Awell-established product for independent advisors is moving to a platform that will provide increased flexibility and may attract new categories of users.

ProTracker CRM software has a long and illustrious history among independent advisors. The software was developed in 1996 by Warren Mackensen for his fee-only financial planning firm, Mackensen & Co., and was demonstrated to other advisors that same year. For a number of years, ProTracker was popular among independent advisors, but in recent years its luster has faded. In fact, in the 2012 Financial Planning Tech Survey, only 2% of respondents were using ProTracker as their customer relationship management tool.

One reason for this low usage is that the product has always been desktop- or server-based - so as many advisors moved their CRM software to the cloud, ProTracker was no longer an option. In addition, ProTracker was designed for fee-based and fee-only business, so it was less attractive to a large portion of the advisor population.

With the introduction of a true cloud-based product, however - to be called ProTracker Cloud - the product's fortunes may be ripe for a revival. ProTracker has actually been selling something called ProTracker Cloud the last several years, but it was a misnomer. The product, which is hosted at a SunGard secure data facility and is a joint venture partnership with IVDesk, should have been called ProTracker Hosted. That offering will now be called ProTracker Office - A Remote Office Solution. This product has had little traction to date, but Mackensen says he will support it indefinitely.

 

THE REAL CLOUD

I believe ProTracker's future is in the real cloud. The new version provides scalability, self-provisioning, the ability to add or remove users on demand, and mobile web capabilities. This version is built on the platform of SugarCRM, an established cloud provider used by companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, IBM and Men's Warehouse.

When you first log on to ProTracker Cloud, enable Java; then provide a username and password. If you are accessing ProTracker Cloud from a computer that you will be using regularly, you'll want to enroll it.

You then land on the MyProTracker dashboard. This page is highly customizable. To the left is the main navigation tool, which can take you almost anywhere in the application. Along the top are customizable tabs; the default settings create pages for Sales, Marketing, Support and Tracker (usage reports). Additional pages can be added by clicking the plus sign.

If you click the down arrow at the upper left, a list of recently visited views will be displayed. To the right, there is a search box, a notification area and, by clicking the plus sign, a quick menu for creating a new call, client, document or email.

The main portion of the screen is populated by widgets ("dashlets" in SugarCRM parlance). My sample came loaded with six, including My Calls, My Meetings and My Activity Stream. Each dashlet can be customized by clicking an edit icon; the user has extensive control.

Additional dashlets can be added by clicking a link at the lower right of the screen. There's a fairly extensive list of ready-made dashlets to choose from; you can also add a newsfeed.

Navigation using the left menu is easy and intuitive. The application is built on a modular basis, so each item on the left navigation bar represents a module. Many have multiple layers: If you want to update beneficiary designations, for instance, you would click on Accounts, then hover over Beneficiaries and select from the list of actions.

 

MORE COMPREHENSIVE

ProTracker Cloud seems even more comprehensive than the current desktop/server versions of the software. Under the Accounts tab, in addition to tracking the positions and transactions you would normally see elsewhere, ProTracker Cloud allows users to track beneficiaries, net worth histories, scheduled transactions and more.

The Billing module is not a full-fledged billing system, but lets you track contracts, payments, invoices and proposals. You can also use an Outlook plug-in to sync tasks and meetings. (I'm told the calendar also works with Google Calendar and iCal.) The plug-in also allows you to archive emails to the desired records, such as Contacts, Accounts, Clients and Opportunities. ProTracker Cloud includes a new service that can log all calls, and I'm told there is some integration with Skype calls, though I did not test it.

The Compliance module holds investment policy statements and lets users track office gifts. Previous ProTracker versions lacked the ability for registered reps to document suitability, but this version has it.

Each user gets a single folder for document storage, but you can add a document name, type, category and other descriptors so that it can be located later. If you later add a revision, both versions are saved and tracked.

The impressive Estate Planning module lets you track estate documents, any final wishes that clients have shared with you, gift-tax credits and other notes (including whether an IRS form 709 is required, whether it has been sent and whether a Crummey notice is required or has been sent).

 

OTHER MODULES

The Firm module lets a larger operation track multiple offices, services offered, service teams and, for the first time, commissions. You can also score clients on a wide range of factors - including portfolio value, net worth, time with the firm, age, influence potential, future profitability potential and hassle factor.

A Goals module allows you to create goals based upon client meetings. You can also create and track cash flows. The Insurance module can track comprehensive information about all common types of insurance policies, including business, disability, health, homeowners, life, long-term care, umbrella and vehicle.

The Relationships tab tracks client connections. Each individual gets a separate record, but spouses and children can then be grouped together. Professionals (attorneys, accountants, etc.) can be tracked separately, as can groups, relatives and service teams.

The Retirement Planning module keeps track of Medicare, pensions and Social Security, as well as Social Security planning alternatives. It's an easy way to track what clients would receive if they tap Social Security at various ages. You can also list potential full family and disability benefits, as well as current taxed Social Security and Medicare earnings.

Sales & Marketing allows users to create opportunities (which can be prioritized), leads, targets, target lists, products and campaigns. A campaign wizard can create and then monitor newsletter, email or other campaigns.

The Taxes section helps advisors monitor a client's estimated tax liability, track and store tax returns, and list tax forms that clients must file in the future, along with all the details, to make sure the forms are filed on time.

The Workflows section is where you create task templates (used for tracking individual tasks) as well as a series of tasks assigned to co-workers, with a timeline for completion.

The security settings under Rights and Permissions let users assign individual clients to teams with unique permission sets, so that staff members can view only the records that are relevant to them. Permissions can be granted at the global level or per screen - even down to an individual field.

List prices range from $59 to $149 per month, based on the underlying version of SugarCRM being used. The lowest-cost version is probably sufficient for small or midsize firms. The higher-cost versions include Oracle 11g and IBM DB2 database support and other features aimed primarily at larger enterprises.

 

SOLID PLATFORM

Based on a brief test, my initial impression is favorable. ProTracker Cloud is built on a solid platform; it is easy to navigate, responsive and comprehensive. I experienced just one hiccup while testing the program. Even though my examination was cursory, I would have expected multiple issues.

Overall, the user interface appears to be more sedate than, for example, the new Junxure Cloud - but it feels capable and intuitive, so I won't subtract any style points.

If you currently use ProTracker Advantage or the hosted version, you will most likely love it. The addition of commission tracking and other features needed by broker-dealer reps also opens ProTracker Cloud to new markets.

But there is still work to be done. Currently, the primary method of moving information into ProTracker Cloud is through file imports. If ProTracker wants to be a serious player, it will need to integrate with all of the major custodians and popular third-party software providers. If you're collecting client goals in ProTracker, you don't want to have to rekey them into your financial planning software; and if a client has come to you through a website where she's provided some preliminary goal information, you don't want to have to retype it into ProTracker Cloud.

The third-party security authentication is not foolproof. When I logged on after the first time, the software did not recognize my computer. That could be because I had upgraded to a new version of the Chrome browser, or it could be because I was accessing ProTracker from a different IP address, or it could have been something else. This was not a major issue, but if this happened daily, it would be annoying.

Another issue: Because ProTracker Cloud requires Java, the mobile web version will not run on BlackBerry or Windows phones, nor will it run on Microsoft Surface R/T tablets. Only a tiny fraction of advisors use these systems, however, so most will be content with Android and iOS support.

The market for advisor CRM tools is getting crowded, and ProTracker has fallen off the radar for many folks. ProTracker will need to do a lot of marketing to get the word out, and it will need to create integrations with key partners sooner rather than later.

 

 

Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist in Miramar, Fla., is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today conference series and technology guides for advisors, including Technology Tools for Today's High-Margin Practice. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com.