One of the ways one becomes more efficient is to reduce or eliminate repetitive tasks whenever possible. With software, this generally means reducing keystrokes or typing less of the same information into different applications. Items such as birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, etc. take up the bulk of wasted staff time as employees are asked to type in the same things over and over again.
A database, particularly a relational database such as a client relationship management (CRM) software, is ideally suited to warehouse such data for use outside of its own functionality. However, programs often don't "talk" to each other.
When they do, it is through an application programming interface (API), a language and message format one program uses to communicate with an operating system or some other control program such as a database management system (DBMS) or a communications protocol. An API can be configured to "map" data fields from one program into the corresponding fields of another, as a CRM program does when it links its data to a piece of financial planning software. While this may seem simple to the end user, it is actually a complicated process that can involve thousands of lines of code. Because the code written to link programs could in some cases reveal the software's unique programming to rivals, some software companies have in the past been reluctant to embrace deals involving APIs.
Recently, some manufacturers have begun to cooperate more, encouraged by projects such as YourSilverBullet.net to share more of their wares. But while the list at YSL is impressive, not all member companies have been willing to fully integrate their products with others. Still, more companies understand the need to integrate, especially in these tough economic times when they recognize that in order to survive they must find ways to collaborate.
When your software packages can integrate with others, you obviously gain more flexibility and choices. CRM packages such as Junxure (www.gowithcrm.com), ProTracker (www.protracker.com) and Redtail (www.redtailtechnology.com), for example, can be matched to programs like MoneyGuidePro (www.moneyguidepro.com), Naviplan (www.EISI.com) and Money Tree (www.moneytree.com) in a way that best fits your practice.
Keep in mind, though, that when you deal with different companies for everything, you're looking at higher costs, and unless you can snag a discount for a group of applications, these costs can start to add up, particularly with subscription software. Among the offerings out there, one of the most costly tends to be broker-independent portfolio management software (programs such as iRebal, BridgePortfolio and Tamarac, to name a few). Many of these programs are highly complex platforms involving sophisticated trading, rebalancing and analysis functions that must link to custodian servers to produce accurate reporting. For this, the costs understandably tend to rise, though not necessarily in every case.
This push for software cooperation has given rise to a new breed of platforms that can co-exist on the same desktop and whose components can seamlessly share data. This affords the end user the luxury of having one program up and able to quickly access all areas of the financial practice operations, from client contact data to portfolio management to financial and estate planning.
One integrated package in particular, the Interactive Advisory Software (IAS) Solution 360° (www.iassoftware.com), has generated some renewed interest after the recent release of its rebalancing module. This allows you to rebalance portfolios against a user-defined target model allocation, and it is much cheaper than competing products (though it must be purchased with the IAS portfolio management module).
It automatically generates the most tax-efficient and lowest cost transactions to accomplish the rebalancing goal. With this optimized rebalancing, you can:
Combine qualified and non-qualified accounts together in the same portfolio and rebalance accordingly
Lower back-office labor costs
Accelerate growth by attracting higher-end clients
Review and edit before the xport file is sent to custodians for execution
Increase returns for clients
One of the advantages of the platform is its single database. But more important is the fact that its portfolio management, rebalancing, CRM and financial planning tools have all merged into work-flow features, allowing its users to complete jobs with fewer keystrokes.
IAS' suite was designed as an all-in-one approach, one that includes a financial planning module, so it was surprising when the company recently announced a deal to collaborate with MoneyGuidePro, which makes a renowned planning application of its own. According to the two companies, the idea is for IAS to offer the type of goals-based planning platform offered by MoneyGuidePro in order to complement IAS' own cash-flow-based module. This marriage extends the reach of the platform and offers greater flexibility to the end user.
eMoney Advisor (www.emoneyadvisor.com) offers a competing platform with a similar sounding title: 360° Pro. This package offers 11 modules covering virtually every aspect of a client's financial situation and needs. It also offers account aggregation, an online storage vault, mobile access and custom reporting, and it furthermore allows planners to collaborate with other trusted advisors such as attorneys and accountants.
Another eMoney platform, eMoney 360°, focuses on specific financial analysis that is modular and oriented toward the presentation. With 11 stand-alone modules that can be used by themselves or concurrently, the platform provides ready-made presentations that can be customized or added to on the fly.
eMoney also offers a mobile product called eMoney Everywhere that connects the user to Microsoft Outlook, Redtail CRM, an iPhone 3G, Microsoft Excel or a BlackBerry, allowing access to data and information virtually anywhere.
A third player in the software integration space is Advisors Assistant (www.climark.com), a powerful client management platform that tracks investments and insurance. The package's portfolio management features appear limited, but the company has forged alliances to offer more functions, partnering with AdvisoryWorld; Money Tree; Laser App; Quik! Enterprise Forms Automation; and Morningstar. The platform offers advisors extensive daily downloads, including security prices and index values through the company's alliance with SunGard (available for an additional monthly subscription fee). It doesn't currently have a rebalancing feature or tax-efficient trading capabilities. But Advisors Assistant is a strong player in the client contact and marketing area, and the insurance management tools are often missing in other companies' products.
Advisors often fear that if they choose just one platform from among such a group, they'd be limited to only the tools provided by the one company. But as these products have grown and evolved, outside integrations and alliances have greatly extended the platforms and offered the promise of more choices and flexibility to come. The end results will help customers achieve the more efficient financial advisory practice they desire.
David L. Lawrence, RFC, ChFE is a practice efficiency consultant and is president of David Lawrence and Associates (DLA), a practice-consulting firm based in Tampa, Fla. DLA publishes a monthly subscription newsletter, "The Efficient Practice," which focuses on operational efficiency. (www.EfficientPractice.com) and hosts the Efficient Practice Advisor Network. He can be reached at dLawrence@efficientpractice.com.