For all the talk of technology's benefits, there's surprisingly little dialogue on the specifics of making it work. Everything you read and hear says: "Build a Web site." "Implement a contact management system." Or: "Publish an e-mail newsletter." But rarely are you given details on how to do it.
At the same time, companies that spend millions on technology wonder why utilization isn't higher. Fund companies invest heavily in their Web sites, broker/dealers build sophisticated back-office automation tools, and software developers continue to crank out more creative, more "feature-rich" programs every single day.
But as creatures of habit, advisers remain largely unaware of these resources.
Most technology providers miss the fact that advisers use only a fraction of the technology they own because they have too many choices, too little time and no idea where to start.
Not that planners aren't keenly interested in solutions. "Keeping up with technology" placed third on a list of significant challenges in a Financial Planning Association member survey in 2000. Many recognize their chief obstacle is they don't know what they don't know, and are hoping someone will show them the right path to follow.
Therein lies the opportunity for mutual fund companies interested in generating more assets, getting planners to adopt their technology or strengthening the loyalty of their best advisers. If you're in any of those categories, my advice to you is make planners aware of solutions to common problems, help those planners develop the skills to use those solutions, and then coach them on applying that knowledge. In the process, you'll create more than satisfied customers. You'll build business partnerships.
Think Outside the Box
Why don't more companies do that? Usually it's because, like the advisers they serve, their sales and support teams can't teach what they don't know. If those teams don't use, or fully appreciate the value of, technology, trying to coach others on connecting the dots is a difficult exercise.
Yet opportunities are everywhere. Take client communication. Every adviser wants to do a better job of using technology to stay in touch with clients - whether by e-mail, through a Web site or producing a newsletter with desktop publishing. And while figuring out how to implement an automated communication strategy isn't brain surgery, it's time consuming.
Product and service providers could easily create programs that outline the how-to's of marketing electronically to clients by bundling what they offer with the standard tools (like Microsoft Office), and with the training and techniques necessary to do the job.
That's the essence of value-added support. Done properly its benefits are measurable, its appeal powerful.
To be fair, some companies offer support of this kind. But typically it's packaged in a glossy brochure that ends up in a desk drawer, not ingrained in the daily activity of their field sales team. E-wholesaling programs have also begun to spring up where staff trained in a company's technology and Web site walk planners through what's available. But most of those efforts don't go far enough; they focus on proprietary solutions and are primarily a way to reduce field-marketing costs.
The answer to the industry's technology challenge is education. Mutual fund companies should take the lead in delivering it.
Here's a radical suggestion: Forget about developing yet another proprietary software solution next year. Instead, invest that money in adviser and wholesaler training for the software and Internet tools you already offer and that they already have on their desktops or laptops.
Your sales force doesn't need more choices. They need help in understanding how to use what they've got. Give them hands-on assistance and you'll get their attention, their loyalty, their business - and more assets.
Kip Gregory is the author of Taming Technology: A Guide to Building Business and Strengthening Client Relationships (John Wiley & Sons). Visit www.kipgregory.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.