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Next Generation CRM: Powered by Social

CRMs powered by social collaboration and real-time updates could be the next game-changer in the industry.

Bill Winterberg, 02/13/2014

Facebook, the social networking behemoth with 1.23 billion users, celebrated its 10-year anniversary this month. How did a website programmed in Mark Zuckerberg's Harvard dorm room become the force in society that it is today?

I can think of one reason why Facebook continues to dominate the social media ecosystem. Despite increasing trepidation over advertising techniques and changes to privacy policies, Facebook remains the primary website where users can quickly survey the activities and updates of others who are part of their own personal network.

With social news and activity feeds so popular among consumers, businesses should leverage the attributes of social collaboration and information discovery to reveal new opportunities of their own. 

One startup is diving into the social business market head first with the introduction of a social-powered CRM: Wealthbox CRM by Gotham Tech Labs.

The Advisor's Social Business
Adding social networking elements to an advisor's business isn't a new concept. As early as 2008, I advocated advisors observe client activity on social networks to identify opportunities to provide proactive contact (e.g., offer congratulations when clients post job promotion details to their LinkedIn profile). And in 2010, Orion Advisor Services added social collaboration elements to its platform to keep back-office employees up to date on daily business activity (see Your Back Office Gets Social).

But what Gotham Tech Labs is poised to do with Wealthbox CRM has the potential to take the advisor's social business to the next level.

Gotham Tech Labs is a startup based in New York City led by founder and CEO John Rourke. Rourke brings a variety of experience in web development, finance, and private equity. Some advisors may be familiar with Upswing CRM, one of Rourke's earlier products targeted to financial services professionals in the mid-2000s.

Gotham Tech Labs' first product, Wealthbox CRM, has been in private beta for over a year, with the official launch just announced at the T3 Conference, Advisor Edition earlier this week in Anaheim, Calif.

Wealthbox CRM Dashboard
Before Wealthbox CRM, the closest thing advisors had to a "social CRM" was the use of plugins for email programs. Services such as Newsle, Rapportive, and Outlook Social Connector created a column alongside an email message that displayed aggregated social updates related to the primary contact of the message.

When first logging in to Wealthbox, advisors see a social feed prominently displayed in the center of the screen. The feed contains items one would expect on a social networking website: notes, tasks, emails, meetings, and more related to the advisor and his/her clients. A text box appears at the top of the feed where advisors can update their own status.

Just as in other social platforms, advisors can type in contact names to tag them in the update. The visibility of the update can be restricted to predefined groups or shared with everyone in the organization. Also, colleagues can be added to an update so they receive a notification once the update is posted. These status update features should sound very familiar to Facebook users. 

To the right of the social feed is a column identifying any upcoming events, a list of the advisor's open tasks, and a list of upcoming opportunities previously identified by the advisor.

Maintaining Client Connections
From any status update, advisors can click on contact names that are hyperlinked to view the full contact profile. All the standard CRM fields are present (name, address, phone number, etc.), and a list of recent status updates relevant to the contact are shown below.

Contacting clients from the contact record is very easy. Obviously clicking a contact's email address opens up a new email message composition window (Outlook and Google Apps are currently supported), and clicking the client's phone number activates an integrated click-to-call feature.

No dialing is necessary, as a voice-over-IP (VoIP) integration handles the connection behind the scenes, and when the phone conversation concludes, Wealthbox CRM automatically updates the contact record with evidence a conversation took place. The auto-update feature is great for compliance, and advisors can easily add custom notes at their discretion.

Circling back to the social plugins mentioned earlier, advisors can connect contact records with LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, allowing Wealthbox CRM to automatically gather the contact's status updates to display alongside their profile. That prevents advisors from having to switch Web browser tabs just to stay up to date on social updates by their contacts. Connections with Facebook and Google+ accounts are on the Wealthbox CRM roadmap, according to Rourke.

Like any good CRM, Wealthbox CRM has a solid built-in calendar to manage internal company meetings as well as meetings with clients and prospects. Rourke anticipates that two-way synchronization with Google Calendar will be released in the near future to extend the calendar's utility beyond the Wealthbox CRM environment. In other words, any application or service compatible with Google Calendar, such as meeting scheduling software, would by extension be compatible with the Wealthbox CRM calendar.

Because Wealthbox CRM is built for financial service professionals, Rourke has already established integrations with several of the leading technology providers serving independent RIAs and broker-dealers. Integrations announced at the time of general release include Albridge, MoneyGuidePro, Laser App, and Quik! Forms, and Rourke anticipates adding integrations with custodians and broker-dealers in the months ahead.

Activity Streams
The core features of any good CRM include contact records, task management, and a robust calendar, but I want to return to what really sets Wealthbox CRM apart in my mind: activity streams.

I've already mentioned the feeds Wealthbox CRM retrieves about contacts from social networking websites. Remember, too, that advisors and employees can use the activity stream to collaborate and share information about internal firm activities.

Today, advisors may be experimenting with third-party collaboration platforms such as Jive, Yammer, or Chatter from Salesforce for internal chats and discussions without flooding others' email inboxes. Although Chatter is generally well integrated into Salesforce CRM, advisors using CRMs from Redtail, Junxure, Grendel Online, and others might find integrating collaboration platforms too inconvenient to generate any meaningful return on productivity. With Wealthbox CRM, collaboration feels like a natural extension of the CRM.

In addition, activity streams can be used to connect with financial planning and portfolio management software, broker-dealer and custodian interfaces, as well as third-party content publishers. These connections generate a lot of possibilities in the way advisors can monitor and respond to alerts and updates generated by external systems. For example, a large cash deposit or withdrawal can automatically create a post to an advisor's feed, so no time is wasted switching to one's portfolio management software application and searching through prior transactions for activity.

I offered just one example of how the activity streams can be leveraged, but the point here is that advisors can stay focused in their CRM without having to constantly navigate away for periodic updates of activity and production in the office.

Mobile Apps
Advisors out of the office can also conduct many of the same activities in Wealthbox CRM using the custom mobile app. As this article went to press, Gotham Tech Labs anticipated publishing a free "full-featured companion mobile app" for iOS and Android. Unfortunately I was not able to test the app with my iPhone or iPad prior to this column's deadline, so I'm not able to comment about specific differences in functionality or access.

As online CRMs contain so much personal and confidential information, Wealthbox CRM follows industry-standard security practices to protect users' data. The program uses 256-bit encryption for data in transit and at rest, two-factor authentication is supported to strengthen the login process, and strict session timeout guidelines are enforced. In addition to these security practices, Wealthbox CRM operates on infrastructure from Rackspace and Amazon EC2, further benefiting from the hardened systems of these well-regarded providers.

To coincide with the general release to the public, introductory subscriptions to Wealthbox CRM are available for $29 per month per user. No additional fees are charged to leverage integrations or use the mobile apps. This puts Wealthbox CRM in a sweet spot among competing CRM providers in financial services. Wealthbox CRM is roughly one third the price of Junxure's $75 per user per month retail fee for its new cloud CRM offering, but it is more expensive than Redtail CRM for offices of three or more users, as Redtail CRM charges a flat $65 per database to support increments of 15 users. Nevertheless, price is but one of many factors to consider when comparing CRM solutions, and the utility of the social and activity streams evident in Wealthbox CRM establishes a new bar to which other CRMs can aspire.

The nature of an advisor's business has always been based on collaboration and the exchange of information. For better or for worse, social networks have evolved to provide more efficient ways to receive, process, and execute on that information. From what I have seen in the initial release, Wealthbox CRM will undoubtedly allow financial advisors to strengthen relationships in new ways with clients powered by the effect of social collaboration.

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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