Implementing Technology

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

You don’t necessarily need the most cutting-edge technology to get to the top of your game. According to a recent study, you can start by leveraging the technology you already have.

Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services’ 2013 RIA Benchmarking Study reveals that high-performing firms—those in the top quartile for growth, profitability and productivity—focused on smart technology and adoption, not getting the latest and greatest. These high-performing firms focus on optimizing their technology in three areas: portfolio management, service, and client reporting.

Here are ten steps you can take to make sure you get the most from your technology.

  1. Make adoption a priority. Commit putting in the time and effort to learn how best to maximize all of the system’s features. If you can’t do it yourself, make someone else in your office accountable.
  2. Plan. Learning a new software program is like learning a new language. It’s hard to know where to start. Your technology provider should be able to give you an implementation guide to show you the steps to follow, and milestones to hit.
  3. Set aside time. If you don’t carve out time on your schedule, it isn’t going to happen.
  4. Network. There are relatively few programs out there that haven’t already been tried and tested by others in similar positions as yours. Talk to everyone you know who has gone through the implementation process and find out what they did and what they wished they had done better.
  5. Gather resources. Request an inventory of the training your technology provider makes available. Once you know what they have for support materials, you can choose the format that best matches your learning style.
  6. Optimize Your TechnologyGet names and numbers. You need to have key information handy in a few different areas. Know the software name, version number, and license holder so that when you call or go online for help you can be sure you are asking about the right program. Also know the names and numbers of customer support persons at your technology provider.
  7. Troll the internet. Use social media find online user groups or other social media sites that could provide helpful implementation hints. For example, there may be a LinkedIn User Group already established for the purposes of optimizing your software.
  8. Monitor progress. Perform periodic self-checks to monitor your progress towards the goals set in your implementation plan.
  9. Celebrate incremental success. Even if you haven’t learned everything there is to know, make note of how the technology improves your efficiency. Success is a powerful motivator and will prompt you to plow through your learning curve.
  10. Provide feedback. Software engineers constantly strive to innovate. If there is something you don’t like about your program or would like to see handled differently, let them know. You may just have a function named after you in the next version!

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Increasing Personal Effectiveness: Tips For Time Management

Beverly Flaxington, The Collaborative

In today’s world, with all of the advancements in technology, it seems advisors have less time in the day, but more to do! The problem is that we operate under the false assumption that if we “only had more time,” we’d be more effective. If advisors had more time, they would probably just fill it with more activities. The key is to look at time management not with the goal of harnessing time, but of becoming more effective at using what’s given to you.

Financial advisors who run their own businesses have a particular challenge – manage the staff, work with clients, watch the markets, find new prospects, figure out the budget, pay the bills and so on. Those who work for larger firms may not need to run the business, but they still have compliance requirements, internal meetings and the like. There are many things that “should” be addressed in any given day. And to-do lists only seem to get longer!

What are some keys to personal management to help advisors become more effective? Let’s look at three of them here:

  1. Take the time to list your goals and priorities. Before your month starts, or your week, or your day, make sure you have taken the time to list the top 3-5 things you simply must accomplish. Once you list them (and make sure you take the time to write them down), list the priorities associated with each one. For example, if increasing client referrals by 15% is a top priority this month, list what you need to do to accomplish this. Don’t leave the steps to chance. Your list could include: Hold an event, send out an email asking for referrals, speak with each client one-to-one, hold a client advisory board meeting, etc. As your tasks accumulate during the day, week and month, be sure that your list always has your top priorities on it also. Do the things that come along, but never at the expense of your priorities. Instead of a general to-do list, have a to-do list in priority order. This can help you to stay focused on the highest-gain things.
  2. Know what you do well and stick to your knitting! Too many times we try to be all things to all people. The truth is that we all have our strong suits in some areas, and our weaknesses in others. Behavioral styles show us that while we may be excellent at data and quality control, for example, we may not be as comfortable trying to close the deal with a prospect. Or, while I might enjoy the camaraderie of being with my team because I am a people person, I may not like filling out the forms for compliance requirements. It’s important to self-identify what you are good at and what you like to do, and then find ways to delegate those things you are not so good at. For those things that are not strengths – or that you simply don’t enjoy – there are many options: Outsource. Identify team members with different strengths than yours and delegate. Determine whether you absolutely have to do the task in the first place.
  3. Be critical of your time wasters. We all have them. There are things you do that you know you shouldn’t. There is the client who doesn’t pay you well but who calls to talk your ear off several times a week. There is the market report you don’t really need to read, but you enjoy perusing. There is the site you find interesting, but that isn’t on your list of priority items. There is your “open-door” policy that employees have started to abuse. It’s important to note during the day where you spend time on things that aren’t contributing to your priorities. Keep a journal. Create an Excel spreadsheet with 15-minute time blocks, and keep track of where your time goes. Review it to find those places when you can steal back some of your own time. Then get rigorous about using your time in the most beneficial ways. You might have to say “no” to things you’d like to do. You might have to make difficult choices in what you focus on. You might have to give up a favorite activity, like reading those market reports. There is time for everything that’s important, but only if you give up those things that really aren’t making a difference to the success of your practice.

Before the next week starts, take the time to think about any or all of these ideas. Can you make a commitment to approach time differently so that your personal and professional productivity rises? Even for the most time-efficient among us, there is always the chance to find new ways to take back your time.

Block It Out

Distractions are a major issue every financial professional must battle.  Although technology is pigeon of distraction, it can also be used to help you regain focus.

Bombarded by interruption technology while trying to give clients individual attention and run a successful practice, many advisors feel overwhelmed.

Interruption technology comes in many forms such as e-mail, text messages, Tweets, and Facebook pokes.  While these tools have helped us gain effectiveness in some respects, it has diminished productivity by other measures.

 Think you are multitasking?  Think again.

As its name implies, multitasking involves completing different tasks simultaneously, with the end goal of increased productivity. If you can generate a proposal while on hold with a client, you have successfully multitasked. While we used to extol multitasking abilities, the term falls short in describing what most advisors are doing today.  They are not multitasking.

Most of us switch-task, not multitask.  Our attentions are pulled from one task and drawn, most frequently by interruption technology, in another direction.

If you are composing an e-mail explaining a complex financial strategy and you impulsively toggle over to ESPN.com for last night’s scores, you have switch-tasked.  It could take several minutes to regain your focus on the e-mail, hence a decrease in productivity.  If you are Tweeting while talking to your client on your cell phone, your client is probably aware that you are listening with only half an ear.  Eventually, your retention rates will suffer.

It’s easy for us to think we can seamlessly jump from one task to the next and give everything our full attention, but we cannot.  Our brains are not hard-wired for switch-tasking.

The University of Kent sought to establish the impact of switch-tasking.  They set up an eyeball-tracking camera to monitor eye movements of 100 people.  The participants read passages on computer screens and while reading, they were interrupted with one-minute tasks, such as phone calls or e-mails.   After the interruption, they went back to their reading.

Once interrupted, it took participants 17% more time to read the original passage than if they read it straight through.

Block Distractions

There are many ways you can shield yourself from distracting digital stimuli.

You can tend to e-mail only at certain times, turn-off your mobile device, and schedule your social networking engagements. You can download productivity software to block Internet distractions.  Programs such as Freedom, Isolator, LeechBlock, Menu Eclipse, Think and Turn Off the Lights, and Anti-Social serve much like parental controls.  For many of these programs, you set an amount of time that you want to work uninterrupted, and the software blocks unwanted content during that time period. Also, many word-processing packages like Ulysses, Scrivener, WriteRoom, Dark Room and Writespace, offer full-screen, no-distraction modes.

The rationale behind these is a clear computer helps clear the mind.  If you are shielded from interruption, you can tackle the task at hand.

The bottom line is this:  if left unchecked, technology can get the best of you.   Exert control over your technology so that it adds value, helps you improve the client experience, and makes you more productive.