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A First Look at Upswing Virtual Office

New CRM software lacks polish, but packs potential.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 09/14/2006

Client relationship management is a perennially hot topic among readers of my columns and rightly so. It can be argued that CRM software is the single most important component of any successful practice.

Intuitively, this makes sense, because the financial-advisory business is primarily a people business. There is overwhelming evidence that the relationship is the glue that binds clients to their advisors. It is not the firm you work for. It is not even performance. It is the relationship. To establish and nurture good client relationships, the right CRM software is essential to a practice.

There are numerous ways that one can slice and dice the many CRM programs available on the market today, but the two most useful metrics are target audience (general vs. industry-specific programs) and platform (desktop/server-based programs vs. Web-based application service providers, or ASPs). While there are exceptions, advisors would be best served by an program designed for financial planners. The decision as to whether your software should reside on your hardware or someone else's is often a difficult one, but there's no doubt that the ASP model offers users many benefits.

A new, soon-to-be-released CRM product that I've recently been testing meets both of these conditions. Upswing Virtual Office is designed for advisors and it's Web-based. In all fairness to Upswing, I may be jumping the gun here a bit because the version I used was labeled Upswing alpha, but the firm's blog leads me to believe that it has already progressed to the beta stage. In any event, I want you, my loyal readers, to be among the first to know about this interesting new application

Before I tried out the application myself, I received a brief demonstration of the product from Alexander Turnbull, Upswing's VP of sales and marketing. Turnbull told me that Upswing Virtual Office has been in development for two years. The goal of the company was to produce an easy-to-use CRM system that advisors and their employees could master in less than a day. They initially had large ensemble firms of 20 to 30 people in mind, but now targeting smaller firms in the one- to 10-user range as well.

With ease of use being the primary objective, Turnbull says, Upswing realized early on that it could not compete with the depth and breadth of features that comprehensive programs such as Junxure-i and ProTracker Advantage provide. Rather, Upswing attempted to build a program that could compete with the likes of ACT!, Microsoft Outlook, Goldmine, and ACT4Advisors.

User Interface
The interface is intuitive and user friendly. Four tabs link users to the four main sections of the program: My Home, Calendar, Activities, and Contacts. The left navigation bar, which remains as users move from tab to tab, includes three sections: a contact search field, shortcuts, and a "quick contact" section for adding contacts.

My Home offers a summary of tasks and events. Firms can display a company discussion board here, along with a box for posting messages to the board. A drop-down list allows users to control the information displayed. For example, I can view all pending items, or just today's, tomorrow's, or all archived items.

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