A welcome update to a CRM stalwart.

    ProTracker Advantage 4.0 is the much anticipated, long overdue upgrade to ProTracker 3.3. For those unfamiliar with the program, it was originally developed by Warren J. Mackensen, a fee-only planner in Hampton, N.H., for use in his own practice. Since its launch commercially at the 1997 National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) National Conference in San Diego, ProTracker Software Inc. has grown to a firm that now serves 672 users at 246 firms.
    I'm happy to report that this upgrade was, on balance, worth waiting for. ProTracker Advantage 4.0 addresses some of the most obvious deficiencies of the earlier version, while adding a few new features that are sure to please current licensees.

Getting Going
    ProTracker Advantage 4.0 requires Windows 2000 (or later) or Windows XP (or later). A current generation CPU and sufficient RAM (I'd suggest 512 MB as a minimum) will improve performance. Older operating systems, such as Windows 95, 98, ME, and NT, are not supported. You will also need MS Office 2000 (MS Word, Excel and Outlook) for mail merge, e-mail, exports to spreadsheets and PDA connectivity. MS Access is not required; ProTracker ships with the runtime version.
    The ProTracker Web site (http://www.protracker.com/Advantage.htm) contains a helpful 33-page "Getting Started Guide" in PDF format, which includes clear, concise installation instructions for both new users and upgraders. ProTracker Advantage can be installed on a stand-alone PC, a peer-to-peer network or a client/server network. Once the program is installed, existing users must convert data from the 3.3 database to the 4.0 database. If the 3.3 database contained photos (you can include a photo in the client record), a separate photo database upgrade must be performed.
    ProTracker Advantage, like all good CRM software, allows users to document everything pertaining to a client in one places. You can also track prospects, as well as all communications with prospects.
    Used to its full potential, ProTracker Advantage is really more than CRM software; it is practice management software that allows the business owner to more effectively manage the business, employees and  independent contractors.
    Perhaps the most important aspect of a program like ProTracker Advantage is its ability to track workflows. Every task is assigned to an individual or individuals and the software tracks each employee's assignments. As actions are completed, their status is updated in the system; therefore, each person in the office who has the proper authorization can find the status of all tasks at a moment's notice.  It also is  possible to group a number of regularly performed tasks together into a process. For example, each time you bring on a new client, ten or more steps could be involved in opening the account and multiple employees may be involved. Once programmed, ProTracker sets the whole process in motion, assigning all the tasks to the proper personnel and tracking the progress of the process.

New And Improved
    The user interface, which was previously a major weakness, is much improved. Most areas, like the home page and the client area, include multiple screens, which are organized as "virtual index cards." By clicking on the tab at the top of the cards, you can navigate to the one you want.
    All ProTracker screens now contain common elements. Along the top, there are drop-down menus (File, Edit, View ... Help) and a Toolbar (Home, Contacts, Clients, Calendar, etc.). Along the left is a navigation area, which contains additional tools: a search box, the "assistant," "reports" and "recent." The final common element is the work area. The toolbar, which includes a "back" button, along with the navigation pane to the left of the screen, greatly enhance navigation. The search box is particularly noteworthy. Enter any part of a zip code, phone number, account number name, etc., and the program returns the appropriate results.
    Many operations can be performed using two or more of the navigation tools, but the menu offers the most extensive controls. The toolbar and the navigation bar, on the other hand, offer a much more convenient and intuitive method of moving around the program. The navigation bar is context sensitive, so the options change depending upon where you are working.
    As soon as the program is launched, the main work area displays the user's upcoming appointments and tasks. Behind the "Home Tab" is a "Recent Activity" tab. Here, all recent activity for the current user is displayed or, if permissions is granted, for another single user or for all users. By default, all open appointments, notes, tasks, e-mail, documents, etc., are presented. Filter boxes can be checked or unchecked to effortlessly fine tune the display.
    Under the Recent Activity screen is the Document Review screen. If an employee has, for example, submitted a list of security trades for your review, it would reside here. You can view reviewed items, items awaiting review or both.

Client Screens
    The main client screen can hold multiple addresses, phone numbers and e-mail accounts. Separate fields are provided for special information such as a unique billing address, or a special delivery address for packages. The main screen can also hold a photo of the client, a net-worth history and a portfolio withdrawal rate.
    There's a list of linked co-clients (a spouse or child, for example) with basic contact information. Click on a client or co-client's name, and tabs appear for personal information including date of birth, Social Security number, employment history and "touch options" (ADV offer, birthday card, privacy notice, etc.) There are fields for organizations and affiliations, hobbies, charities and health issues. Another tab, "Activities," offers the same functionality as the "recent activities" screen on the home page, but the filtering is limited to the individual client record. The association tab allows you to track relationships the client has, including professionals, relatives, trustees and beneficiaries.
    The marketing tab, primarily for prospects, tracks marketing campaigns, and opt-ins/opt-outs for mail, phone and e-mail communications.
    Behind the main contact screen are the following tabs: Firm, Activities, Life Planning, Accounts, Estate, Insurance, Tax, Billing and Custom. Some of these tabs include multiple subtabs. For example, the "Firm" tab includes subtabs for Services (firm associates serving the client, services provided, types of reports and frequency, gifts from firm), investment policy information (initial date, review dates, risk tolerance reviews), association and touch options. The Life Planning tab includes goals, cash flow, and gifting information.
    Accounts includes a summary of all accounts, a separate tab with account details, an RMD tab (for those subject to RMD regulations), trustees, beneficiaries, cash deposits and cash withdrawals.
    The estate planning tab contains subtabs for an estate plan summary, estate planning details, gift tax credits, IRD and administration. The insurance tab can track insurance policies of all types. The tax tab contains separate areas for federal and state taxes, as well as tax administration. The billing tab tracks billing policy  such as rate, frequency, account to be debited, contract history, fee reviews and links to all invoices.
    As you may have gathered by now, ProTracker Advantage 4.0 can store, track and report on a great deal of data, but tracking client data is only part of the story. Once all of this information is in the system, it can be routed to other employees, shared with them and reported upon. As a result, each employee has all work clearly outlined, and they have the information necessary to get the job done. In addition, managers can check on any workflow in real time, identifying bottlenecks and adjusting assignments as necessary. Furthermore, since all of this information is available in one place, managers can run reports to analyze services offered and employee performance, thereby identifying inefficiencies.
    ProTracker's ability to scan and manage client documents has been improved, and almost any scanner can be used. Prospects can be added to ProTracker using a business card scanner.
    The calendar is much improved, with support for daily, weekly and monthly views. Group scheduling, conference room scheduling and a public calendar are available too.
    Compliance remains an area of strength. With extensive fields for personal information, the program supports Patriot Act compliance. When a new client signs on, the firm can log identification information (a passport or driver's license, for example), scan the identification document and attach it to the client record. The regulatory drop-down menu provides access to compliance reports including assets under management, assets by institution, clients by state, form ADV offer dates, privacy notice dates and more.
    Other enhancements and capabilities are too numerous to mention, but suffice it to say that with regard to navigation and functionality, this version is a major improvement over previous ones.

Some Concerns
    I ran into a couple of issues during my tests. On one computer, the program failed to install properly. Due to time constraints, I did not spend much time diagnosing the problem; I simply installed it on another machine. After I had ProTracker up and running, however, I did manage to cause crashes on a number of occasions. Each time, the crash caused the program to shut down, but when I started it up again, all seemed well. While these "crashes" would make me a little leery of being the first to upgrade, no data was lost, so the problems were an annoyance rather than a disaster.
    I heard from at least one early upgrader who had problems converting version 3.3 data to the version 4.0 format. Again, I do not view this as a critical flaw; however, if too many users experience problems, it could aggravate licensees as well as put a strain on the support staff.
    By default, a Tip of the Day pops up each time you launch ProTracker (you can turn it off if you wish). I found the tips very helpful, but you cannot minimize them; you must close them in order to begin work within the program.
    E-mail can be brought into ProTracker and associated with individual records. This is a great feature from both a practice management and a compliance standpoint. Unfortunately, the process is not totally automated yet.
    Ironically, ProTracker's strength, its deep feature set, creates a problem: It takes time to learn how to use it. While navigation has been greatly improved, not all features are immediately obvious; time and training will be required to get the maximum benefit here.
    The Getting Started Guide and other documentation are helpful, but for new users, more is needed. The ProTracker Knowledgebase, which is a great source of information for earlier versions, does not contain much about version 4.0 yet.

Improving Your Practice?
    Most financial advisors are not optimizing their time or profit-making potential. More than 100,000 financial advisors with access to good financial planning software (the two leaders in market share, NaviPlan and Financial Profiles, each claim well over 50,000 users), but only a fraction of these are using good CRM software. In fact, the two leading CRM programs built by advisors for advisors, Junxure-I and ProTracker, only have about 2,000 users between them.
    This imbalance leads me to believe that a great many advisors are operating less efficiently than they could be. Virtually every business financial service firm can benefit from a comprehensive CRM package like ProTracker of Junxure-I. The question is, which one?
    Currently, it is a close call. ProTracker, with its new release, has probably jumped ahead of Junxure-I with regard to the feature set, but given the distinct interfaces of the two products, and the fact that Junxure-I is due to release a new SQL upgrade within a few months, it is highly unlikely that ProTracker will win over any Junxure-I converts at this time.
    The more immediate question is whether or not this upgrade will retain existing users and attract new ones. To the former question, I'd answer a qualified "yes." Assuming that upgrades go smoothly, I think that current users will be very pleased; however, if there are widespread problems upgrading, those who patiently waited for this upgrade might throw in the towel. New customers should exercise restraint. Within a couple of months, existing users will be upgraded, the kinks will be fixed, and the support staff will be more relaxed.
    In the final analysis, not many programs offer financial advisors this depth and breadth. If you are serious about improving your efficiency, ProTracker Advantage is worthy of your consideration.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, publisher of Virtual Office News, (www.virtualofficenews.com) is an expert in applied technology for the financial services professional. Reach him at joelbruckenstein@mailblocks.com.