The SEC contacts you to notify you of an impending audit. They send their usual letter of instructions indicating the types of files they'll want to review. The problem is ... you don't know what specific clients they'll want to see information for-nor do you know precisely what they'll ask to see for those clients.
The gist of this problem is that today's SEC audits require the advisor to be quick on her feet. She must be able to pull up exactly what the auditor wants to see-no more and no less.
Paper filing systems don't lend themselves well to this kind of flexibility, but document management systems do.
"With the growing burden of compliance and the heavily regulated nature of the financial services industry, advisors are spending enormous amounts of manpower to keep their records in compliance. We come in and help make them more efficient," says Zaheer Master, a technology consultant, reseller of the Laserfiche (www.laserfiche.com) document management system and president of Accelerated Information Systems (www.aisww.com) in New York City.
Master works with advisors in the New York metropolitan area and around the country.
"Some advisors are just starting out and don't want paper; we help them set up a document management system from day No. 1. Others have a backlog of files, and we help them do the conversion from paper to digital files and system setup. Some others are dually registered, so we help them set up systems in a compliant fashion too, separating files so they are compliant on both sides."
What advisors are installing when they purchase a Laserfiche document management system is "Avante" version 8.0, which brings them such features as audit trail tracking and, optionally, a Web client so they can work offsite if they like. Most features are modular.
Says Master, "The base version gives you scanning capability, metadata [the ability to add key information about documents for later retrieval], the ability to import electronic files [for example, e-mails, correspondence and PDFs] and Quick Fields capture, which automatically recognizes documents, fills in key metadata fields and then files them. This helps speed up 'back file' conversion and get documents into Avante quickly and easily."
He adds, "Advisors typically purchase the software, and we set it up, configure their system and set up work flows-such as final approval of invoices before payment. On the capture side, we can set up auto-filing whereby an existing paper file is scanned in and Laserfiche is configured to find keywords and identify files automatically, and then auto-file the resulting document. These configurations are, of course, specific to each individual advisor."
As a reseller, Accelerated Information Systems charges for the purchase and installation of Avante according to how many users there will be, what optional features may be purchased, whether the advisor needs help capturing documents into the system, the condition of his files (for example, heavily stapled items might run eight to 15 cents a page on capture) and the training requirements. All of this, for a three- to ten-person office, will generally run about $5,000 to $10,000, including all services, says Master.
How does Accelerated help its advisor clients during audits? Says Master, "The advisor handles the audit himself but we're here to provide technical services as needed. If a question arises during an audit that we can help with, we're here to support the advisor. Let's say the auditors are in the office and request the last three months of files; we'll show the advisor how to set up a search or export. Of course, if the advisor has been using Avante for a while, he'll know what to do. The less experienced advisors we'll help remotely, as needed."