Financial advisors are grappling with a labyrinth of complex client relationships that need constant maintenance as well as operations whose critical tasks and functions need to be completed on time to keep firms running smoothly. But even as advisors see their assets grow and their client bases expand, many still are performing those functions manually, relying on outdated training manuals or their own memories without the help of automated systems. Critical processes--such as the "new client" process, the "address change" process, the "what to do when a client passes away" process, or the "new employee" process--are often completed with fragmented and disparate systems.

To effectively unlock practice growth and ensure increased capacity and efficiency, firms should consider the advantages of embedding their workflows into an integrated client relationship management (CRM) system. These automated systems harbor unique workflows for each critical task, providing measurable services that not only improve reliability and quality, but offer a consistent client experience and free advisors to focus their resources on the needs of clients.

Here’s how an effective CRM works: A standard task list comprises activities and deliverables for many clients, with diverse action items for each. A CRM system sequences those activities so that each employee follows the same steps for each process every time. For example, if the process of opening a new account for a client consists of five distinct steps, the system will automatically provide the employee with real-time prompts, rendering the instructions needed to complete each step along the way.

In the event that a client passes away, there might be as many as 50 steps. When the ‘client deceased’ workflow is activated, each step is automatically assigned to the appropriate person with embedded instructions in the CRM system. If the firm is maintaining a relationship with the widow of the client, that relationship is not disrupted at a crucial time.

Completion of any one process is not dependent on a particular person. While employees can join or exit the process, the process remains consistent across the enterprise and reaches completion with the same quality of service to all clients regardless of who is on vacation or out sick.

Employees receive instructions in the order of events of their tasks in the CRM system, which increases the chances that procedures are completed efficiently.

With workflows defined and embedded into a CRM system, advisors gain greater transparency, consistency, accountability, scalability and efficiency--all of which directly impact a positive client experience.

Take the case of Foster Group, the Des Moines, Iowa-based wealth management firm. In 2004, it had 15 employees, $500 million in assets under management  and 500 clients. Today, Foster Group has 25 employees, $1.2 billion under management and 800 clients, but its processes now exist in a CRM system in the form of 80 unique workflows. Implementation of those workflows has helped the firm manage its increasingly complex web of client relationships.

The scheduling process for each client at Foster Group is auto-generated by the CRM system on a frequency agreed to by the client and the advisor. The client is contacted and the meeting is created in the client’s CRM record. Prep tasks are auto-generated and are due one to two days prior to the meeting. The client meeting occurs, and once the meeting dictation is recorded, a task is assigned to the administrative team to enter that dictation into the CRM.

Next, the associate advisor parses out the dictation into action steps. The advisor signs off on the action items and the process is reset to trigger once the next review date approaches.

In the case of Orchestrate’s ProcessComposer--the system used by Foster Group since 2008--each advisor can track the progress the company is making by viewing dashboards inside the firm’s information platform.  This allows them to determine at a glance the number of new clients for the year and the number of new referrals for the year, along with their sources, prospect pipeline and client service level attainment.

With those embedded workflows, the firm was able to recast its key operations, becoming more reliable and efficient. The cost of serving clients at Foster Group decreased by more than 30 percent while service levels were either maintained or increased. Those metrics are attainable for firms of any size.

Unfortunately, the benefits of embedding workflows has yet to be fully realized by many advisors, who are still prone to viewing their rolodex or Microsoft Outlook as a CRM system and need greater efficiencies to raise the standard for the level of service they offer.

There is, however, evidence that advisors recognize the need for some self-improvement.

According to a 2012 study conducted by Advisor Impact, “streamlining or standardizing routine processes” was singled out as a top contributor to increasing capacity and improving efficiency. And while the survey indicated that this category held the highest potential for firm improvement, it also indicated that advisors struggled to activate it. Eighty-four percent of firms agreed that the category is a key to increasing capacity, but only 47 percent of those same firms agreed that they’re doing it well.

By investing in workflow implementation, advisors will realize a more consistent and higher quality client experience, internal clarity regarding work efforts, increased capacity to serve new clients, reduced expenses and increased firm value. A robust, integrated CRM system provides fail-safes checks and balances, resulting in decreased client turnover and increased referrals. Firms with defined routines embedded in their service models will also fare better with valuations, becoming more appealing acquisition targets.

As client relationships become more complex, firms need to embrace new ways of managing them. Advisors that understand the benefits workflow has to offer--and move to capitalize on it--will be poised to unlock their next chapter of growth.