 percent) with a high level of CRM integration report time savings of over 20 percent, compared with just 10 percent of firms with no integration.

Workflows First

A key to successful CRM-centric integration is to blueprint the firm’s processes, step-by-step, and store that information in the CRM system before attempting to integrate the CRM with other technology systems. This allows a firm to understand its workflows and organize, manage, track and monitor the status of all tasks—from onboarding a new client to preparing quarterly performance reports. Three best practices in this area are:

1. Document and evaluate before implementation. Each process needs to be documented, step-by-step, on paper and streamlined before it can be added to the CRM as a workflow. Streamlining means working as a team to review and challenge each process, eliminate redundancies and make sure the process is as efficient and effective as possible.

2. Strive for simplicity. Don’t over-engineer workflows. Keep processes simple so they are less likely to break down. A good rule of thumb is if there are 12 to 18 steps in a process, it’s probably too complicated and in need of streamlining.

3. Mine data from process workflows. Once tasks are being set up and managed in the CRM system, monitor the results for insights and best practices that can be used to improve a firm’s results. For example, there may be employees or teams who consistently exceed deadlines, or who provide a large number of new business referrals. Use the information recorded in the CRM to help identify these staffers’ methods for success so they can be implemented by others at the firm.

The ultimate goal of a CRM integration strategy is to make the CRM the most important and valuable application in the office—the primary technology that everyone uses and turns to for timely customer information. In our hugely client-centric business where speed, accuracy and efficiency are all paramount, CRM integration may prove to be a key differentiating factor separating the industry’s top RIAs from the competition.

Adam Moseley is Managing Director, Technology Consulting, at Schwab Advisor Services. He can be reached at