Zywave advisor briefcase is the first new product release targeting financial advisors since Zywave acquired EISI, the developers of NaviPlan and Profiles financial planning software in 2011. For those readers unfamiliar with the firm, Zywave was spun out of a large insurance firm about 17 years ago. Its objective was to offer insurance brokers tools that would allow them to acquire new business and retain clients that they already had.

Since that time, Zywave has provided insurance brokers with marketing communications tools, agency automation tools, client portals and data analytics. One of Zywave’s more successful products is Broker Briefcase, a marketing tool that the firm says is used by 91 of the 100 largest insurance brokers. Currently, 100,000 people log on to the system every day, and Zywave says that Broker Briefcase touches approximately 10 million end users.

Given the success of Broker Briefcase, it is not surprising that Zywave decided to roll out a similar product that specifically targets financial advisors. The concept behind Advisor Briefcase is simple: In order to retain existing business and attract new business, advisors need to stay in regular touch with their clients and prospects. How often do advisors need to stay in touch? Opinions vary slightly, even among the experts, but according to Zywave’s Web site, elite advisors contact their clients 28 times per year.

Of course, many advisors fail to touch their clients and prospects anywhere near that much.

There appears to be two major impediments to more frequent contacts: a lack of time or the lack of something meaningful to contact clients and prospects about. Advisor Briefcase can help with both. It can to a large extent automate the process of contacting clients, and it can provide meaningful content to share with those clients.

What Is Advisor Briefcase?
To say that the application is simply a marketing tool does not do it justice. For independent advisors, one of the value propositions of Advisor Briefcase is its extensive library of content. For example, when I ran a search for insurance-related articles, approximately 112 results were available. Much of the content is one- to two-page articles. Those that I looked at appeared to be well written and appropriate for a mass affluent audience. They did not contain technical jargon, nor were they overly simplistic. Anyone with a basic understanding of the concept being discussed would probably understand it, but even if someone is new to the topic or looking for a refresher on it, the content is helpful.

Advisors are not limited to the content that comes with Advisor Briefcase. If they have their own additional content on a particular topic, they can upload it to the system and then use Advisor Briefcase to manage it. If they already like much of the content but want to modify or enhance it, they can download it, edit it and save it back to Advisor Briefcase with a new custom title.

The ability of the application to manage content is perhaps as valuable as the content itself. For example, when I search for “insurance,” I’m presented with 112 content pieces. By default, the results are listed by “best match,” but I can also choose to have them sorted alphabetically, or if I’m looking for something new or timely, I can sort them to have the most recent content on top. To the left of the search results, there is a pane that contains predefined filters to further facilitate my search.

So if I’m looking for insurance content that relates to estate planning, I can click on the estate planning filter and see all of the sub-topics under that heading. These include estate administration, estate taxation, health and end-of-life planning, etc. Next to each sub-topic, there is a number representing the number of articles on that sub-topic. To continue this example, I’ll select the health and end-of-life planning sub-topic. I’m now presented with four articles. One, “Essential Concepts of Estate Planning,” is labeled as new. There is a little icon in the upper right of the listing indicating that this is a Microsoft Word document. If I mouse over the article, three options appear on a menu to the right: e-mail, preview or queue. The first two options are self-explanatory. The third, “queue,” allows you to save something for further action later.
For example, you might want to store and group a number of content pieces together for later distribution to a single recipient or to a group of recipients. When mousing over an article, you can also see a star to the bottom right. If you click the star, you designate the content as a favorite, so you can locate it more rapidly in the future.

Before continuing with our current example, I should also point out that custom content can be managed in the same way that the included content is. When a firm uploads custom content, the keywords, topics and sub-topics can be assigned to that content so that it will be picked up by the search engine and the filters.

Turning back to our example, rather than using one of the shortcuts, I clicked on the article that I selected. The resulting screen gives you all of the options available on the previous page, as well as many more. For example, you can see document details (the date created, the language, who created the document and the document ID). You can merge fields, and you can add the document to a content group. Below the document is a list of other suggested articles. This function is similar to ones that you see on shopping Web sites; depending on what you have viewed or ordered, the application suggests other content that it thinks you may be interested in. So, using my selection, the application suggested articles on avoiding probate, charitable lead trusts, charitable remainder trusts, etc.

Below this section there are two tabs: Pending distributions and distribution history. The distribution history shows who else has previously received this document. The pending list shows who you have previously scheduled to receive the document and who has not yet received it. So if you have previously scheduled a drip mailing campaign for a client or prospect that includes this document, you would know not to send it to him or her again.

To create a drip marketing campaign, you first create a content group. You can do this by selecting articles, adding them to the queue and then saving them as a content group. When you create a content group, you can choose to make it available to every user in the firm, or just to the creator of the group. You also select distribution dates. You can choose “none” to save the content group for later; “actual,” where you enter a date upon which each piece of content will be sent; or “relative” (which could, for example, send one piece out 12 days after a previous one).

Content groups can be created around profiles (such as mass affluent prospects) or themes (such as college planning). You can then create distribution lists and assign content to the appropriate groups.

In addition, Advisor Briefcase offers a number of e-mail templates. The library includes both html and non-html content. You can add images to templates, customize templates, insert hyperlinks into templates and add merge fields to an e-mail template.

When you schedule an e-marketing campaign, all scheduled distributions are entered on a calendar, so you can see at a glance what is going out, and when it is going out. Advisor Briefcase tracks all click-throughs so you know what content is being read, and who is reading it. The company also keeps a database of all distributions for as long as you are a client, relieving you of this compliance duty.

When I asked Cory Olson, product director at Zywave, about the pricing of Advisor Briefcase, I felt his reply was a bit vague. Rather than try to paraphrase his explanation, I’ll provide a verbatim copy of his response:

“Advisor Briefcase is marketed to both independent advisors and large enterprises. Pricing consists of two components: an annual software license fee and one-time fee that includes system implementation and a comprehensive user training plan. Unlike other offerings that are priced by content category or number of e-mails distributed, the annual license fee includes all Advisor Briefcase content and updates as well as unlimited e-mail distributions. Advisor Briefcase can be purchased independently or within a package that includes Naviplan or Profiles, the Zywave financial planning applications. The annual license fee for independent advisors typically ranges from $1,300 to $600 per employee based on a number of factors including inclusion within a multi-product bundle, size of firm, existence of a broker/dealer sponsorship and length of contract. Pricing for enterprise-level organizations is handled on a case-by-case basis. Zywave is offering introductory pricing for early adopters.”

I was disappointed with the lack of mobile compatibility. These days, I can envision scenarios where an advisor meets with a client or prospect and desires to immediately send him some sort of informational document via mobile device. Unfortunately, in my test, the Advisor Briefcase did not work with my iPad. I also tried it with my Microsoft Surface R/T tablet with similar disappointing results. The lack of Surface R/T compatibility is probably as much an indictment of Microsoft than of Zywave. It appears that the Surface R/T does not support Microsoft Silverlight (a development tool for creating a richer user experience on the Web and on mobile applications). I would anticipate that the application runs fine on the Surface Pro, however.

Although certain aspects of the Advisor Briefcase offering, such as the content management and reporting features, are enticing, the Zywave product is not exactly breaking new ground. For as long as I’ve been in the business, there have been products available to advisors that provide content married to some sort of technology-aided delivery mechanism. Years ago, the technology was limited to word processing templates, mail merges, snail mail delivery and printed newsletters delivered by snail mail.

Today, advisors can deliver content through those same channels, but they can also avail themselves of newer delivery methods that include e-mail messages, e-newsletters, audio recordings, video recordings, slide presentations (with or without voice-over), social media and other channels. In addition, there are a number of established providers in the field, many of whom offer some, or all, of the content and services that Zywave does. These include large firms such as Broadridge (offering Forefield Advisor, Forefield Composer E-Mail, Forefield Newsletters, etc.) and Morningstar (offering Office, Workstation, Newsletter Builder, etc.), as well as smaller niche firms such as Advisor Products and Bill Good Marketing.

The challenge for Zywave will be to differentiate Advisor Briefcase from an already crowded field of entrenched competitors. Does Advisor Briefcase have a compelling enough feature set and an attractive enough price to compete effectively? Currently, I don’t have a strong opinion on that one way or the other, particularly since the value to an advisor will depend at least partially on price, which can vary greatly.

A few factors, however, do argue in Zywave’s favor. The first is that the population as a whole is woefully undereducated about personal financial matters, so products such as Advisor Briefcase address a real need. The second is that the financial services landscape is becoming increasingly competitive. This means that advisory firms who have relied solely on referrals for new business are waking up to the fact that they will need to do proactive marketing in the future in order to grow. While neither of these factors argues specifically for the success of Advisor Briefcase, they do suggest that there will be growth in the demand for this type of product, and that presents an opportunity for Advisor Briefcase.

In Summary
Advisor Briefcase is a welcome new marketing product for independent advisors and for enterprises. It does a particularly good job of sorting and managing content. It is also capable of managing and documenting e-marketing campaigns. Although it costs more than some competing content providers’ products, it offers additional functionality that other products don’t, and the support for it is included in the pricing. Zywave’s previous success with Broker Briefcase suggests that the company is a capable competitor in this niche. It will be interesting to see if the company’s expertise in insurance can translate to financial advisors.