The Best Advisor Technology Tools for 2018
Consider adding the following technology tools to your practice to maximize efficiency.
As 2017 comes to close, advisors are reflecting on the past 12 months and preparing for a new year. Those looking to improve their practices are undoubtedly reviewing their current technology stack, eager to determine which tools to add, keep, or replace. Though there are an increasing number of exciting new services within the financial technology space, the most innovative and impactful tools arguably come from outside our industry. The following solutions offer a unique balance between value and great design and are worth exploring to maximize efficiency in 2018.
Perhaps the best way to immediately improve your firm's security, LastPass is a password management platform with both individual and enterprise licensing options. Sharing secure, complex passwords among employees is a breeze, and the included browser extensions make it easy to log into the countless web services we now use without interrupting your workflow. You or your IT manager can create a centralized database of shared user credentials and add/remove users, while each user gets his or her own secure vault for private passwords. LastPass will also automatically generate lengthy, secure passwords for you, as well as analyze your current passwords to determine which may be too weak. Two-factor authentication can be enabled for all users, and all passwords are stored using AES-256 bit encryption. For only $2 - $4 per user per month, LastPass is a great value considering the level of security it can bring to your business.
Financial Planning: RightCapital
Previously I'd hailed RightCapital as the future of financial planning software, and I'm still bullish on the platform. The pace at which the company is improving its offering is impressive, having launched three new integrations and four updates since I last reviewed the product in October. RightCapital is easily the most balanced financial planning software, capable of completing complex planning calculations in real-time, while presenting results in a format clients can understand. The tax engine is powerful, with the ability to generate an example IRS Form 1040 and other schedules for any future plan year. While some advisors may prefer even more control over plan variables afforded by a solution such as eMoney, it is highly likely that RightCapital will achieve the same level of granularity in the near future given the current pace of enhancements, while maintaining a better overall advisor and client experience. For $100-$150 per month, it remains one of the best values in planning software, with the potential to become a true personal financial management platform for advisors.
Data Collection: Typeform
Typeform remains my favorite tool for collecting non-sensitive client information, for one simple reason: design. No other form-building solution combines ease of use with such a beautiful end-user experience. Completing a Typeform feels more like having a conversation than suffering through a lengthy survey, and the simple yet sophisticated design options allow you to customize the look and feel to match your brand. While it's not yet suited to collecting sensitive client information such as social security numbers, it's perfect for prospective client applications, client satisfaction surveys, risk tolerance questionnaires, and much more. While Typeform offers a basic version of the platform for free, most will likely want the feature set available in their Pro plan at $35 per month ($30 per month if paid annually).
Workflow Automation: Zapier
Perhaps the most impactful tool on this list, Zapier is also a joy to use. With an intuitive "if this, then that" logic, Zapier makes it easy for anyone to connect different technology tools and automate workflows without learning how to code. Prospective clients can be automatically added to your CRM software, email follow-ups can be sent on their own, and data entry that used to take hours can now be handled without demands on your or your team's time. Zapier integrates with more than 750 web apps, allowing you to connect the previously independent technology tools you already use within your practice and automate basic tasks. The basic plan is free for simple one-to-one connections, while the premium plan is $20 per month and includes multiapp connections with more complex workflows.
Scheduling meetings with clients, prospects, and other professionals often requires multiple points of contact to find a mutually agreeable time. Over the course of a year, this back-and-forth can add up to many hours (perhaps even days) that could be devoted to other projects. Calendly eliminates this wasted time by integrating with your calendar, and allowing someone to book a meeting with you directly. Simply send them a link or embed your calendar on your website, and you'll be able to focus on preparing for your meetings rather than scheduling them. You can also customize event types with specific rules for when certain meetings can be scheduled, how many can be scheduled in a given day, and add buffers between meetings. Calendly offers three pricing tiers, including a free version with basic functionality, an $8 per month premium version with unlimited event types and the ability to remove Calendly branding, and a $12 per month pro version that adds Salesforce and Stripe integrations.
Productivity/Content Management: Office 365
One of the best values on this list, Microsoft's Office 365 for business combines the latest versions of the productivity software with which we're all familiar (Word, Excel, etc.) and a suite of online services and add-ons that can help your practice remain compliant and achieve scale. With SharePoint Online (included in all Business Essentials, Business Premium, and Enterprise plans) users can create a highly organized document and knowledge management system via a customized intranet. Firm policies and procedures can be neatly organized into your own wiki library, and link to other related procedures with included video tutorials to make onboarding new employees a breeze. MileIQ, acquired by Microsoft in 2015, is included in Business Premium and Enterprise plans, and allows you and team members to effortlessly track and report deductible business mileage via your existing mobile device. All business plans include 1TB of cloud storage via OneDrive, and with Skype for Business calling plans, you can run your entire phone system through your Office 365 subscription. A single user might pay $12.50 per month for a Business Premium plan, or $40 per month for an Enterprise E3 plan with Skype calling add-ons, which is a steal considering it includes a full productivity suite, VoIP phone system, SharePoint intranet, and much more. Some may prefer the simplicity of Google Apps for Business, but for power users who want to achieve scale, Microsoft is still tough to beat.
Whatever technology you decide to explore in the new year, make sure it fits your business, user, and client needs. For those looking to maximize efficiency and spend more time helping clients, it's difficult to go wrong with the aforementioned tools.
Ben Brown is a certified financial planner and an IRS-enrolled agent. He is the founder of Entelechy, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm based in Bethesda, Maryland, serving clients in the Washington, D.C., area and nationally.
The author is a freelance contributor to Morningstar.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.