Redtail Technology just released a major upgrade to its popular CRM application. Dubbed Project Tailwag, this version of Redtail — only the third upgrade in the company’s 12-year history — offers a host of new enhancements.

Redtail has grown from modest beginnings to become one of the leading providers of customer relationship management software in the independent advisory space, with more than 85,000 users. In fact, according to the most recent Financial Planning Technology Survey, Redtail CRM was the most widely used CRM tool.

There are a number of reasons that Redtail is so popular. One is that it was among the first industry-specific CRM products to adopt cloud technology. Many of its competitors took years to follow suit.

Another attraction is ease of use. Initially, Redtail was far from the most feature-rich CRM in the space, but it provided core functionality that was more than sufficient for a large number of advisors. By initially limiting the feature set to the essentials, Redtail was able to deliver a product that was relatively simple to learn and use.

Although the feature set and sophistication have expanded substantially over the years, the folks at Redtail have done a great job of maintaining the focus on usability.

A third area where Redtail excels is in pricing. Unlike many competitors, Redtail charges by the database, not by the individual user. A single database, which can accommodate up to 15 users, retails for $65 a month, with discounts available through many custodians and broker-dealers. That’s for anytime, anywhere access to your data, from both computers and mobile devices, and includes backups and disaster recovery.

MOBILE-FIRST DESIGN

The moment you log on to the new edition of Redtail, the contrast with the older version is striking. The new design is more modern, and was obviously built with a mobile-first mentality. Navigation is simpler. More of the functionality is exposed. And the elements on the screen are large enough so that they can be clicked with a finger on a touch screen.

At the top of the page, there are four boxes, each containing firmwide information: Assets Under Management, Reminders, Timeline (which highlights recent changes to the database) and Projects.

That Projects link is new to Redtail. In the past, separate niches held simple linear lists of tasks as a checklist; more complex tasks that are dependent on other tasks were separated as workflows. Now you have the flexibility to combine the characteristics of checklists and workflows into a single project. You can then link projects to a contact, an opportunity or
a seminar.

Projects can also be saved as templates for future use. Redtail says it plans to expand on the power of the project functionality in future releases.

As part of this new expansion of functionality in the area of projects and workflows, Redtail plans to allow custodians and broker-dealers to create libraries of workflows that Redtail can then make available exclusively to the relevant client base. For example, TD Ameritrade could create a set of workflows for its custodial clients, and LPL could create a separate set for its advisors. These could then be used as is, or as the building blocks by individual firms.

There are other nice aspects to the workflows and projects. When you add a step to a workflow, you can enter an expected outcome, so you can track whether or not the step achieved the desired result. Every task that you create becomes a calendar item, so if you create a task for your assistant and create a due date, that task is immediately entered in that person’s calendar.

The user can navigate through a detailed list of all projects, with each project’s name, status, estimated completion date and the current step in the process.

Below the four boxes at the top of the page, there are a number of additional sections. Most in my sample database contained information at the firm level, but at least some could be filtered to display a subset of the information. For example, the Pending Activities box could be set to display all pending activities firmwide, or filtered to show just my activities, everyone’s activities except mine, a team’s activities, or a specific type of activity. A box displays contacts by status, accounts by type, top accounts by balance, and upcoming opportunities.

WORKLOAD GRAPH

There’s also a new, distinctive workload graph. In the previous version of Redtail, you could track the workload of team members by duration, but you could not compare duration with expected duration. Now you can.

So if, for example, you assign a task to a team member with the expectation that it will be done in two hours, you will be able to see if it actually is taking more time on a consistent basis, and address the gap.

Primary navigation is on the left, with a secondary nav bar across the top of the screen. This second bar is context sensitive, changing based on which section of the application you are in. On the landing page, you are in the Today’s Overview section.

In the Market News section, you can see headline news from various sources. On the left, you’ll see major market indexes, your watch list and the firm’s top assets listed, all with prices and other relevant information.

One new feature, which I was not able to test, is access to the Morningstar X-Ray. This will be accessible to anyone who has an applicable Morningstar subscription, and should let a user evaluate a mutual fund or analyze client portfolios by asset allocation, sector, concentrated stock positions
and more.

There’s also a totally redesigned calendar. It can now be viewed in full-screen mode, a necessity when viewing a shared calendar covering multiple employees. Tools across the top allow for calendar navigation, actions (for example, add activity, iCal feed, show seminars) and view filters — either by person (everyone, just me, or specified employees), or by item type or by category.

EXTENSIVE CONTACTS AREA

The contacts area holds more than just a list. You can get a list of activities, notes or seminars that relate to the contact. You can also send the contact’s information for form processing. You can select multiple names from the list and use a menu at the right to create labels, mail merges, reports or exports. You can also assign multiple names to a seminar, a tag group or a keyword. The list can be sorted and filtered in many different ways using the menus across the top of the page.

Each client record is extensive. At the top of the page, a summary section contains key information, including the date for the next review, numbers of recent emails and open activities, active projects associated with the client and the account balance. Below, there are lists of open activities, accounts and a virtual balance sheet.

An extensive know-your-client section can track everything from written agreements (signed fee agreement, latest privacy offering, etc.) to employment information, bank information, asset allocation model, tax information and more. There’s even a Riskalyze section that compares the client’s risk tolerance with the risk score of his or her current portfolio. Linked projects, opportunities and workflows are also listed here.

Another new feature is the Timeline, which powers the synchronization across all of the Redtail integrations.

It tracks every change to the database.

For example, if a client’s address is updated on a custodian’s server, and that change is recorded in Redtail, an entry to that effect will be recorded on the timeline. If Redtail then sends the change to the financial planning application, that action will be noted on the timeline. By exposing the timeline, the software lets users search and audit it, if necessary.

NEW INTEGRATION

Integrations with custodians, broker-dealers and popular third-party providers of industry software have long been part of Redtail’s appeal, but it is now also integrating with social media services like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Redtail currently offers integration with Evernote, but the company says it hopes to make this link even more powerful. One idea being explored is to use Evernote’s ability to scan a business card in order to create a contact within Redtail.

Techies may be interested to learn that this version of Redtail CRM has abandoned the Microsoft .NET Framework in favor of Ruby on Rails. One result: Developers can code much faster and get new releases out the door much sooner. The shift was not unexpected. When Redtail upgraded its Imaging product about 18 months ago, it followed a similar path.

One caveat: I conducted my preview on a development site, while a number of features were still being built out, so it would be premature to comment on the new application’s responsiveness and bugs.

But assuming there are no major hiccups, the overall design and feature set seem poised to make Redtail 3.0 its most successful version. The layout is better and the screens are more intuitive. The new features are well thought out and improve on what was already an excellent product.

As Redtail has added features, it has, of necessity, become a little bit more complex. But for the functionality it offers, its learning curve is minimal.

And overall, the product continues to offer an incredible amount of bang for the CRM buck. There are a number of capable competitors for an advisor’s CRM business, but Redtail’s combination of price and performance is compelling.

Joel Bruckenstein, a Financial Planning columnist, is co-creator of the Technology Tools for Today conference series and technology guides for advisors. For more information, visit JoelBruckenstein.com
or follow him on Twitter at @FinTechie.

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