When it comes to advisor technology, there are always new tools to add to your practice and help you run your business more efficiently. Some of these platforms or software may be client-facing, helping us communicate key concepts, deliver a better client experience and add more value. Yet not every aspect of a client's financial life can be managed by an advisor or by advisor-centric technology, and clients need tools to help them stay on top of their finances, avoid cyberthreats, and make sure they're not overpaying for goods and services.
The following tools are worth using not only by clients, but also by fellow advisors as part of their personal financial tech stack.
Password Management and General Cybersecurity Many of us endeavor to implement cybersecurity best practices in our businesses, but educating clients and our peers to use these practices in our personal lives is equally important. In today's day and age, everyone should be using a password manager. Programs like LastPass and OnePassword help clients create unique, complex, and randomly generated passwords for each of the online tools they use and store these passwords in a single encrypted location accessible with a master password. This helps reduce the chances of clients using the same password for multiple sites, or writing all of their passwords down in a notebook that could be lost or stolen. Password managers also serve as excellent estate planning tools, as many platforms have built-in features to allow a trusted contact (such as a client's spouse or child) to access their password database in an emergency or after they're gone. This can be particularly helpful when a client is managing an estate, as they not only have access to the deceased's online accounts, but also to an inventory of all existing accounts.
Another crucial element of cybersecurity is multifactor authentication. All advisors should have this feature enabled on their personal accounts (where available) and encourage clients to do the same. With multifactor authentication, you can significantly reduce the chances of someone gaining unauthorized access to your or a client's online information (such as an email or financial account), even if a password has been compromised, by having a randomly generated code sent via a mobile app or text message.
Expense Tracking and Online Shopping Everyone should be tracking their personal expenses, including advisors and clients for whom cash flow isn't a significant concern. The reason for this simple: Should the need arise, it is difficult (if not impossible) to change habits if you don't know what they are. This is just as true for clients who could benefit from spending more money as it is for those who need to spend less. Though some may be resistant to the idea, it need not be complex or time consuming. Online personal financial management tools such as Mint.com and You Need a Budget have aggregation platforms that allow clients to link financial accounts and automatically pull in and categorize transactions. Others may prefer the old-fashioned method of simply keeping a manual record in Microsoft Excel. Whatever your preference, so long as expenses are actually being tracked, there are digital tools to make the process less of a chore.
When shopping online, clients may be used to searching for available coupons when checking out. However, with a handy tool called Honey, this work is done automatically, with the browser extension searching for and applying different coupon codes on every purchase to ensure clients are getting the best deal. It can also track price history on Amazon.com, letting you know if the price for a particular item is currently below its historical average, has recently spiked, or if the same item is being offered for a lower price by another Amazon seller.
Credit Monitoring After the 2017 Equifax data breach, clients are rightfully concerned about their personal information falling into the wrong hands. While there are plenty of paid credit monitoring services on the market, many are overpriced, created by the credit bureaus themselves, or both. Thankfully there are free tools available, such as Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, that will provide free credit scores using the VantageScore 3.0 model, as well is information directly from your credit reports. While it's always a good idea for clients to check their actual reports for free once a year via the government-authorized annualcreditreport.com, free credit monitoring tools are a convenient way to check more frequently. They also will alert clients if a new account has been opened in their name, or an inquiry has been made on one of their credit reports (a useful tool to stop fraud before it becomes a bigger problem).
Insurance Quotes Many clients with life insurance needs stand to benefit from simple term life policies, and while advisors may be adept at recommending an appropriate type and amount of coverage, it can be a challenge to help clients get a policy at the best possible price, particularly for those with a fee-only business model. Online tools such as Policygenius make it easy for clients to compare quotes for various amounts of coverage and term lengths, and even include quotes for other forms of insurance such as disability, health, auto, and more. For clients with a clean medical history (and particularly for younger clients), online insurance brokerage tools such as Haven Life offer significant convenience, allowing many clients to obtain term life coverage up to $1 million entirely online. For those requesting coverage above $1 million or if a medical exam is required, Haven will pay for a paramedic to come to your client's home or office to complete the underwriting process.
Financial Planning and Investment Performance When it comes to checking in on their financial plan and investment accounts, clients should be logging into one location: your client portal. Whether provided as part of your financial planning or portfolio management software, or as a standalone software tool, your client portal should serve as the hub of your digital relationship with the client. Ideally clients should be able to keep track of tasks assigned to them and other key action items related to their financial lives within your portal. This can also be a great way to show value provided over time beyond portfolio management, with a reviewable and detailed multiyear history of tasks you've helped them accomplish or completed yourself to improve their financial well being. In the future, financial planning and portfolio management platforms may even incorporate all of the aforementioned personal financial tools into a client-facing portal, becoming a true personal financial management platform provided by advisors. Until then, it's critically important to ensure your client portal is providing the information and resources your clients need, so that they aren't having to rely on third-party planning and performance reporting solutions that may be in direct competition with you.
All of these tools could prove useful to clients in helping them manage their financial lives, though there are certainly many more available in a growing Fintech landscape. Consider conducting a thoughtful review of the software and technology you already use in your own financial life as an advisor, and how those same tools may benefit your clients. Whether through a blog post, email newsletter, or direct advice, educating clients on how to make the digital aspect of managing their personal finances easier is one more way to provide a fantastic client experience.
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.