Many advisers talk the talk on technology, but how many actually walk the walk? ifa looks at some practices that have integrated the latest software into their business
CAROLINE BELL established her Melbourne practice, Summerhill Financial Services, seven years ago and says that she went electronic “from day one”.
Her standalone financial planning business does not have a physical server, although she does “piggy-back off her exchange” to link in with Summerhill FS’s tax and accounting practice, she says.
“Everything is in the cloud, and we use Dropbox to facilitate that,” says Ms Bell.
The idea of having all of your documents floating around in the ether may be disconcerting for some planners, but Ms Bell takes comfort from the fact that Dropbox has many “high-level” clients around the world.
“I believe that it’s a higher level of security than maintaining a server with your local IT support,” she says.
On top of that, taking advantage of the cloud means reduced IT costs for your business.
One of the main attractions of Dropbox is that you can set it up to synchronise across all of your business, she says.
This means that when she was lazing in the Spanish sun earlier this year, she could see what her personal assistant was working on that day by checking her laptop.
TAKE YOUR TABLET
Delma Newton from Total Portfolio Management shared some of her favourite iPad apps at the recent Boutique Financial Planning Principals Group conference in Brisbane last month.
First cab off the rank was Notability, which allows you to record a meeting and take detailed notes that match up with the recording, she explains.
Ms Newton uses the app to record her client meetings, which is something she says every planner should be doing – provided the client agrees.
She starts with the fact-find template in Notability and then fills in the blanks as the conversation progresses.
By recording the conversation on her iPad, Ms Newton finds she can concentrate on what her client has to say rather than furiously scribbling down every point.
“If I miss something when I’m writing then I can go back and re-listen so I don’t miss any critical pieces of information,” she says.
Getting the consent of her clients to record the meeting hasn’t been an issue for her – in fact, most clients jump at the idea.
It’s also a handy bit of insurance should a client file a complaint in the future, since it removes the possibility of a ‘he said, she said’ argument, says Ms Newton.
Next on the list is Evernote, which allows you to organise and quickly find snippets of information when you need to track them down later, she says.
The app allows you to tag every document, web page or magazine article you come across on a particular subject, says Ms Newton.
“So if at some point in the future a client says ‘I think someone talked about that’ you can go back and say ‘here it is’,” she says.
Another app that has Ms Newton raving is CloudOn, which lets you modify Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint presentations on your iPad as though you were sitting at your desktop computer.
Even better, if you’ve got an iPad 3 or higher the app can translate your spoken dictation into text, says Ms Newton.
As long as you are connected to the Internet, CloudOn will adapt itself to your voice by storing the nuances of your speech on the web, she adds.
There are also a number of apps that take advantage of the high quality camera that’s attached to your iPad, she says.
Scan2PDF and Genius Scan are two of the best apps when it comes to turning your iPad into a portable scanner, says Ms Newton.
She uses Genius Scan to take high quality images of, say, a driver’s licence for anti-money laundering requirements, while Scan2PDF takes images with a lower file size that can be used within the planning practice.
SIGNING ON THE DOTTED LINE
As every adviser who has attempted to get a superannuation fund to relinquish a client’s funds knows, financial services can be very paper-based.
James Sutherland, director of myonlineadviser.com.au, has devoted a lot of thought to the problem of how to get documents out to clients and then back to his practice quickly.
He now uses software that allows the client to approve a document without having to worry about a signature. This avoids two common issues that crop up at this stage of the process: the client having no ink in their printer or their scanner not working, says Mr Sutherland.
Ms Newton has another solution to the problem: if she is out of the office and needs a client to sign a document, she can use the app SignNow which lets clients sign an iPad or iPhone with their finger.
“The good thing is that once the ‘signature’ is in and you click ‘OK’ and ‘Done’, it locks that document,” she says.
ON THE FACE OF IT
One relatively new feature that Ms Bell has introduced to her business is a short, casual video that she sends out to her clients on a regular basis.
The hardest bit of the process was getting started, she admits, adding that it’s tough to see your own face staring back at you.
Mr Sutherland says his typical reaction when he records a video is to groan and bin it but he explains that planners have to “harden up” and realise that other people see you in “a different way”.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you need to wait until you have all the right equipment before you can record the video, says Ms Bell – but she decided one day that it was now or never.
“I turned my laptop on, started recording, talked for what turned out to be about three minutes, pressed Stop, uploaded it to YouTube and used Xplan to send it out to my clients,” she says.
The feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”, Ms Bell says.
“My clients felt like I was talking to them casually, so they could relate to it a little bit better than if it was something that I’d spent two days preparing for,” she says.
The whole process – from recording the video, to uploading it, to emailing it out – takes no more than 15 minutes, says Ms Bell.
It’s a great way to keep clients engaged, she adds.
On top of the videos, Ms Bell also conducts some of her meetings via Skype.
“I always prefer Skype to conference calls because it’s easier to read the client in terms of their body language,” she says.
Clients are gradually becoming more and more comfortable with Skype, she says.
In fact, clients can choose whether they want to meet face-to-face or via Skype and then schedule the time with Ms Bell themselves.
Summerhill FS uses the US website ScheduleOnce to organise Ms Bell’s day, which avoids the inevitable back-and-forth ‘phone tag’ with her PA.
“Clients can just log on, and they’ve got complete access to my diary. They can book whatever time suits them and it’s all locked in,” she says.
When it comes to social media like LinkedIn, one of the best tips is to upload a professional photo, according to Ms Newton.
As for the content, it needs to be focused on what you can deliver to other people – not what you want from them, she says.
Joining groups specific to your target market is a much better way to approach marketing than sending out mass emails on LinkedIn, which is a personal bugbear of Ms Newton’s.
“Participating in group discussions is a good way to get your expertise across in a forum that’s relevant to other people as well,” she says.
When it comes to Facebook, your best bet is to set up two separate pages: one for your personal life and one for your business, says Ms Newton.
That isn’t to say you can’t include some of your personal values on your business-related social media, she adds.
Ms Newton also often posts her photography on Facebook.
But she does have one very technologically sound rule: no social media after two or more beers. «
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