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Smart Technology Planning For Advisors

Small insurance and financial planning service practices often struggle when making technology decisions. Exclusive and independent producers would rather focus on client relationships than spend time contemplating hardware, software and communication needs. Spending time on technology implementation and utilization can appear counterintuitive to agents. Satisfying client needs is a source of emotional enjoyment and financial fulfillment, while the word "technology" can invoke an image of pouring hard-earned dollars out the door.

Making the wrong technology decisions can be expensive and confusing. Purchasing new computers too frequently, adopting the wrong software systems or even upgrading to the latest and greatest gadget can cause disruption. But planning, monitoring and implementing technology decisions can increase office effectiveness and efficiency.

Financial advisors and other investment professionals are surrounded by software and hardware. Phones, computers, data storage, client tracking, and projection tools and presentation programs have become integral tools for the financial service professional.

Technology plans address both the software and hardware needs of a financial advisor's practice. This article focuses on developing a written plan to help monitor and develop technology for the small business financial service professional.

Developing a Technology Plan

Writing a technology plan is a simple process. The plan outlines who makes decisions, frequency of decision making, costissuesandcompliance. Thedocument couldbe a one-page executive overview or a10-pagetechnicalexplanation. Whatever thelength,aplancanhelpfinancialprofessionals manage time, budget resources and stay abreast of industry changes in a methodicalfashion.Developingatechnology plan does not require consultants or computerexpertise. Thepurposeofaplan is to answer the following questions:

Who will make technology decisions?

In family offices and small businesses, the key decisionmakers are generally also the primary client contacts. These individuals have time constraints, work in ways that suit their personalities and may be unaware of new technological advances. Consider working in a committee setting with other members of the practice. Administrative team members can add their knowledge to decisions.

Attending regional and national conventions is a convenient way to learn about new software. Financial planning software vendors are always interested in talking with successful advisors. Consider assigning an individual or small group to the technology exhibits at a convention. For the relatively small cost of conference attendance, they can quickly become familiar with a wide range of software, hardware and technology options.

Network with other successful advisors and ask what tools they are using in their practices. Invite them to attend technology committee meetings in your firm or develop a committee with one or two homeoffice employees. They can help guide decisions with an eye to compliance.

How often will decisions about technology be made?

Technological decisions should generally be made either annually or on a six-month basis. Initially, meetings may be held more frequently to discuss integration and training of essential employees. After putting a system in place, meeting more frequently can create a culture of adoption and adaptation. Installing new systems and programs is time consuming and distracts financial advisors from more profitable and efficient tasks. Dedicate time to technology meetings and try to keep client and product discussions outside of the conference room.

How much will be spent on technology?

A well-constructed technology plan can save money as well as increase efficiency. Budget a percentage of revenue toward spending. The amount is generally a function of home-office support. Truly independent agents will spend a larger portion of their revenue on technology and should consider spending needs when developing their budgets. Limiting the amount spent annually on technology makes some decisions easier. If the technology budget is exhausted by the end of the year, new computers will have to wait.

Are new technologies in compliance?

Consider compliance issues with every decision. Advances in hardware and software occur well before state and federal recordkeeping and regulation requirements come into existence. The ability to scan and electronically store client information has existed for more than a decade but has only recently been addressed in legislation. Talk with home-office compliance teams before making changes in software, hardware or communications systems. Generally speaking, e-mail and text messages should be used only to schedule appointments and are not appropriate forums for formal or informal client communications.

How will new tools affect clients?

Evaluate the impact of technology changes and acquisitions on clients. A technology plan should keep in stride with other firm goals. For example, producers wanting to spend more time away from the office might benefit from a sophisticated personal communication device that houses client contact information and integrates with contact management software. Agents who spend most of their time in the office may not want to carry a cell phone at all.

Financial professionals growing their businesses should make technology decisions with the possibility of adding future clients in mind, while advisors maximizing efficiency may focus on time-saving strategies. Remember that most clients initially resist change. When implementing a change, consider its effect on your clients.

Will the change help them understand your products and services better? Will it save time and energy? Carefully weigh any potential difficulty for the client against the increase in productivity for the agent.

How will the firm implement changes and new acquisitions?

Determine who is responsible for the installation of new software and training employees on its use. Vendors will generally assist in product installation but may be a poor choice for training. Home office teams are generally available to provide systems support. Hiring a private consultant may be an effective way to install hardware and software systems and prevent expensive delays.

Conclusion and Discussion

The hardware and software universe has many options, and spending time to consider new things will generally pay off in the end by increasing efficiency. Consider the impact of new technology on your firm and clients. If changes save the client time and money, they will generally save agents time and energy as well.

Written technology plans are powerful tools. Spending two or three hours sketching out a document and plan of attack today can save a small business hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars tomorrow.


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