Check out software that can help you increase efficiency and profits.

    One nagging question that keeps arising is whether or not the services provided by financial advisors are profitable given the amount of time, effort and resources expended to provide them. Despite how often this question comes up, the answer is frequently unknown. This may be because practitioners simply haven't taken the time to add up the costs associated with various tasks performed on behalf of the client.
    As an example, a recent discussion with a financial advisor revealed that his firm was charging an average of $750 for a standard financial plan. Yet, a subsequent audit of the workflow processes required to produce the plan determined that it took the firm (consisting of the financial advisor and a paraplanner) about 20 hours to complete the plan.
    Given a $150 hourly rate normally charged by the advisor (according to him), the cost to produce the financial plan was around $3,000, not $750. Given staff time, printing costs, paper and binding expense, the actual cost to the firm could be even higher.
    The argument for continuing to charge the $750 was that they would make up the difference in the asset management fees. This may be true, but the larger question is, what is the overall impact to the firm for such sloppy workflow tracking? And what is the message that is being sent to the client?
    Many firms have begun to consider breaking apart their fee structures in an effort to get a better handle on profitability and to eliminate so-called loss-leader services. The reason to create an a la carte menu of services is to create a stable cash flow for the practice and to better justify what is being charged to the client.
    Let's say you have a fee-based financial advisory practice where you charge 1% asset management fees, and you offer financial planning as a part of overall services that do not incur a separate fee. The advantage of this system is that it is easier to do the accounting and simpler for the client to understand. The disadvantage is that, in a down-market year when assets under management (AUM) might decrease, your fees would go down as well. And it may be telling your clients that the advice isn't worth much. Additionally, many advisors question the wisdom of this practice, as it suggests their services are worth less in a down-market year.
    The alternative is a la carte pricing, or breaking out the advice fees and potentially decreasing the AUM fees. The calculated amount of revenue from a client might be the same, but in a down-market year, the advice fees (if flat rate or fixed) could help stabilize an otherwise declining revenue base. And the message being sent to clients is that the advice is worth as much or more when the going gets rough. You may also find your practice being more competitive in the AUM fees (if they are lowered) as compared with other practices in your community.
    However, before creating an a la carte pricing model, it is a good idea to better understand what is involved in producing various services offered to your clients. To accomplish this, many firms are turning to workflow systems to set up tasks, track progress and build accountabilities for task completion.
    One such system is already incorporated into a client relationship management software package called Junxure-I. ( Junxure-I has action tasks that permit the user to assign a task with time and date stamping. The task can be general in nature or tied to a client record. The task (or action item) can then show up on the assigned employee's action list with prompts.
Once completed, the assigned employee can indicate so with a date completed. The record is retained for anyone who uses the system to see. With custom reports, an administrator could develop a task accountability report to help in specific task completion studies and to oversee and compare similar tasks performed by different people. Another CRM software package, Act 4 Advisors (, can perform similar functions.
    If you use Microsoft Outlook 2003 (, you may wish to check out the task assignment features already included in the program. In addition to creating your own tasks in Outlook, you can create tasks that you assign to others. You do this by sending a task request to someone. (A task request is a request sent in an e-mail message asking the recipient to complete a task. If the recipient accepts the task, it is added to the recipient's task list, and the recipient becomes the new owner of the task.) They can decline the task, accept the task or assign the task to someone else. The good news about this feature is that when the owner completes the task, Outlook automatically sends a status report to the person who originally assigned the task, any other prior owners and anyone else who requested a report.
    On a stand-alone basis, financial advisors who want to get a handle on workflow processes in their practice without necessarily tying those tasks to client records may wish to take a look at a simple task management program called Checklist ( Each task can be set with a creation date, due date, estimated time, elapsed time during task and priority, and the task can be assigned. There is room for a note on current status of the task. You can append tasks to master tasks and view or change the hierarchy of tasks. At $39.95 and offering discounts for volume purchases, this product is an inexpensive way to get a handle on workflow issues.
    For more robust features, you may wish to explore a full-featured project management software such as Microsoft Project ( Project sells for $599 for a single-user version. Or, for a somewhat lower cost, you may wish to check out Project KickStart ( At $129.95 for a single-user version, this is considerably less expensive.
    Though not as powerful as MS Project, KickStart offers most of what you need to set up and track specific sets of tasks associated with a particular project. If, for instance, you wished to examine the process for submitting insurance business from application to issuance, this might be one way to examine each of the steps and understanding what it takes in staff hours and resources to fully complete the process.
    If your focus is solely on the advice component and you are a current or future user of Naviplan, EISI Systems now offers a Web-based version of their software called Naviplan Central ( Naviplan Central offers workflow controls on an administrative level to permit you to monitor your employees' use of the software. Questions such as how long it takes a particular employee to complete a section of a financial plan can be answered easily by the included management activity reports.
    Five reports are available to track and monitor planning activity within your firm, and these reports can be set administratively for limited access. NaviPlan Central-licensed advisors and wealth management experts can access plans online and collaborate in real time. Workflow controls guide advisors through the plan-approval process, and give oversight capabilities to designated compliance officers and/or managers. Other financial planning software programs such as MoneyGuidePro and Money Tree offer similar features.
    If you are not only interested in what your employees are doing when they are working on firm-related tasks, but also interested in what they are doing when they are not working on company business, there is an office spyware program called Spector Pro ( that will record every program (or application) and program window run on the computer you are monitoring. For each program, Spector Pro will capture the name of the person who used the program, when the program was started and how long the program was running.
    In addition, Spector Pro will provide even more information, such as how much time the program was actually used. Was the program simply opened and left on-screen, an indication someone might be trying to deceive you into thinking they were working all day in Word and Excel (when they were really surfing the web)? At $99.95, this could be another tool to monitor your employees and, potentially, insulate your firm against lawsuits resulting from inappropriate use of company computers (i.e. Internet porn, etc.).
    All of these tools are useful only to the extent that your firm can benefit from the information they provide. Establishing workflow systems, setting accountabilities and determining the cost of services provided to clients can help with employee management and product (service) pricing issues. The intended result should be more efficient office operations.

David Lawrence is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates, a practice consulting firm based in Lutz, Fla. ( David Lawrence and Associates is an approved sponsor of CFP Board of Standards continuing education credits and offers CE programs on a variety of topics, including the financial planning process.