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Save Time, Reduce Errors with Text Expanders

Much of advisors' daily, repetitive typing can be streamlined with these tools.

Bill Winterberg, 07/14/2011

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Next to meeting clients in person and over the phone, advisors likely spend much of their day composing messages and documents using a computer. Much of the information advisors type is done to create financial plans, update client investment policy statements, and compose any number of new e-mail messages and replies.

Throughout the course of each day, advisors find that many of the things they type are repetitive, from simple entries such as addresses and phone numbers to lengthy information like agenda outlines for upcoming client meetings. Fortunately, much of this repetitive typing can be streamlined by using tools called text expanders.

What Are Text Expanders?
Text expanders are programs installed on a computer that substitute predefined strings of words, sentences, or even complete paragraphs into a document in place of special keywords and phrases. Many of these programs also feature macros, or programmed rules, that can be used to enter variable text strings, including the current date, time, and even the solution to a simple one-line arithmetic equation, dynamically into a document.

Advisors using Microsoft Outlook are likely familiar with the concept of text expanders through the e-mail program's AutoText (in Outlook 2003) and Quick Parts (in Outlook 2007) features. AutoText and Quick Parts are commonly used to insert custom signature entries into an e-mail message window. However, the primary drawback of expanders like AutoText and Quick Parts is that they only work when composing documents in Microsoft Office programs, including Outlook and Word. Advisors who might want to enter their custom signature lines or other predefined text into CRM, financial planning software, or even a website in their Internet browser are unable to do so with application-specific text expanders.

Program agnostic text expanders are particularly useful because they run as a process in the background of the computer's operating system, always looking for special keywords and phrases to be typed. When a special keyword is entered, text expanders automatically replace the recognized keyword with the corresponding predefined string, eliminating the need to copy and paste text from another source or manually selecting a string from a program menu dropdown list.

Text Expanders in Action
Here are a few basic examples that demonstrate the capabilities of text expanders. Inserting the current date into a client letter or as part of a filename is a fairly common substitution. Instead of manually typing the current date, a text expander might recognize the special keyword "ddate" and subsequently replace the keyword with the date, for example, "July 14, 2011." It's important that keywords like "ddate" be unique to minimize the chances that the text expander utility will accidentally replace legitimate text when typing normally.

When dates are included in a filename, they are typically typed in numerically as "year month date" and not spelled out as in the above example. In that case, a keyword can be defined in the text expander's settings, say "ymd" for example, which then substitutes the date formatted as "20110714." A text substitution like this may be particularly useful to scanner operators in a paperless office who find they type the current date repeatedly throughout the day when scanning in and naming new documents.
Types of Text Expanders
There are a number of text expanders available today, offered at different price points and for different operating systems. They include:

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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