I speak with advisors on a regular basis about the services they offer to clients. Recently, I was approached at a conference by a successful advisor who asked for advice on which robo advisor he should adopt. I responded by asking him what he wanted to accomplish with the robo. He looked at me for what seemed like 30 minutes. Scratching his head, he said, “I just feel like I need to offer a digital solution because I don’t want to be left behind by the competition.”

I suspect he’s not alone. He, like many of us, are constantly bombarded with articles discussing the rise of robo advisors and how advisors can benefit from them. The greater challenge is to not jump in and start using technology without first determining what you want to accomplish with the software.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

What is the problem you are trying to solve within your practice through technology?

  • Do you want to automate or enhance your client onboarding process?
  • Do you want to modernize or improve your client experience?

Although these enhancements may make sense, you first need to decide what you want to accomplish, as well as understand the impact each upgrade might produce. It’s natural to want it all, but it’s critical to take a step back and think more strategically about your business before moving forward. Below are steps you can take to help in this process.   
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS?

Consider your current business situation as compared to where you want to be. Are you satisfied with where you are as it relates to your growth, back office operations and your client experience? What do you want your firm to look like in the next 18 to 36 months?

Frankly, this is one of the toughest questions a firm’s leadership team can ask themselves. Why? They need to be honest about the services they offer, how they are perceived by clients and prospects and how much time they are spending with tasks that do not provide a direct ROI.

The question is also difficult because it requires you to think through and narrow down to the goals you need to accomplish in order to move forward. On one hand, it's hard to write even a few down. On the other hand, it becomes difficult not to make this list too long. This exercise can yield benefits well beyond technology enhancements. It causes firms to think about ideas they may not have considered in the past.

EXAMINE YOUR CURRENT PLATFORM

Layout all your technology on a piece of paper. List what each tool does, the name of your relationship manager at each vendor, how long you have used the software and the annual cost. Most firms will jot down the couple of tasks the software does for them. The reality is the tool may be able to handle many other tasks that you’re not aware of, or even replace another program you pay for.

Then, go to the vendor’s website and learn about the tool as if you are doing the initial technology search. The software has probably changed since you bought it. Besides, firms should review their technology vendors every two to three years to ensure they’re continuing to provide the latest and greatest. 

This is also where having a relationship manager with the vendor is key. Call your relationship manager and share some of your goals. Ask them how they can support you in your initiatives. If you do not receive the answers you're looking for, this may be a sign you’re not working with the right vendor. Many great technology vendors available today are passionate about helping clients; spend some time identifying those companies.

Whatever you decide, it’s very important to make sure you’re not making decisions in a vacuum. Ideally, your key employees are part of this process. Most importantly, make sure the person responsible for technology has a voice in these conversations. He or she may understand how one change can impact another. Consider having the person responsible for setting up accounts involved as well. Of course, don’t forget to solicit feedback from advisors, staff and clients who are using (or will be using) the technology.

WHO WILL OWN THE ROLLOUT?

Finally, devise a plan for the technology to be rolled out internally as well as externally. Determine who will own the rollout, including internal and external communication. Also, schedule a series of due diligence calls with the vendor before and after deciding to move forward.

Remember, before you sign up for a new application, you need to identify how it will help you accomplish your larger objectives. Consider doing an offsite meeting to educate everyone on why and how the changes are going to be made, as well as to hear opinions, questions and concerns. This will help ensure there is buy-in from other advisors and/or staff.       

This process should not be taken lightly as it will cost you money to upgrade your platform and take a significant amount of time. However, if done correctly, the results of this process could change the direction of your firm in more ways than one.

Brian Leitner is senior vice president of practice management at Mariner Wealth Advisors.

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