For the independent financial services organization, regardless of size, selecting the right front office technology solutions is one of the biggest challenges. Not only does the scope of technological capacity move at a rapid pace, but with new programming techniques and platforms, this means a vast number of integration choices, leaving most struggling to keep current with what is available.
What integration offered them is more time to commit to professional and service oriented activities and away from shuffling data from one system or file to the next.
Most decisions boil down to buy it, build it or some hybrid of both. There have been volumes (literally) written on the processes of due diligence:
- Determining a need
- Identifying the scope
- Documenting requirements
- Mapping those requirements back to real existing (or newly proposed) processes – also known as “use cases”
- Validate budget and resources available
- Begin researching providers
In the end, as noted, it circles back to – can we buy it somewhere or do we need to build something (or at a minimum customize what we’ve bought).
One of my pet peeves has always been that latter notion of buying something and then customizing it. Unless you are a large corporate enterprise (and even then I have doubts), one should not bring that in as an option. It rarely is cost effective and your time to market (when you are using the new tool in production) is delayed significantly. Both of these facts I know very well from past experience.
As I have determined the scope of this commentary, I am not going into a treatise on my philosophy on build versus buy versus hybrid (another time). What I am going to recommend is that the first bullet on your list of needs when considering new front office technology is integration.
A Wealth Management Platform Scenario
Mr. Smith is a principal and advisor who manages an independent advisory firm with two advisor partners and two support staff. The group has $200 million under management and maintain a product mix that includes two custodians as well as about one-third of their book held directly with fund companies and carriers. A portion of their revenue is generated by one of the partners in traditional life insurance, thus they also have a strong relationship with a brokerage general agency. This group averages about $2.4 million in revenues overall.
For the nine years they have been in business (the three partners were all breakaway brokers), the group has utilized primarily lightweight tools offered at little or no cost from their primary custodian. Having recently gone through a strategic review of their business, it was determined they needed to identify and standardize their approach to systems and processes that service prospects and customers.
They clearly defined how their operations processes broke down:
- Prospecting and Centers of Influence
- Client Services and relationship management
- Financial Planning and Portfolio Analytics
- Client access online
- Reporting – both client and management level
In systems terms – they were looking at:
- Financial Planning
- Portfolio Analytics
- Data Aggregation and Portfolio Reporting
The group very quickly determined they would outsource the full package of solutions based on two key factors:
- No in house technology staff and no plans to invest in that direction and,
- not wanting to get into the business of hosting infrastructure themselves.
The picture they began to see looked as shown, using exclusively Software as a Service providers (SaaS).
While outsourcing reduced the burden on the group for dealing with infrastructure such as telecom, hardware/software, servers and the like; they still faced a significant set of tasks.
During the previously noted strategic planning exercise, they had successfully documented their key processes surrounding the operations of the firm. However, what remained was the need to train on several new platforms, understand the features and functions and subsequently map those back to their workflow.
That being said, they developed a smart project plan, with reasonable time frames to sequentially learn the new systems and take them live one by one.
The Highlight of Integration
You can see from the diagram the benefits of integration when assembling a front office suite. Let’s look at how this fit into our group’s plan.
As they identified their clients at the core of this whole endeavor – they chose to start with CRM. They then went in the following order (having already had an imaging solution in place that would remain):
- Financial Planning
- Form Filling
- Portfolio Analytics
- Data Aggregation and Reporting
- Portal-enabled web site
Starting with a database of clients, peers, centers of influence and prospects – this was converted for them into the CRM solution they elected to purchase. The successive solutions rolled out all had integration connectivity to either the CRM provider or the financial planning provider – thus – no additional conversions and no new data entry to syndicate that CRM data to other tools.
For Mr. Smith, the icing on the cake were the final two steps – adding the aggregation capabilities and the web portal. Not only could he and his team now run their own reports on demand – but also shared that data with the CRM system (to the benefit of the rest of the tools) and to the web portal. The clients then clearly saw and reaped the benefits of the business investments their advisory firm had made.
Yes, Mr. Smith and his partners had shared some of the findings of the strategic planning sessions with their clients, including the decision to reinvest in the business through this new technology platform.
Pared down to business terms – this group made an overall first year investment of about $75,000 including time, expenses and vendors. The results include:
- A reduction of 20 hours weekly in data entry – equates to redistributing $20,000 in annual labor away from the keyboard and back to the customer
- Increased client satisfaction and retention by moving a step closer to them through online access to financial plans and reporting
- Eliminated the need for a new full time employee planned for the following year – a savings of approximately $40,000 in full
- Will have second year and ongoing costs of about $25,000
There are steps left for the group to take. For example, they are pursuing master extracts from these systems to build into their current backup process as well as continuing to master the overall solution with advanced skills. What integration offered them is more time to commit to professional and service oriented activities and away from shuffling data from one system or file to the next.