Today more than ever, there are some really robust, highly sophisticated enterprise content management (ECM) systems available to advisors. Laserfiche and XTRAC Solutions are two that come to mind; but there are others. These solutions can help you scan and manage documents, but they also automate work flows, provide analytics and much more. ECM software is attractive and desirable once firms achieve a certain critical mass, but for small financial advisory firms, a full ECM system may be overkill.

Smaller firms can benefit from a document management system, but they are often looking for something simpler and more affordable. That’s a market that Redtail Imaging, from Redtail Technology, seeks to serve.

For those of you unfamiliar with the firm, Redtail Technology, founded in 2003, is headquartered in Gold River, Calif. It is a leader in cloud-based CRM solutions for financial advisors, with approximately 60,000 CRM users. Much of Redtail’s success in the CRM market is due to their software approach: They don’t try to be the most robust CRM; instead, they provide the core features that advisors need at very competitive prices. In addition, Redtail is a firm that does not take itself too seriously. Virtually every firm I cover has a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, but to date, Redtail is the only one that I know of that has a “rarely asked questions” page.

Redtail takes the same approach to imaging that they do to CRM: They provide the essentials at a reasonable price. Before we get into the details of Redtail Document Imaging, however, let’s take a step back and discuss why advisors need at least a basic document management system.

Advisors often ask me: “Why do I need a document management system? After all, I’ve created a file structure on my hard drive (or network drive) whereby I have a folder for every client, so I can always find what I need. In addition, I back up my data regularly and I store a copy off-site.”

My short answer to this advisor would be that your solution might have been totally acceptable in 1998, but it is far from efficient today. Aside from the fact that your system is antiquated and not particularly efficient, it may not be compliant. Are you storing data in “write once read many” (WORM) format? Is there an audit trail? Is there a third party downloader if required? Can you always find the document you need in seconds? If you are not using document management software, the answer to at least one of the above questions is no.

If the advisors are a little more up-to-date with their technology, they might say that they store all of their documents in the cloud, or sync their files in the cloud using a service such as Dropbox or Microsoft’s SkyDrive.

Overall, I’d say that these advisors are ahead of our first with regard to efficiency, but there still may be some gaps. That’s why a system such as Redtail Imaging is so valuable.

Redtail Imaging
Redtail Document Imaging provides a number of core features that every advisor should look for in a document management system. This set of features is by no means comprehensive, but it is perhaps a reasonable baseline set of requirements for a financial advisory firm.

One absolute necessity is WORM storage. All advisors are required to store records in a format that cannot be altered. Not only is this a regulatory requirement, it is also a good business practice. Storing your documents in an unalterable format gives regulators, clients and business associates a high degree of confidence in the integrity of your systems.

Another essential feature is audit logging. With this feature, the system administrator can see exactly who has viewed and edited a document. In the case of Redtail, you can essentially see the entire history of documents and folders, including dates, times, IP address and image location, as well as any links that have been created to those documents and folders (more on that later).

Redtail offers a third party downloader. Some institutions may require this, others may not, but it is good to know that it is available. A third party downloader is a convenient tool that can make information available to a third party under extraordinary circumstances—for example, if an advisor went out of business and a court order was issued for the firm’s documents.

Another really nice feature of the Redtail Document Imaging system is its ability to integrate with Redtail CRM. With a right mouse click, you can link any folder within the document imaging system to a contact record within Redtail CRM. These folders can contain a virtually unlimited number of subfolders.

So, for example, if Mr. Smith is a client, you can create a Smith folder in the document management system and then populate it with subfolders. You might create one for tax returns, a separate one for tax paperwork and documents, another for life insurance, one for portfolio management reports, etc. As long as the master folder (Smith) is linked to the client record, all of the subfolders will be as well. What if you are dealing with multiple generations of the Smith family, and some folder, perhaps a folder relating to a trust, impacts two or more Smith households? No problem. Folders can be linked to multiple contacts. What happens if you want to grant access to individual folders or subfolders to clients, tax preparers, etc.? No problem. A “Grant Client Access” hotlink, visible from the folder list and the document list, allows you to do so, provided you have the necessary system permissions.

Redtail provides similar functionality with some integration partners. For example, if you make use of the Redtail integration with NetDocuments or Sharefile, you can also link documents to folders in Redtail CRM. The difference is that in Redtail the integration works both ways; with third parties, the integration is one way, from Redtail CRM to the third party app.

The User Experience
For the uninitiated, some of the more comprehensive systems can be intimidating at first. That’s not the case here. Redtail Document Imaging is simple and straightforward. It comes with three libraries: Client, Corporate and Unfiled. You can think of these libraries as three drawers in a file cabinet. Advisors generally create a separate folder for each client in the Client library and then populate the folder with subfolders. The corporate library might have folders for various departments or tasks (HR, accounts payable, etc.). Documents not indexed or assigned to a folder reside temporarily in the Unfiled library.
Advisors can create custom libraries if they wish. For example, if they want to create a separate folder for prospects or for investment research, they can do so. Breadcrumbs along the top of the page allow users to easily recognize which library and folder they are in.

Most of the application’s functionality is accessible either through a menu at the top of the page or through the hotlinks on the right side of the page. A statistics box on the right of the page alerts users to the storage they are using, their storage limit and the number of files they have stored on the system.
There are a number of ways to get documents into the system. You can hit the upload file link on the top or right of the page. This displays a tool that allows you to navigate to the desired file on your hard drive, select it and upload it.

Redtail also offers Retriever for Imaging for Windows. Once you download this app onto your Windows computer, you can upload, manage and archive documents from any location on your computer into Redtail Document Imaging. If you drag and drop a file or folder on your computer onto the Retriever Window, it will be queued for upload. You can also scan documents directly into Redtail using the Redtail scanner app by clicking the scan button on the top or side menu. Like everything else about Redtail, the scanning app is lean and efficient. It is not the most powerful or customizable, but it is sufficient for the task at hand. It can communicate with a wide range of scanners that support TWAIN drivers. It can scan black and white or color, it supports duplex scans, and it supports automatic document feeders (ADF). It provides some basic editing functions (it will deskew scans, for example). It can scan to TIFF or PDF, the two most popular formats for documents, and it will automatically perform optical character recognition (OCR) on all scans, so you can later search on any word within the document.

One additional way you can add documents to your system is through the Redtail iOS application. With this application, you can use your mobile device’s camera to take a picture of a document and upload it to one of your online folders.

Redtail is in the process of developing watched folder and mirrored folder capabilities, which, according to Redtail’s CEO Brian McLaughlin, should be available by February 2014. In the former case, the Redtail system will “watch” a folder you specify and automatically upload the contents of that folder to the Redtail cloud. In the latter instance, Redtail will copy the contents of a specified folder to the Redtail cloud.

With the click of a mouse, you can view the full history or any image. You can see the day it entered the system, the day it was linked to a CRM record (and by whom) and the day it was last accessed.

Powerful yet easy-to-use filters simplify many tasks. For example, you can search for a list of all images that have been deleted (images remain in the archive, but they are no longer visible). You can filter for files created by one user for all dates, the last 90 days, or a custom date range.

All documents are stored on Redtail’s own geographically diverse servers. The software that runs the system is OpenStack, a robust, open-source cloud computing application. All data is transmitted between the client browser and Redtail Imaging using 128 bit SSL encryption.

Redtail just completed a major overhaul of its document imaging system to increase responsiveness. McLaughlin says it is now six to seven times faster than the previous version. The software is configured for triple redundancy on Redtail’s servers. In addition, they maintain an archived version of every user’s information on Amazon’s S3 storage system.

Redtail’s pricing is competitive. The list price is $49 per month, with discounts available through many B-Ds and other organizations. The price includes 10 GB of storage, which should be sufficient for many advisors if they primarily scan documents at the 150 dpi default setting. Additional GBs list for $4 per month per GB.

My impression is that many smaller advisors refrain from using a document management system for one of three reasons: They don’t think they need it, they are afraid it will be too complex, or they are afraid it will be too expensive. Let’s be clear: Advisors need a compliant system such as Redtail Imaging. This system is easy to use and inexpensive, and it works particularly well with Redtail CRM. If you are in the market for an entry level document management system, Redtail Imaging is a solid choice.