When it Comes to Technology, Do Advisors and Vendors Speak the Same Language?

Familiar scenes:

  • During a vendor’s demonstration, the advisor asks if certain information is available. The vendor happily replies yes.  The advisor is really asking “can I easily access this information with one click or touch?”  What the vendor really means is “navigate through these screens, export and format the desired data in Excel”, or “our consultants can develop a custom report/query for (insert hourly quote.)” Unfortunately, the latter part of the conversation takes place after the technology is implemented.
  •  After implementing new technology, you notice that your staff still prefers their own developed Excel spreadsheets over the new system.

It didn’t have to end that way

Taking charge of the communications process with vendors goes a long way in properly evaluating and selecting technology. This also ensures a successful implementation and conversion. While vendors and salespeople understand the advisory business (think of how many discussions start with “built by advisors for advisors”) they may not always be on the same page as you.

The following tips will minimize the language barrier between you and the vendor.

While those bells & whistles look exciting, they may not be the features your firm needs

When conveying your needs to vendors, define the needs of the whole firm. Advisors and back-office staff have different needs. Include all advisors in this process since they may have different ways of analyzing data, re-balancing client accounts, and using the CRM to service clients. The “must have” features will be determined by the needs as described by your advisors and back-office staff.

If you are looking to replace an existing system, develop two lists of features: those that the current system does not allow and are needed, and those that the current system provides and are also critical for the new system. Advisors tend to focus only on the incremental features while assuming that the new system will include the necessary functions of the current system. 

Buzzwords shouldn’t sell, the technology should

Phrases that contain easy-to-use, integration and customizable require further scrutiny.  Ease of use is relative and depends on the sophistication level of your staff. Integration is another area of confusion. Make sure you understand what the vendor means by asking for a demonstration of “fully integrated” or “seamless integration” using your firm’s technology and data. Customizing the software to meet your unique needs is a great selling point, but at what cost? A quick cost-benefit analysis will show whether it is worth the investment.

While demos are nice, evaluating technology using your firm’s data is even better

The evaluation process is clearer if the system contains your firm’s data and transactions. Include your unique or more complex situations. Examples include downloading data from custodians that do not provide an automated feed, re-balancing processes for unusual client circumstances, and handling of alternative assets. Your “how-to” and “what-if” questions are best communicated using your own examples, not the vendor’s.

Want a successful implementation? Get involved

While you would love for the vendor to be responsible for the majority of the implementation or conversion tasks, you are responsible for ensuring that the data stored and information retrieved from the system are accurate. This means your firm must be involved in the implementation process – especially testing. Dedicate enough time and resources to sufficiently test the system and work with the vendor to resolve issues that arise. Let the vendor know upfront what constitutes acceptable results. 

The obvious goal of investing in new technology is to support your business. The obvious goal of doing it right is to avoid following mishaps:

  • That isn’t in the contract.
  • We handle all situations – except that one.
  • And last, but not least, I did what you said you wanted – how was I supposed to know what you really meant?

Susan Glover is President of Susan Glover & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in operating solutions for new and growing advisory firms.  With over 30 years of experience in the financial services industry, she assists advisors in the areas of transition, operations & technology management, and business support.  Visit her website at:  www.susangloverassociates.com.  You can email her at sue@susangloverassociates.com.

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