Adobe recently released Version 9 of its popular Adobe Acrobat application. Previously, Adobe Acrobat for Windows came in just two versions: standard and Professional, with the latter being the more full-featured version. Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended for Windows, the subject of this article, now replaces Professional as the most feature-rich edition in the product line. For the Mac, Adobe offers Adobe Acrobat Professional only, which we did not test.


The new features in Adobe Acrobat 9 are designed to help users communicate with each other, and Adobe has stepped up its use of graphics and audio/visual content to this end. The company presumably improved its graphics and multimedia capabilities after acquiring Macromedia, the developers of Flash, in December 2005. Flash, in a sense, does for multimedia what PDF does for documents-allows users to experience rich content across platforms. According to Adobe, approximately 890 million PCs, about 98.5% worldwide with Internet access, have installed Adobe Flash player.

Adobe's Acrobat Professional version has also been recently augmented, but two of Acrobat's most impressive new features-the ability to convert a variety of video formats to Flash and the ability to create and publish on-demand interactive presentations to PDF-both require the new Adobe 9 Pro Extended.

The goal of this article is not to offer a comprehensive discussion of Adobe Acrobat 9's capabilities, but rather to highlight the new features that are most likely to add real value to your practice. I'll first offer a brief overview of PDF files and how advisors typically use them. I'll then discuss some of the most compelling new features that Acrobat 9 Pro Extended offers, and I'll demonstrate how these features can be used to enhance a financial advisory practice.

PDF Files And The Advisor
Nearly all financial advisors interact with PDF files regularly, but the "PDF IQ" of advisors varies greatly. Most advisors are aware that PDF is an abbreviation for "portable document format" and that PDF files often play a major role in the paperless office. Adobe Systems Inc. originally developed the PDF file format in 1993 as a means of exchanging digital files. Before the advent of PDF files, if you wanted to view a document, spreadsheet or other file you usually needed to be running the same application that the file was originally created on and the same operating system to view the file as originally designed and laid out. The PDF file format made it possible to open, view and print files without having to own the application that created it, regardless of the operating system on your computer, as long as the computer receiving the document had a version of the free Adobe Reader installed.

Based on extensive feedback that I receive as the publisher of Virtual Office News, I think it is fair to say that most advisors make limited use of the full Acrobat feature set. In fact, the vast majority I hear from confine their use of Acrobat (or other PDF creation tools) primarily to creating PDF files from Microsoft Office or other common file types in order to share the output with their clients.

This is generally accomplished through the use of e-mail or by uploading the files to an online client vault or lockbox. Security-conscious advisors typically use encryption to protect the PDF document before transmitting it to the client.

Acrobat is also commonly used to scan paper documents to the PDF format using Acrobat's built-in scanning interface so that the documents can be digitally archived. The process often involves making use of Acrobat's optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities so that metadata can be added to the document. This makes it possible to search for the document using the metadata at a later date.

Making A Great Impression
With Portfolios
Readers who are currently using Adobe Acrobat 8 may be familiar with PDF packages. A PDF package serves as a sort of virtual wrapper, allowing advisors to convert multiple files, which can be in different formats and created by different applications, and assemble them into a single integrated PDF unit. Through the use of PDF packages, files can retain their individual identities, while at the same time becoming a subset of an integrated PDF document.

PDF portfolios, new in Acrobat 9, take the concept of PDF wrappers to a whole new level. With Adobe's Flash technology, the PDF portfolios allow the advisor to make static documents much more appealing by adding graphics, audio, video, 3-D models and more. For example, an advisor could create a marketing portfolio with an introductory screen so that when the package is opened the user can see the branding of the firm along the top. It might include the firm name, a logo, a picture of the advisor, hot links to the firm's Web site and the advisor's e-mail address. Individual files included within the marketing portfolio might include a profile of the firm, a list of services offered and a map showing the firm's location. There could also be a hot link to set up an appointment or a video message from the advisor.

Behind the introductory page, the user would find a visual representation of each PDF file included in the portfolio. Version 9 offers a number of templates that make displaying the underlying files easy. One choice allows those viewing the portfolio to scroll through the underlying documents in a carousel mode. Another displays thumbnails of each individual file on a single screen.

If an advisor wanted to create a portfolio for potential clients, the package might contain a welcome letter, a new client checklist, an investment advisory agreement, new account forms and a client questionnaire. Using a PDF portfolio, the advisor could deliver all of these documents in a visually pleasing, easy-to-navigate package. These PDF portfolios can be visually stunning, yet they require no programming experience.

A Flash specialist can further customize and enhance design elements, though again no programming knowledge is required. The beauty of PDF portfolios is that anyone can open and view them, as long as they have the latest version of Adobe Reader (Version 9). We've set up a special demonstration of a PDF portfolio on the Financial Advisor Web site. To view a sample marketing portfolio supplied by Adobe that illustrates the possibilities of this new technology, please click here.

Leveraging Flash
A second new and impressive feature of Version 9 is that you can now convert many popular video formats to Flash to include in a PDF file or portfolio. For example, if you have a letter in PDF format opened in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended, you can click on the "multimedia" button on the toolbar, select "video tool," and the mouse pointer will display crosshairs. You place these where you want the video to appear, and you double-click the mouse. A dialogue box appears asking you what video file you want to insert. I selected an MOV file, which is an Apple QuickTime video file. Acrobat automatically converted the file to Flash and inserted it in my document.

There are a couple of advantages to using Adobe Acrobat in this way. The first is that anyone, even those without any technical experience, can now add video to all sorts of documents including letters, spreadsheets and slide presentations. The other advantage is you don't need to worry about video formats and players at the receiving end. Anyone who has Adobe Reader 9 will be able to open and view the document, as well as the video embedded in the document.

Slick On-Demand Presentations
Version 9 includes Adobe Presenter. This tool works in conjunction with Microsoft PowerPoint 2003 or 2007, enabling advisors to create high-quality, on-demand presentations in a single PDF file that can be saved locally or published to the Web. These presentations can include both audio and video. So for example, if you wanted to provide your clients with a weekly market commentary, you might lead off with a video of yourself welcoming viewers to the weekly update. You could then show a couple of slides with market indices, important financial news of the week, etc. As each slide appears on the screen, the client hears your voice providing commentary. Again, all that the client needs to experience this rich content is a copy of Adobe's free reader. Most already have it, but they will need to download the new one, Version 9.

Readers may think that creating this sort of content is beyond their technical skill set, but believe me, it's not. If you have a microphone and PowerPoint, you can create a presentation with audio. Have a Web cam? You can include video, too. Adobe Presenter automates the creation and publication of these presentations, hiding all the technical stuff behind a clear, simple interface. The only thing that takes a little time is authoring your "story," and outlining your audio script. So if you know how to use PowerPoint, you should be able to produce impressive PDF presentations in no time.

One challenge advisors face when collaborating with co-workers, virtual assistants, lawyers, CPAs, vendors and clients is document synchronization. If you've ever tried to work on an estate planning document with an attorney by fax or e-mail, you know what I mean. Countless drafts can move back and forth to address just a few paragraphs. Simply identifying the right word or phrase in a complex document can require an effort on the part of each party.

With Adobe's new service, currently in beta, two or more people can view the same document in real time. The session's initiator must have Adobe Acrobat 9 and perhaps a free account. All that is required of guests is Adobe Reader 9. To initiate collaboration, the initiator selects "share and collaborate live" from the "collaborate" drop-down menu. The initiator uploads the file to The meeting leader then enters the e-mail address of participants, and they are e-mailed an invitation to join the meeting.

The reviewers click on the link in the invite, log on to and download the file. The leader then enables document sharing, and a "collaborate live" toolbar appears on the screen of all meeting participants. This allows users to send instant messages about the document over the Web while the leader goes over the different sections.

Of course, you can also view and chat by telephone. The meeting leader can also pass control of the document to meeting reviewers so that they can control the document and edit source files.

Adobe has also enhanced the shared document review function that was in previous versions of the software. There is a wizard that eases the document distribution process as well as a central dashboard to track reviews. In the previous version, you needed your own server to host reviews, so this feature was of limited use to small advisory firms. Version 9, however, gives users the option of hosting the shared reviews on This change opens up the hosting of shared reviews to a much broader audience.

Another new collaboration feature is the "compare documents" function. This tool allows users to take two versions of a document and quickly identify the differences between them. So, for example, if you created a budget analysis last month, and someone at the firm updated it, you might want to quickly identify what has changed from the earlier version. Acrobat can produce a summary document that highlights everything that is different between the earlier document and the current one.
There are a number of other tools that also offers (in its beta version), that work seamlessly with Adobe Acrobat 9 to enhance the product's usefulness. As indicated earlier, you can publish PDF files and PDF portfolios to from directly within Adobe Acrobat 9, or you can use the Web interface to accomplish the same task. The site allows you to share files with others while maintaining control of them. In addition, you can use Adobe's new online word processor Buzzword to create documents and collaborate. You can also store files online and even initiate instant meetings using Adobe Connect Now for free.
As with all free sites of this sort, though, there are limitations. For example, free beta accounts are limited to 5 gigabytes of storage space and free meetings through are limited to three participants.

My early tests indicate that there are a few bugs still to be worked out on For example, I had trouble connecting to the site from directly within Adobe Acrobat, though I was able to connect using the Web interface without problems. When the final version is released, however, I think will be a hit. Adobe will probably offer "premium" accounts with additional capacity and capabilities at an additional charge once the beta test is completed.

What Else?
Besides these, there are numerous other new and improved features in Acrobat. For example, Adobe has enhanced its ability to create, manage and analyze forms. A wizard eases the chore of creating new forms out of existing ones, creating forms from templates or creating them from scratch. Users can now control access to forms and where they are hosted-you can host them on your own server or on When forms are returned filled out, a dashboard allows you to track their status. In addition, you can search, sort and filter the response data.

Redaction capabilities have been beefed up, too. Redaction allows you to strip sensitive data out of a document, perhaps print that is visible to the naked eye or metadata attached to the file. For example, if you have a document with a client's Social Security number on it and you have performed OCR (optical character recognition) on the document, the digital file will contain not only the visible print, but also the invisible metadata with the same information. If you were to digitally black out the Social Security number and send the file to someone without removing the metadata, someone else might be able to retrieve your client's Social Security number. The redaction tool can search for certain words (like "Social Security") and also for patterns (like numerals with the format ###-##-####). It can then remove both the data and the metadata.

Adobe has seen fit to enhance PDF file encryption. If you chose to use Adobe Acrobat's built-in file encryption for versions 7 or 8, the file was secured using the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The latest version ups the encryption to the 256-bit AES.

Users can also add two types of encryption to a PDF file: password or certification encryption. The former allows the user to assign a password and specify security options that restrict the opening, printing and/or editing of files. Certification encryption, meanwhile, allows only a specified set of users to access a document.

Finally, Version 9 offers new PDF map capabilities. These allow users to create, view and interact with maps in PDF format. A financial advisor might use these maps, for example, as part of a package that helps prospective clients find the advisor's office.

It's All About Communications

Numerous studies have shown that communication is a key to client retention, and Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro Extended creates new opportunities for advisors to do it better. In addition, the application enhances their ability to market effectively. Better collaborative tools, if used properly, can save a considerable amount of time. Tools like better forms handling and enhanced security add to the appeal of this new version.

If you already are using Adobe Acrobat, Pro Extended is a must-have upgrade. If you do not currently have a tool capable of producing PDF portfolios, rich presentations, collaborative spaces and the like, perhaps you should download a free trial version at and see what the new Acrobat can do for your practice.