Financial planner Bill Winterberg says he can understand why many of his peers treat new technology as warily as they would an investment recommendation from someone with no track record. “I think many advisors want to see a proven return on investment, and they want to hear success stories. By and large, the general [advisor] population isn’t necessarily eager to jump on the [technology] bandwagon.”
Winterberg is a special case, though—a certified financial planner with such a passion for technology that his practice has morphed into a tech consultancy for advisors. Driven by people like Winterberg, founder of the FPpad.com website and blog, the tech bandwagon to which he refers is fast gaining passengers and momentum as it hurtles into a new reality where even the most technologically conservative (read: stubborn) advisors are turning to tech tools to gain an edge.
Winterberg, who’s based in Atlanta, caught a glimpse of that reality at a recent conference for financial planners. By his estimation, at least half the advisors there had some kind of tablet computer—in most cases an Apple iPad—in tow.
These days, he says, the competitive landscape is such that technology is crucial to growing a client base and a practice, to working more efficiently, to strengthening client relationships and client satisfaction, and to increasing profitability. Advisors can no longer get by on their strategic expertise, sales acumen, interpersonal skills and product know-how alone. They need tech tools.
But which ones? From cloud-based platforms and mobile apps to hardware, utilities and software systems, some of the advisory community’s leading tech minds share their most indispensable, empowering, intriguing and ROI-generating tech tools for 2012 and beyond. Ignore them at your own risk.
KEY: HW: Hardware SW: Software SM: Social Media WMS: Wealth Management System CMS: Content Management System CRM: Customer Relations Management MP: Meeting Platform CAL: Calendar WM: Website Monitoring
1) The iPad -HW- “I can’t think of another type of tool or product that’s been embraced so quickly by the advisory community,” says Winterberg, speaking about Apple’s iPad tablet. Indeed, the iPad is fast becoming a day-to-day difference-maker for advisors, providing a gateway to all kinds of useful (and sometimes just plain cool) client-facing, back-office and cloud-based tools for business (and, dare we say, for personal enjoyment, too). There’s even a LinkedIn group called “Financial Advisors With iPads” (www.linkedin.com/groups/Financial-Advisors-iPads-4415154) from which a new term for tablet-wielding advisors has emerged: the “iPadvisor.”
2) The Microsoft Surface tablet -HW- A direct challenger to Apple and the iPad, the new Surface may have an edge over its chief competitor because it doesn’t require advisors who are comfortable using Microsoft operating systems and software to step out of their comfort zone to learn the Apple operating system. “The beautiful thing is, you’re using one operating system, whether you’re on a mobile device or at your desk,” says Andrew Gluck, a founder of Advisors4Advisors, a practice management portal, and Advisor Products, a client communications and marketing company in Jericho, N.Y., both serving independent financial advisors. Released in late October and aimed squarely at business users, this sleek, powerful tablet runs Windows 8. What’s more, Microsoft is also poised to roll out more retail stores, plus new Windows-based phones, in the months ahead. The Apple versus Microsoft rivalry is about to escalate.
3) Microsoft Office 365 -SW- “I think advisors will be moving to the cloud,” says Gluck. “Instead of hosting Microsoft Exchange and Office, they’ll buy Office 365.” And in doing so, they’ll get web conferencing, file sharing, email—pretty much everything available with Exchange and Office—while shifting email archiving and other time-consuming, often costly administrative tasks to Microsoft and the cloud. That can mean substantial cost savings for small and mid-sized practices, Gluck contends. Check out office365.microsoft.com for a free trial.
4) LinkedIn -SM-FREE! Don’t let compliance concerns with social media sites keep you from engaging with peers, clients, prospects and the public at large via LinkedIn. “It’s more than just setting up your profile,” says Amy McIlwain, who heads Denver-based Financial Social Media, a social media-focused marketing firm for advisors in the financial and insurance segments. “It’s getting involved in groups, in discussions, in LinkedIn answers (a sub-community where experts provide answers to business questions), it’s following companies. It’s a necessary, and very valuable, tool for advisors.”
5) inStream -WMS-FREE! Developed by Alex Murguia, a principal at McLean Asset Management in Virginia, this new wealth management/financial planning software (instreamwealth.com) is nothing less than groundbreaking, according to Gluck, who calls it “the most innovative professional wealth management software of the past decade.” Instead of financial plans gathering dust on a shelf between annual updates, the dashboard-based inStream system constantly monitors a plan’s moving parts, from mortgage rates to insurance policies to equity portfolios and beyond, providing prompts to the advisor when one of those parts needs revisiting. A term life policy about to expire? inStream lets the advisor know. And, notes Gluck, it even connects advisors to specific products to fill such a need via a marketplace or “suggestion engine.”
6) FireLight e-fulfillment -CMS- This tablet-ready electronic fulfillment application tool from Insurance Technologies manages the entire application data-collection process, saving time and paperwork. It overlays directly on carrier written applications, so the interface is familiar and requires minimal training. “It empowers agents in the field to close deals and get the client’s signature on a tablet with a signing pad,” explains Jim Ferrell, vice president at Insurance Technologies.
“It really cuts down not only on the time filling out paperwork, but also improves the speed of issue and the speed of electronic transfer of funds,” adds Mark Fitzgerald, national sales manager for Saybrus Partners, whose parent, the Phoenix Companies, uses FireLight to power its new eApp for fixed index annuities.
7) Skype -MP-FREE! One of the first virtual meeting platforms remains one of the best. For advisors who serve senior clients, having video-conferencing capability just makes sense, says Winterberg. “Many seniors today Skype with their grandchildren. They can do the same with their advisor. They may even prefer it, for convenience.” What’s more, Skype helps remove geographic limitations on a client base, he adds. “If you specialize in certain types of clients, like retired military, for example, you can use this type of tool to prospect and communicate nationally.
8) Byallaccounts -CRM- Eliminate time-sucking data retrieval and redundant manual data entry using this aggregation system, which electronically gathers client account data and feeds it directly into a portfolio management or CRM system.
9) Hootsuite -SM-FREE! Check out this social media dashboard—a tool for managing profiles and content across multiple social media networks, including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. McIlwain sings its praises for the simplicity with which users can update profiles, schedule status updates and messages, and otherwise manage their social media presence. It also has analytics capabilities for tracking mentions and analyzing traffic across multiple networks. The basic version of Hootsuite is free; a supercharged version costs about $10 a month.
10) Join.me -MP-FREE! A web-based screen-share tool similar to anymeeting.com but better suited to one-on-one conversations, says Gluck.
11) Cardmunch -SM-FREE! Software from LinkedIn that takes a business card, transcribes it, automatically adds it to your contact network, and even identifies common contacts.
12) Nest Egg Estimator -WMS- One of the top-rated and most popular financial apps for the Android, no surprise given the heightened interest in securing income and assets through retirement. The app provides projects income, taxes, assets, debt and more based on a range of inputs.
13) DropBox -CMS-FREE! A cloud-based file-sharing tool designed for secure drag-and-drop file exchange.
14) Laserfiche -CMS- Advisors need a robust enterprise content management system that moves them toward a paperless office, according to Winterberg, and Laserfiche fits the bill, with document imaging, document management, business process management and records management all baked into its system architecture. “It helps organize large volumes of information that they gather about clients, about their business, employees and compliance. It also opens up new collaborative possibilities with other professionals such as CPAs and attorneys. It really helps advisors champion that quarterback position.”
15) Google Analytics -WM-FREE! Monitor activity on your website—who’s visited, how they found you, which pages they viewed, how long they stayed, etc.
16) Hidden Levers -WMS- A leading-edge, subscription based set of portfolio analysis tools for a world where the traditional 60/40 investing model is becoming obsolete, with portfolio stress testing, macro scenario modeling, investment screening, and client-facing reports and infographics.
17) AnyMeeting.com -MP-FREE! Want to host a web seminar or video conference? Don’t want to pay anything to do it? Anymeeting.com could be just the tool you’re after. Host web events for up to 200 attendees at no charge with the site’s ad-supported conferencing and webinar solution.
18) MoneyGuide Pro -WMS- PIETech’s outstanding financial planning software has carved out a devoted and growing following.
19) Redtail CRM -CRM- Redtail is an up-and-comer in the CRM world, for its affordability ($65 a month for up to 15 users), user-friendliness and flexible, accommodating web-based architecture. Advisors like it because it’s a subscription-based service, with support built in and no hardware or software to install, which may not only lessen the administrative burden but also the need for outsourcing tech help.
20) TimeBridge public calendar -CAL-FREE! The time is ripe for software that allows clients to see and access your calendar (only the part you want them to view) in order to check your availability and propose meeting times.
21) Jing -MP-FREE! Another strong virtual meeting tool with screenshot and screen-share capability, plus the ability to record, then share, video.
22) Jive -SM- This enterprise social networking software “takes some of the best features from social sites like Facebook and incorporates them into a news-feed-like tool for a practice,” explains Winterberg. “It moves people away from face-to-face meetings, and since it works with mobile devices, it’s a way to keep everyone engaged, even when they’re out in the field.”
But wait! There’s more.Other goodies recommended by our tech experts:
23. Seesmic Ping and FriendFeed Free services that post status update messages to social media sites
24. GoToMeeting, WebEx and Mikogo Macro Virtual meeting apps with screen-share capability
25. Risk Analytics Portfolio analysis tool
26. eMoney Advisor Financial planning software
27. WhenisGood, Bookeo, TimeTrade and ScheduleOnce Scheduling apps
28. Cabinet and NetDocuments Paperless document management systems, similar to Laserfiche
29. Google Alerts A free way to monitor media mentions of you, your firm and pretty much any subject you’re interested in
30. Box.net, SpiderOak and ShareFile File-sharing and storage in the cloud
31. Rapportive and Newsle Social media “listening”; learn more about your clients, colleagues and competitors by monitoring their social media posts
32. RescueTime, ManicTime and Easy Time Tracking Automated, no- or low-cost time-tracking software to monitor productivity, similar to TimeBridge
33. Flipboard Pages Keep current with the kinds of news your care about with this customizable news-delivery mobile app
34. Bloomberg Mobile Free app that provides real-time financial market data, stock quotes and fresh market news
35. Contactually.com Address book manager that provides intelligent follow-up reminders
36. Workflowy.com Free personal workflow list organizer app
37. SalesForce Highly ranked CRM
38. Yammer Free enterprise social network, similar to Jive
39. Arkovi Social media archiving tool, similar to Global Relay
40. Woopra Free website analytics service
By David Port for December 2012 issue of Senior Market Advisor Magazine. David Port is a Denver-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SMA. He owns and operates his own writing and editing business, Southpaw Print/Net Communications.