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Enhance Service and Profits With Workflows

Creating workflows for your firm's internal processes can boost efficiency and profits, all while keeping clients satisfied.

Bill Winterberg, 01/10/2013

Delivering investment and financial advisory services to clients continues to become more complex year after year. Advisors must constantly revise their internal processes to adapt to changes in the investment landscape, tax and regulatory law, and client expectations.

Following such processes is essential in the delivery of consistent and efficient service, but few advisors have formal workflow procedures of any kind established within their firms. Systematized workflow assures that the same steps are followed for routine activities, no matter who is responsible for completing the work.

Creating an entire workflow system from scratch is a daunting proposition, so one company is helping advisors accelerate their use of workflow to meet the demands of the ever-changing financial services industry.

From Personal to Network
Founded in September 2009 by financial planner Deborah Fox, the Fox Financial Planning Network™ (FFPN) is a workflow system coupled with a robust information resource center. Fox is well known in the financial services industry, recognized in particular for her extensive knowledge of college funding strategies developed for a separate business she founded 15 years ago, Fox College Funding®, LLC.

Throughout her nearly 30 years of experience as an advisor, Fox developed internal workflow procedures and resources used in her firm for everyday activities, from the straightforward to the complex. When the Great Recession and credit crisis of 2007-2008 reversed the growth trend of many advisory firms, Fox recognized that her workflow system could be used by others to help them recover and boost their bottom line, while at the same time improve the consistency and quality of advice delivered. Thus, the Fox Financial Planning Network was born.

Network Materials
FFPN is a combination of a product, service, and a community. FFPN's primary product is the documented Workflow System and associated training modules, including over 100 individual processes used for client meetings and back-office activities. FFPN delivers workflow documentation using a PDF Portfolio, which contains a collection of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files related to 11 main meeting types:

--Prospective Client Meeting (both in person and over the phone)
--Initial Planning Meeting
--Investment Planning Meeting
--Insurance and Spending Meeting
--Estate Planning and Charitable Giving Meeting
--Financial Independence (Retirement) Plan Meeting
--Readiness to Retire Meeting
--Financial Plan Delivery Meeting
--Social Security and Medicare Planning
--Small Business Retirement Planning
--Client Progress (Annual Review) Meeting

An overview of each meeting type is provided in a single-page document, identifying the four meeting components: the purpose, agenda, resources, and general workflow. Resources for the meeting types include both internal documents used by the firm as well as documents to be shared with clients. These documents are packaged together in the FFPN PDF Portfolio, providing quick reference to all supporting materials, such as flowchart diagrams, detailed written procedures, and spreadsheet templates.

Scripts are also included with the meeting resources, providing talking points and tips that advisors can use to lead clients through the financial planning process. All of the template materials can be customized to fit the needs of an advisory firm.

"We took years to develop these resources for our own practice, and then we made generic versions that member advisors can customize for their own firm according to how they choose to provide services," said Fox.

Network Service
FFPN delivers more than just Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents covering a variety of procedures. Members receive access to eight video training sessions recorded by Fox to watch over a six-month period. Since the training videos are on-demand, members can proceed at their own pace. Members also have the option to purchase monthly one-on-one consulting and/or coaching sessions from Fox, if they desire personal instruction.

Training for admins and assistants is included at no extra charge. The admin training modules illustrate how to access the FFPN resources and customize them for a firm's specific needs. Any new workflows or updates to existing workflows published to FFPN are available to all current members. Also, FFPN offers toll-free customer support during regular business hours should any issues be encountered with the published materials.

Network Community
In addition to published materials and service support, FFPN members gain access to community forums where ideas and discussions are freely shared. Members are invited to participate in a live, one-hour online group session hosted by Fox each month. Fox uses the sessions to address timely financial planning topics, answer member questions, and introduce new features and resources published to FFPN. Periodically, Fox invites subject matter experts to share their knowledge on topics ranging from taxes and compliance to marketing and practice management.

Later this year, Fox plans to add online discussion groups that FFPN members can use to interact with peers, all moderated and facilitated by FFPN staff.

FFPN Integrations
If the majority of FFPN content is in the form of PDF Portfolios, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, how do the resources fit in with the technology? The key is through the technology integrations Fox recently secured with several CRM software providers. FFPN members can now automatically populate pre-programmed workflows into select CRM programs instead of manually entering them one-by-one.

The two CRMs now offering FFPN workflow support are Redtail (see: A Popular CRM Gets an Upgrade) and Grendel Online (see: One Capable CRM Flying Under Most Advisors' Radar). Upon request, the CRM provider adds all of the pre-programmed workflows once an advisor's membership with FFPN is verified. Pre-programmed workflows are also planned for Junxure Cloud following its anticipated release in the first quarter of 2013. After initial installation, CRM users can update and customize the pre-programmed workflows to match the firm's specific processes.

Note that the capability and complexity of the workflows depends on the core functionality supported by the CRM. For example, workflow in Redtail operates in a linear fashion. In other words, workflows are defined as a series of sequential steps, and the workflow moves through the steps one-by-one as each is completed. While there are some subtle differences in workflow functionality offered by Redtail and Grendel Online, the CRMs largely offer advisors the ability to consolidate, systematize, and monitor workflow in the program they use each and every day.

Maintaining and updating workflows in CRM is straightforward. As FFPN publishes workflow updates, members can choose to accept the updates and overwrite existing workflows or create a copy of existing workflows to preserve their own customization and merge updates manually.

For most workflow systems (and software in general), minimizing friction to adoption is essential. The CRM integrations allow advisors to start quickly with FFPN workflows, experiment with pre-programmed processes, and customize steps where appropriate. Not only that, but the integration potentially saves advisors hundreds of hours of initial effort over attempting to design, program, and test custom workflows on their own.

CRM integration is just one component of the FFPN benefits, as users of other CRM software can still benefit tremendously from the resources and guides provided. Sure, using FFPN templates with other CRM software will require manual updates, but advisors won't be starting entirely from scratch in the design of their workflows.

Keep in mind that FFPN offers more than just pre-configured workflow templates installed in CRM software. "Connecting all the moving parts of a practice truly brings everything to life," Fox said. "The FFPN system provides advisors with step-by-step instruction on how to use technology and their firm's human capital to integrate and systematize everything that both staff and advisors do for their clients."

Becoming an FFPN Member
Retail pricing for the first year of FFPN membership is approximately $5,600, which is the sum of a one-time initial payment plus 10 monthly payments. One-on-one consulting with Fox can be added for an additional $2,400, based on availability. After the first 11 months of membership, ongoing monthly membership fees are $149, which grant full access to the resource center, live group discussions with Fox and other members, and practice management discussion groups held each quarter.

Membership fees are assessed for each advisor, and as stated before, FFPN does not charge additional fees for training and use by administrative and support staff. CPA practitioners who are members of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Personal Financial Planning section are eligible for discounted and customized versions of the FFPN tools, which include resources specific for tax and accounting professionals.  Also, firms wishing to enroll multiple advisors receive reduced pricing for each additional advisor. Finally, no additional fees are charged for the integrations with Redtail or Grendel Online.

Financial advisors can be more efficient by removing non-essential steps from internal processes and procedures, and doing so saves time and increases profitability for the firm. Creating workflows and documenting consistent, repeatable tasks establishes formal processes that everyone in the firm can follow.

"What sets us apart is that we provide advisors and their staff with ready-made, customizable templates for how to prepare for, deliver, and follow up after each client meeting, and then share how to successfully integrate all the components of their practice with technology and systems," Fox added.

Fortunately, advisors don't need to spend countless hours creating, testing, and revising hundreds of their own workflows from scratch. Instead, they can leverage the experience of seasoned advisors like Deborah Fox and begin with proven examples and templates from the Fox Financial Planning Network right away.

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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