I was shocked recently when I calculated that I spend 25% of my practices annual revenue on software and web-related technology. The benefits I gain, including better time management and ease of connecting to clients, make the expense worth it.
Yet because of this, I am always on the lookout for new technology to use in my practice. Here are some of the platforms that have recently caught my eye.
The same players have dominated the planning software space for a while. In the Financial Planning 2014 Technology Survey, the top three platforms MoneyGuidePro, eMoney and MoneyTree served 66% of the market. These technologies are very sophisticated and provide a fine level of detail when it comes to planning.
But many clients dont need this they just need the basics. This is where Advizr comes in.
Launched last year, Advizrs platform does not include complex planning issues, such as Social Security optimization or Black-Scholes stock option testing. The tool is designed for the mass market, including Gen X and Y clients who have simpler situations.
Advizr provides a beautiful user experience, allowing both consumers and advisors alike to use it with ease. One nice feature is that clients can input data themselves, and then aggregate their accounts. This is great news for advisors looking to save time, as it delivers a preliminary plan they can make changes to before setting up a client meeting.
This feature could also be a big value-add to clients who want additional, more holistic services from advisors who are only offering investment management.
Alternately, if clients are paying for financial planning by the hour, this feature will reduce their cost without watering down the advice they receive. It will also allow the advisor to service more people.
Personally, though, Im holding off for now and sticking with MoneyGuidePro while Advizr builds out its integrations with other providers.
SCHWAB INTELLIGENT PORTFOLIOS
Also called Schwab Blue, the first robo platform to be rolled out by one of the major custodians has received both praise and criticism from the advisor community.
Within the first few months of launch, Schwab says the platform has amassed $2.5 billion in assets, with 20% of that coming from new customers. (Betterment, which is seven years old, says it has $2 billion on its platform.)
There has been a much-heated debate on the non-negotiable cash allocation (which, indeed, may ultimately keep me from using the institutional product with clients). And some advisors dont like the arguably cheesy, British-accented robot advertisements. But beyond these issues, how can Blue impact a practice?
One advantage is that clients should already have a certain amount of confidence when its introduced, as Schwab is a household name. After doing a trial with my own personal money, I also found Blues user interface to be excellent. The sign-up process is painless, reviewing the status of my account was easy and completing my risk profile wasnt intimidating, as it can be with some other platforms.
When the institutional product is introduced later this year, it will allow some advisors to put their lower-balance accounts into the robo solution. Some advisors who want to leverage their time even further will put all their client accounts onto this platform and let Schwab do the day-to-day maintenance while they focus on the planning relationship.
With the portfolio customization that will be available, and the time savings created through using an automatic allocation and rebalancing program, this could be a great addition to an advisors arsenal.
Many planning technology offerings are reiterations of previous solutions. However, MyPlanMap is a platform Ive not seen anyone else attempt.
Currently coming out of beta testing, MyPlanMap seeks to automate the process following a planning meeting. As one of the beta users, I was able to use this with my clients and had great results.
The tool helps advisors create custom agendas for client meetings, with a list of to-do items that both the advisor and the client will tackle. It puts these tasks on a timeline, identifying both due dates and completed items.
It also automates the follow-up process for these tasks. When each task gets entered into the program, it gets a completion deadline and an assignment to either the advisor or client (or both). Large tasks can be broken down into component parts.
When the completion deadline is near, an email goes out to the assigned parties asking if they have finished, need assistance or want to push the deadline. Both parties then receive an email with the change or request for help.
When using this program with clients, Ive found I spend less time checking whether they have completed their to-do lists and more time getting to know them. In taking time to talk to clients about other issues, I have doubled the number of touch points with clients as they go through their planning process.
TWENTY OVER TEN
Advisor websites have been faulted for being unimaginative and technologically lacking. As I have visited many of these sites over the years, I can often tell which company has built them and what package the advisor has purchased.
For a potential client, a templated website without imagination doesnt instill a high level of confidence. And now that Google search is heavily weighted toward mobile-optimized websites, advisors must keep up or be left behind.
Twenty Over Ten aims to help advisors address those problems. The firm creates SEO-optimized, responsive (meaning they are optimized for any device) website templates that allow for easy editing and content additions. Advisors may also bring in designers and programmers to customize the sites.
The available themes are clean and modern, and the price seems reasonable. The tool also offers integration with outside programs such as MailChimp and TimeTrade, letting advisors create newsletter opt-ins and appointment-setting capabilities, and a built-in compliance platform that frequently archives the website.
Ive got a good, reasonably priced web developer already, but this might be a good option if I ever need to switch.
I have integrated this chat program into my website, and Ive been using it to much success.
When a visitor comes to my site and starts browsing, ClickDesk slides up from the bottom of my screen, without blocking any content, and asks if the reader has any questions.
A reader can reply no, or we can start a conversation based on what brought them to my site. When these chats are complete, they are emailed to me for the sake of compliance.
The chats have helped me engage visitors and start to qualify them as prospects. And having this program running in the background while I work at my computer makes it appear that I am always attending to my web visitors even though that is only the case when someone starts a chat.
While these chats could potentially be a distraction if your site gets steady traffic, talking to potential clients through a medium that requires minimal effort is ultimately a great time-saver.
So how are you going to evolve your business with technology this year?
Dave Grant, a Financial Planning columnist, is founder of Finance for Teachers, a planning firm, and Fee Only Consulting, in Cary, Ill. He is also the founder of NAPFA Genesis, a networking group for young, fee-only planners. Follow him on Twitter at @davegrant82.
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