Tech decisions: Avoid chasing trends—adopt solutions that fit
Paralyzed by technology decisions? Don’t overthink it. Hear how two firms found ways to drive the process forward.
It's finally here—the day you've waited for. The kids are grown and you're standing in the dealer's lot, ready to trade in that minivan for your dream car. But do you want the smooth comfort of a luxury sedan or the thrill of a cherry-red sports convertible? Gas, electric, or hybrid? Dolby, THX or DTS sound system? The sheer number of choices starts to feel daunting.
When it comes to major technology investments for your firm, the options can seem even more confusing. So how do you make the right choice? We talked to two firms that have taken a pragmatic and effective approach to selecting the right technologies for them.
In our earlier articles in this tech series, "Ideas for a Modernized Client Experience" and "Go Digital," we learned how firms are using technology to creatively connect with clients and manageably scale their services. Here, we’ll explore the decision-making process.
If one methodology fit every firm, it would be easy to share the perfect template or a one-size-fits-all decision workflow. But each organization is different and has unique needs. Finding the right fit requires you to define crystal-clear objectives, tap a variety of sources for education and advice, and apply a disciplined approach to how you evaluate all of your options. Perhaps most importantly, you need to be able to see beyond the bells and whistles of the solution to truly understand what implementation, adoption, and maintenance will look like in your specific firm.
Today, we're sharing stories from two firms—with insights into how they approached the technology decision-making process. In both cases, the firms looked beyond the latest trends, using established methods to help get more from their technology investment, drive their vision, and advance their goals.
Callan Capital: Meeting clients where they are—literally
The employees at Callan Capital are tech-savvy. They enjoy testing the limits, and using technology to deliver information and serve their clients in innovative ways.
Like many firms, Callan Capital provides clients with online access to their comprehensive financial picture. "This year we rolled out eMoney, which allows us to tie in all the moving parts that Callan Capital might not see every day. So 401(k) plans, non-qualified deferred compensation plans, stock options—all of this information is now part of the feed, providing our clients with a live and updated net worth statement," explains Trevor Callan, Managing Partner at Callan Capital.
However, with a geographically and technologically diverse client base, it was difficult for all clients to benefit from this feature. Some clients still preferred to visit Callan Capital’s office in person to review the same financial snapshot that is available electronically. "We spend a lot of time educating our clients on new technologies. We actually have people who go out to their homes and help them get started. And what we found is that clients who were very nervous about embracing technology walk away emboldened and appreciate the services we provide in that area."
Although Callan recognized that visiting clients' homes required a considerable up-front investment of time and money, he also realized the value of the unique approach. Tools like videoconferencing are ultimately beneficial to employees and clients alike. And these in-home meetings help to build and maintain the trust and confidence required to bring hesitant clients on board—while reinforcing the advisor–client bond.
"Sometimes embracing technology requires an organization to do more work up front, but it provides for a better client experience—and a more efficient process for your firm going forward," explains Callan. "When we first started using videoconferencing for client reviews, we had a lot of people on our staff who questioned whether our clients would embrace it. What we found is that not only have they embraced it, but our clients really prefer videoconferencing over driving to our office. It keeps both of us more productive. We are able to conduct more client reviews, and clients have become happier. Videoconferencing has absolutely changed the way we operate Callan Capital from a client-interface perspective."
- Don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Consider making an initial investment now that will pay off over time in tangible and intangible benefits.
- Roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Identify the root issue you’re trying to solve, and don’t let details cloud your vision.
- Empower your clients. Don’t let your clients' initial hesitation to try a new process or procedure hold you back. If you can highlight the ease and benefits to them, they may prefer your innovative approach.
Sequoia Financial Group: Creating a unique expert advisory panel
When making decisions about technology, it can be tempting to follow the trends. You might start with an online search, solicit popular vendors for a demonstration, and gather feedback from employees. That’s the traditional approach. Shaun Kapusinski, Director of Operations for Sequoia Financial Group, uses another. Once Sequoia has clearly defined its objectives, it turns to an extensive network to vet its options.
"Asking for help is half the battle," explains Kapusinski. "Begin with your free resources. Start with the custodians you work with and the advisors you know to gain input on potential solutions. You'd be amazed how people are willing to help. We got great information!"
Sequoia has put a concerted effort into building a broad network of advisory firms—connecting not only with firm principals, but also with technology and operations professionals.
"Peer networking has been incredibly valuable for our firm. I started an operations network to allow myself and a few other individuals in our firm to connect with other firms across the country. It's connected us to many people that we otherwise wouldn't have had conversations with on a regular basis," Kapusinski says.
Sequoia tracks the types of technology that peer firms are using so that it knows where to go and whom to ask when it’s considering a change. For example, when Sequoia was seeking a new tool to help manage client portfolios, Kapusinski reached out directly to other firms that were using the software he was considering. Because he was speaking directly with other technology and operations professionals, Kapusinski was able to ask very specific questions about the solution's features and usability. Armed with this information, Sequoia was able to successfully assess whether the software would help the firm meet its objectives.
Sequoia also periodically surveys its clients to learn about their technology preferences, and sometimes the results are surprising. "Be proactive and ask your clients what they think of what you’re doing with technology, social media, or other initiatives," Kapusinski says. "You might be surprised with what you hear, so be prepared to direct your efforts based on their feedback."
- Ask the right questions. Asking questions is always important, but what you ask is just as critical. Sometimes, simply asking one or more people in your network "What don’t I know?" may open up the right path.
- Constantly expand your network. You probably have an established network. But is it broad enough? Does it contain the right people? Widening the circle increases your opportunity to learn.
- Keep an open mind. Although you may feel pressure to follow trends, the optimal solution for your firm may be on the road less traveled.
What's right for your firm?
When considering an investment in new technology, consider the following steps:
- Assess where you are today by creating a list of the most important business problems you’re trying to solve.
- Take an inventory of your current usage of Schwab’s platform with our Technology Adoption Scorecard .
- Learn more about what technology is available by visiting our Resources for Increasing Technology Adoption page.
- Leverage Schwab’s resources, including this sample client survey or our Understanding Client Needs page within the Schwab Advisor Center® Marketing & Business Development page.
- Attend events such as IMPACT® and SOLUTIONS® to connect with Schwab experts and deepen your peer network.
We hope these case studies inspire you to start thinking about how you can use technology to reach clients in the ways that best match their needs and your strengths. In an upcoming issue of Advisor Services News, we'll explore how you can leverage technology to create more efficient processes within your firm.
For more insights on technology and a chance to discuss these issues and others with Schwab experts and your peers, we invite you to attend one of our educational events. We offer several online webcasts throughout the year. We encourage you to find an event that fits your schedule and join the conversation.