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One Capable CRM Flying Under Most Advisors' Radar

Grendel Online aims to attract advisors with its full-featured, Web-based CRM.

Bill Winterberg, 01/12/2012

Advisors have a growing number of choices among Web-based CRM applications, from Salesforce, the 800-pound gorilla of enterprise CRM, to free and low-cost programs such as Batchbook and Zoho. According to Financial Planning Magazine's 2011 Technology Survey, released last month, Redtail (reviewed in May 2010) was the most widely used CRM application, Web or server based, according to the 3,200 surveyed advisors, with roughly one out of every three advisors responding that they use it.

One Web-based CRM application that did not garner enough votes to break out of the survey's "Other" category is Grendel Online, from Big Brian Works, LLC. But as you'll see from the review below, I don't believe that is due to a lack of features or functionality.

“We have primarily focused on the product and not the marketing aspect,” said Aaron Guidotti, chief executive of Big Brain Works. “We've spent years building some very massive relationships [with] which we are going full steam ahead.”

Grendel is not a new application in the advisor CRM marketplace. First available in the late 1990s, Grendel has largely stayed below the radar of most advisors. I recently sat down with my own demo account to get a good feel for Grendel's capabilities to share with you below.

Software Architecture
Grendel is built using Flex, a free, open-source application framework from Adobe Systems Inc., which is important for two reasons. First, Grendel screens and menus are rendered in standard Internet browsers using Adobe Flash Player software. This gives Grendel performance similar to that of desktop-installed applications; navigating around the Grendel platform does not require complete page rendering with HTML code each time a new screen is accessed.

However, the choice of Adobe Flash leads to one specific disadvantage, which is the fact that Grendel cannot be viewed on iOS devices such as the iPhone or iPad using the Safari Internet browser. Even the company homepage cannot be viewed properly on an iOS device due to the use of Flash. It is possible to cross-compile the Adobe Flex codebase into an app for iOS, Android™, and BlackBerry® Tablet OS, so a mobile app, while not available today, is likely to become a reality sometime in the near future.

"I expect that I will be showing off [a beta version of] our mobile app at the AICPA Advanced PFP conference. It will have the same support as our main application," Guidotti said. The AICPA Advanced PFP conference is scheduled for January 16-18, 2012 in Las Vegas.

Acclimating to Grendel
Grendel does what all CRM applications should do. Profiles are supported for clients, prospects, allied professionals, or any other kind of individual (which Grendel calls entities), with pertinent contact data displayed for each person. Other components include a calendar, a list of businesses and companies loaded in the system, a list of products (e.g., securities, mutual funds, annuities, etc.) appearing in the application, and a summary page specific to an advisor's business.

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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