By Alex Chalekian, Lake Avenue Financial
The irony of financial technology is that many advisors feel constrained by it rather than empowered, because they often spend too much time struggling with tools that do not fit their practice or even the financial advice industry. This does not have to be the case.
Instead, advisors can take advantage of easy-to-learn tools that are customized for the size and services of their business, by focusing on the core of their tech stack — namely their CRM, financial planning and risk analysis software.
Regarding vendors, bigger is not always better and sometimes what was wonderful in the past no longer makes sense for the future of your practice. With that in mind, here’s how I figured out the best tools for my time and money.
CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT
We throw around the acronym CRM so freely that it’s easy to forget such tools should help us convert prospects into clients and maximize the client experience. Unfortunately, too many advisors use CRM to shuffle data without gleaning actionable insights. That often happens when advisors rely on unwieldy software with loads of features that are irrelevant for the practice, are difficult to master or lack a responsive helpdesk.
I used Salesforce as my CRM platform for years, and while the largest vendor on the market certainly has much to offer, eventually I had to accept that there were more fitting solutions out there for me. Although Redtail is a popular CRM for advisors, I decided to go with Wealthbox. Four years later, I’m still happy with my choice.
Among the major strengths of Wealthbox, ease of use tops the list. Somehow the product designers at Wealthbox have managed to “consumerize” the CRM experience, by blending CRM and email in a way I’ve never seen. Wealthbox feels so natural to use because it’s intuitive, yet it’s also super powerful.
Its dashboard lets practice leaders see what their team is doing in real-time in the “activity stream”. The CRM is also exceptionally good at integrating different sources of advisory-specific data and makes it simple for advisors to track the social media activity of their contacts by plugging in their names and emails. Finally, Wealthbox is known for constantly advancing their CRM platform based on feature requests from advisors, and I like the fact that they welcome my input and often act on it.
Think of the big vendors in financial planning software and you have a wide selection: Advizr, RightCapital, MoneyGuidePro and eMoney Advisor, to name a few. Of those eMoney continues to stand out.
Constant evolution is a hallmark of eMoney’s offering. From goals-based solutions and scenario analysis for building strong financial plans, to account aggregation and digital advice for working with clients who keep assets held away, to digital document storage and screen sharing for clients who want remote guidance, the platform has steadily gotten better with time and integrates with many other solutions.
Pair your financial planning software with a robust risk assessment tool like Riskalyze, and you’ve got a winning combo. I’ve found Riskalyze to be great for use with new clients whom we onboard after acquiring another advisor’s book of business. Often these clients benefit from an up-to-date review that ensures their risk tolerances match the levels of risk in their portfolios, which may be misaligned for older clients who are near or entering retirement as their previous advisor exits the business. The Riskalyze Autopilot solution has also been a great help in automating our trading and rebalancing of client portfolios.
Advisors affiliated with a broker-dealer committed to investing in its portfolio management and rebalancing technology may find that in-house platform worthwhile as well. This does not necessarily have to replace your use of third-party tools. Some broker-dealers invite select advisors into pilot programs for such software. If you have the option, this is a good way to test the waters and suggest fixes without disrupting your tech stack.
TIME AND MONEY
Balancing all these tools is a matter of time management and financial prudence. Each piece of software should play a specific role that strengthens your practice. Vendors with a comprehensive online tutorial and a responsive helpdesk are best positioned to show your team the features of each tool during the adoption phase.
Over the years, however, a vendor may introduce changes that reduce its relevance for you or make it harder for your team to extract the most value from the platform. When the cost of the service and the time your team spends trying to use it effectively outweigh the clear benefit, you should look into other options.
In general, advisors and their teams should be wary of spending too much time on learning and maintaining tech tools, because that ultimately is time not spent working with clients and prospects. Your total tech budget also should be a relatively low portion of your practice’s overhead, because when advisors minimize redundant overlap of secondary features, the right combination of CRM, risk analysis and financial planning tools is quite affordable.
Once you adopt the proper tech stack and learn how to use it, these tools will begin to pay for themselves by elevating your ability to attract and retain clients with smart financial solutions that you execute smoothly and quickly.
Alex Chalekian is the founder and CEO of Lake Avenue Financial (www.lakeavefinancial.com), an independent wealth management and financial planning firm based in Pasadena, California