Financial planners say it's an occupational hazard: When older clients die, many planners fail to retain the heirs' business. Learning to speak in the lingua franca of the younger generation - via mobile technologies - could help keep those assets in-house.
"With the younger generation, the technology does become more important,'' says Betty Hedrick, who runs her solo firm, the Hedrick Company, on Mercer Island in Washington state. Recently, two of her clients died. During initial meetings with their offspring, Hedrick used her Samsung Slate tablet computer to open a new tool, goalgamiPro, made by the wealth management solutions company Advisor Software, to assess her clients' goals in minutes.
"The heirs say things like, 'Okay, if I don't spend any of this, will this let me retire when I'm 50?'" Hedrick says. "I've been able to take [goalgamiPro] to just very quickly say, 'Well, it's a possibility.'"
That's one way to wow a prospect. Before using goalgamiPro with clients, Hedrick checked its capabilities against proprietary planning software she had developed for her firm. She found both produced comparable results, although her own system took much more time to use.
MOBILE IS HERE
New and powerful planning tools lets advisors such as Hedrick slash the time required for both nuts-and-bolts planning, as well as the once time-consuming transactional work of managing wealth. The mobile component may prove particularly alluring to younger prospects, a message some support services firms say many advisors have been slow to grasp.
"For the past six months, we've been saying, 'Look, your clients' beneficiaries are using mobile technologies and, whether you like it or not, that is what is coming,'" says Jim Anderson, chief systems officer at CLS Investments in Omaha, Neb., an independent, third-party money manager with 2,300 advisors as customers.
Anderson now tracks which devices its advisors and their clients use to access their data through the CLS website. He found that more than two-thirds of clients use mobile technologies, such as tablets, to view account information, meaning advisors are lagging behind their customers.
"I think this finding completely validates why people want a mobile application," Anderson says. "It's coming from that end-user client. They are expecting their advisor's company to be available through those mobile technologies.''
Mobility's advantages aren't just for clients. Take the example of a planner who has just arrived in Hawaii for a weeklong vacation. Shortly after checking into the hotel, he receives an email from a client who needs cash to buy a new car.
"Aside from the fact that it's a bad idea to be on call in Maui,'' says planner Dave Shore of Marin Financial Advisors in Larkspur, Calif., "when a client tries to raise, say, $50,000 to buy a car, that is really complicated. It requires deciding which holdings to sell with an eye to tax efficiency, and rebalancing the impact of those transactions across the client's accounts," he explained.
"Two years ago, that's the kind of thing that took us tons of time with spreadsheets," Shore says. It could take hours out of the planner's vacation and hours of the back-office staff, too. Now with software that automatically populates such a transaction throughout a client's multiple accounts, it can take just minutes - and be done with a tablet.
Shore and his partner Tim Harrington at Marin have become so comfortable using mobile technologies, he says, that they've come to rely on them almost exclusively. "Tim has a quarter of his clients on the East Coast and he just travels with his iPad,'' Shore says. "It's bringing the portal to them.''
A NEW EXPERIENCE
Mobile technologies can create a more intimate experience between the client and the data, as well as between client and planner. "Using an iPad or a mobile phone, an advisor can sit down with a client and walk through some significant information from their account," Anderson explains. "It helps our advisors get on the same side of the table as the client. We think that gives our advisors a leg up."
It certainly holds out the prospect of demystifying some of the process of financial planning. Many companies offer tools with customized dashboards that display on one page all of a client's holdings, including held-away assets in outside firms and illiquid investments, such as real estate.
Getting clients to use these new mobile technologies isn't always a snap, though. Stuart DePina, CEO of portfolio management technology provider Tamarac, launched a new portal in August 2010 that could be customized for clients. "Initially, there was minimal adoption of 2%, but since that time, we have firms that are up to 40% to 50% adoption rates of their clients,'' DePina says.
Many companies find there is always a delay before clients begin using their new superpower planning abilities themselves. "Our main competitor is the status quo," says Robert Fiore, CEO of Private Client Resources in Wilton, Conn. The company provides specialized data aggregation and other services to RIAs, single- and multifamily offices, and private banks.
Fiore suggests that advisors bring clients up to speed by letting them customize how they see their data. "Some like to see graphs and charts," Fiore says. "Others like to see spreadsheets. You can decide what reports you want to see and what level you want to dial into on your dashboard. Our [technology] has been designed to be custom-configured and custom-designed for each client.''
It's all about wealth transparency. "We provide all the reporting mechanisms so that the end client can actually view his or her data," Fiore says. The average investable net worth of the clients Fiore's firm serves is $20 million. Most of the data Private Client Resources pushes out to mobile apps comes directly from custodians and fund managers, which means the firm has separate agreements with each one, giving them acess to client account information. "We have feeds with all the major wirehouses, so all the marketable securities are captured on these platforms," Fiore adds.
Many large RIAs are offering their own free apps to let clients access their accounts not just from iPads, but from mobile phones, too. Anderson's company recently launched an app for advisors created by CLS a sister company of Orion Advisor Services. "Our goal is to make sure our clients have access to their information wherever they want it," Anderson says.
Fiore says technology helps forge relationships. "You can build reports for the matriarch or patriarch and you can build reports particularly for each of the children," he says.
"I think the key there is to establish a relationship not just with the head of the family, but also the children and the grandchild as soon as possible. Every time the advisor provides a semiannual or quarterly meeting for the family, that's an opportunity to basically develop that relationship with the children,'' Fiore adds. Increasingly, mobile technologies will be at the heart of that effort.
Ann Marsh is the West Coast bureau chief and a senior editor of Financial Planning.
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