Are You an Advisor or IT Specialist?

The Dream

Being an independent advisor can be a rewarding experience. You arrive in the office in the morning to review your business metrics and check for any unresolved items needed for clients. After checking email and voicemail messages, you meet with your investment team to discuss recent economic trends, review client portfolios, and submit trades to rebalance several accounts that have exceeded their model allocations.

Then you’re off to deliver a lunch presentation to a specialty physicians group and address their concerns about business succession and buy-sell agreements. After the presentation, you return to the office to meet with a couple (clients of 15 years) to discuss how to best establish a foundation to support education in their local school district. One last check of messages and then you return home to spend a relaxing evening with your family.

The Reality

Do you want to be the IT guy?

 

Then you wake up from your daydream because somewhere between that morning coffee and sitting at your desk an assistant comes running to tell you the server is down. None of your applications, including email, are working. After several server reboots, it finally comes back online, but complains that the previous night’s backup failed. Then you discover that the phone system somehow got reset, and all of the voice mails received overnight are gone!

You don’t have time to fix the phones because you need to leave for your lunch presentation, but somehow your slide materials on the server were corrupted, and you can’t get them off the backup tape because the backup won’t be ready for another 30 minutes. Now you’ve got to call your clients and ask them to reschedule their afternoon meetings because you’ve been focusing on fixing your back office systems instead of preparing.

Sound familiar? We’ve all had one of those days.

It’s just one of the costs of being an independent advisor, an unavoidable hassle. Or is it?

Sure, maintaining and upgrading your technology is critical to the overall operations of your firm, but the time you spend on these activities pulls you away from a key driver of business value; cultivating client relationships.

Here are three principles you can follow to minimize the amount of time spent on managing your business infrastructure.

Living the Dream

1) Get rid of it (a.k.a. Delegate)

You’ve no doubt heard the following advice from practice management consultants time and time again: delegate tasks outside of your core competency. Despite the clear benefits of complying with this advice, there is still a large portion of advisors who retain too many responsibilities, including IT management.

Perhaps this is a carryover from the early years of the advisory profession where there were few alternatives to doing everything on one’s own. There were no turnkey systems you could buy and programs didn’t integrate with one another, so advisors had to implement all of their business infrastructure from scratch or not automate at all.

But designing your own systems and writing your own tools is only possible for a few and certainly isn’t a viable long-term strategy for most. Sure, you may solve some immediate problems, but doing everything yourself traps you into a perpetual cycle of maintaining and enhancing those systems long into the future. Who is the person employees turn to when a system isn’t working the way it should? It’s you.

When those requests for help pour in, or a critical system malfunctions, it’s you that must fix things. And that means time you can’t spend creating value for clients which in turn creates value for you and your firm.

2) Find The Best Fit

If you are committed to delegating your IT management, to whom will you delegate?

One of the best options to consider if you don’t want to maintain hardware in your office, move your systems to the cloud. Today there are more options and choices then ever before for systems essential to your business. You can find solutions for CRM, portfolio management, financial planning, document management, and much more, all delivered through your Internet browser. These systems are secure and managed for uptime and availability in a way that is very hard to match by even the largest organizations.

However, if you’re committed to keeping some of your systems in your office; your server, phone system, and other hardware, hire an IT provider in your area that can take ownership of that infrastructure for you. Instead of rebooting servers and updating phone systems yourself, you call your provider and ask them to do it. They’re the professionals and they are the ones who are responsible for ensuring your systems are online, functional, and up to date. What’s important is that you find the right fit for you and your firm.

3) Stand firm – Don’t look back

To be a successful advisor, you need to be focused each and every day. It’s far too easy to get drawn back in to performing minor system maintenance or applying quick fixes to pesky IT issues. Don’t let yourself head down that slippery slope. Hold yourself accountable for your time and commit to devoting it to client service, not IT maintenance.

It is simply MORE EXPENSIVE for you to do things yourself. Even if your IT provider’s hourly rate is the same as what you charge your clients, you’ll still lose money, in the form of opportunity cost, by doing things on your own.

Remember, whether you move your systems to the cloud or use an IT provider, it’s their job to stay informed on ways your technology can be used to benefit to your firm. You can’t afford to spend the time to research and analyze all the available options, let alone establish a set of best practices to follow.

Make no mistake: IT resources play a critical role in operating and growing a successful advisory business. But you need to be disciplined in the way you manage those resources.

Don’t try to do everything yourself. In fact, do as little as possible, and delegate everything else to your partners. Identify the best fit for your firm’s needs, be it a local IT provider or moving to the cloud.

Finally, hold yourself and your partners accountable for your respective responsibilities. You’ll benefit from your provider’s commitment to your business, and your clients will benefit from your full attention.

Bill is a CFP® professional and is a technology consultant to financial advisors. He writes the monthly technology column for Morningstar Advisor, provides technology commentary for the Journal of Financial Planning, and blogs at his own website, FPPad.com