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A Document Vault Your Clients Might Actually Use

File sharing services like Dropbox are easy to use, but one vendor combines ease of use with robust security features sought after by financial advisors.

Bill Winterberg, 03/08/2012

Advisors know that electronic documents containing sensitive information such as Social Security or investment account numbers should never be sent via unsecure e-mail. For the last decade or so, advisors have largely turned to online document vaults as an alternate way to securely exchange important files with clients and allied professionals. However, as I interact with advisors who manage practices of all different sizes, I continue to hear of one significant drawback with most document vault solutions available today: They’re just not that popular with clients.

To overcome clients' frustration with complicated vaults, some advisors have considered using Dropbox, a consumer-oriented file sharing and synchronization service approaching nearly 50 million users. Dropbox's success is due in large part to its simple interface and seamless integration with computers and mobile devices of all kinds, but the lack of robust administration and security management causes many advisors to think twice before using the utility to store and share sensitive client files.

ShareFile is one online document storage and sharing provider that aims to address advisors' concerns over security, while keeping the service easy to use for clients. ShareFile is based in Raleigh, N.C., and in October 2011 was acquired by Citrix Systems, which advisors will recognize for its popular GoToMeeting online meeting platform.

The ShareFile Experience
Advertised as "professional file sharing for desktops and mobile devices," ShareFile currently supports more than 20,000 corporate customers with 3.5 million users in more than 100 countries. ShareFile functions much like a shared network drive on an advisor's file server, but files saved to the service are stored on ShareFile's SSAE 16 (formerly SAS 70) audited data centers and are accessed over the Internet using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption.

During initial ShareFile configuration, advisors are given the opportunity to apply their custom branding to the service, something not possible with consumer file sharing services. Files stored in ShareFile may be accessed through the ShareFile website, and the URL can be customized to feature the advisor's branding (e.g., http://youradvisoryfirm.sharefile.com). The ShareFile login page can also include an advisor's logo and color scheme.

Once logged in using any modern Internet browser, ShareFile displays a standard file explorer interface much like Windows Explorer. Folders can be added to ShareFile by clicking an Add Folder button, and files can be uploaded to the folder currently displayed by clicking an Upload Files button. Advisors can either drag and drop files into the upload manager or open a file explorer window on their local computer to select specific files to upload.

Advisors will likely want to create individual folders in ShareFile for each client and allied professional with whom they want to share documents. Again, folders can be added manually, but ShareFile also offers a "white glove" service for an additional fee to facilitate initial setup, including a custom folder structure.

Advisors can also create ShareFile accounts on behalf of clients that are then linked to each client's shared folder. Client accounts can be added manually or by uploading an Excel spreadsheet containing basic client account information such as a name and e-mail address. When linking client accounts with folders, advisors can set access permissions to allow clients to download and upload documents, delete files in the folder, and send e-mail notifications for folder activity. Most consumer file sharing services do not support the ability to set and control these types of client access permissions for each folder.

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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