Why CRM, IT and CLOUD Still Spell Client Service


  • DC advisors are using technology and digital tools to manage their businesses and client relationships.
  • Social media tools are becoming an important way for advisors to promote their brand and engage with clients.

In the past, you may have been able to get away without knowing much about technology. After all, Twitter had not yet been invented, spam was still a ham, and clouds were part of the skyline.

Today, "like" it or not, advisors can no longer afford to ignore technology or its impact on the way they do business. Whether it's mobile tools, apps, or social media, it has, and will continue to change the way we organize information, manage our practices, and communicate with prospects and clients.

Most large practices today rely on cloud computing or customer relationship systems (CRM) to centralize and manage client data. Increasingly, many are also starting to incorporate smartphones, apps, and tablets to manage their practice.

And, although a number of compliance challenges still exist, social media is becoming an integral aspect of advisor marketing and prospecting strategy.

DC Edge spoke with DC advisors Mike Maresh, Teri Hutchison and Alex Assaley about how they are using digital tools to run their practices and to improve the client experience.

Today, "like" it or not, advisors can no longer afford to ignore technology or its impact on the way they do business.

Customer relationship management

Many, if not most, advisors today benefit from CRM software. Advisors use these programs to organize information, automate manual processes and align technical support, marketing and sales efforts.

"Our CRM is tremendous, it's what I like to call a UPS-like tracking system," says Alex Assaley, an adviser for Corporate Retirement Plans with AFS 401(k) Retirement Services, LLC, about his firm's custom-built system.

The CRM tracks every phone call, e-mail or other type of incoming or outgoing correspondence. This capability allows him to instantly access a wide range of client data and communication each team member has had with clients. The program is based on an SQL (structured query language) server that is run in-house.

Pensionmark Retirement Group recently enhanced their custom-built CRM software and now offers a new online tool to retirement plan participants to help simplify their financial lives. The new service, called the Personal Financial Portal (PFP), is offered as part of Pensionmark's comprehensive Financial Wellness Program and provides individuals with a simple and secure location to access all of their pertinent financial data, says Teri Hutchison, managing director.

Individuals can link their accounts at various financial institutions to their PFP account and track spending habits, create budgets, monitor cash flow, create customized reports, and track assets against goals. It also allows Pensionmark to provide retirement readiness reports, showing any shortfalls along with recommendations for improvement.

One "size-fits-most" programs

Other advisors opt to go with a "one-size-fits-most" program. One example is the San-Francisco-based SalesForce.com, which has made its mark in the retirement consulting community. This CRM, which also offers some customizable features, is less manual, less hardware-based, and uses cloud computing. Those who are apprehensive about making a full commitment can benefit from a 30-day free trial.

Mike Maresh, principal at The Maresh Yoshida 401k Group, who has used this software in the past, believes it is more cost-efficient for smaller clients.

"Large organizations of 50,000 people become clients, but then it becomes cost prohibitive", he explains. "I would argue that even up to a 100-person organization, the functionality is much better than an embedded system because anytime you want to change it you have to pay them to upgrade the system."

An alternative or supplement to a CRM is cost-free websites. One financial tracking software company, the San Francisco-based mint.com, tracks retirement accounts, investments, balances and a host of other relevant financial information through a single-user interface.

It includes a feature for goal and budget planning and transactions. Reports can be accessed online or via monthly emails. The site offers free advice and uses 128-bit SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption, the same security that banks use to protect the information.

Protecting information

Just as there is technology for centralizing information, there are also tools for note taking and archiving that are helpful and affordable, if not free.

Evernote, based in Redwood City, California, helps advisors recall important client information, communicate effectively, track historical data, and work more efficiently. Notes, web clips, files and images are made available on every device and computer used by your practice.

It allows advisors to take a photo, record audio, and store it for later use. Favorite webpages can be saved to your Evernote account via web clipper browser extensions, text, images, links and all.

Evernote includes software that can read key terms within a photo or an image. For example, you can take a photo of the BlackRock DC Chart of the Week, and the program pulls key words out of it that will enable you to search for it later, from either your iPad, iPhone, or your desktop computer.

In the backup/archiving category of technology, a subscription-based service called IBackup offers storage, sharing and advanced database backup for PC, Mac, Linux for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Empower your staff

Employee training is a vital part of the success of any company. That's why business training websites offering expertise on retirement consulting and relevant educational materials have become very popular among DC advisors.

One site, Lynda.com, offers an online training library that covers many software titles, scripting languages, design & web development platforms and popular online sites.

Topics include business skills, collaboration, data analysis, databases, e-learning, iPhone, iPod, iPad, Online Marketing, Presentations, Project Management, SEO in addition to many other useful web and video topics.

The site allows users to search more than 1,600 high-quality professional videos by subject, software, or course authors (who are chosen specifically for their expertise).

Learning can be done on Macs, PCs, tablets and smartphones. "It's worth paying for a subscription to that. You'll learn so much. They'll show you advanced Evernote classes. Lynda is probably like the Angie from Angie's List," says Maresh.

Pensionmark has spent decades developing an employee education program which is now offered as a comprehensive Financial Wellness Program to all retirement plan participants, says Hutchison.

"It incorporates the study of behavioral economics and is designed to help guide employees towards their retirement goals. The program offers educational deliverables such as monthly webinars, newsletters, Personal Financial Portal, an online Education Center, employee call center, education meetings, social media, and more."

3 Social Media Tips for Your Business*

Here are some ideas on how to use social media to engage clients and build communities.

  1. Stay connected with Twitter. Many DC advisors use Twitter to maintain an active line of communication with clients long after their introductory meeting or phone call. For example, Pensionmark Retirement Group employs two separate Twitter feeds, one for employers, @PensionmarkEMPL, and another for individuals, @PensionmarkINDV.
  2. Raise your profile with LinkedIn. Many advisors use LinkedIn to stay connected and updated with prospects and clients, including their job moves and relocations. In addition, many use their individual LinkedIn profiles to advertise their professional experience and credentials.
  3. Gain influence on Facebook. This site has grown in popularity among retirement consulting firms. Many use the site to build a company page, connect with people via online advertisements, engage an audience with enticing posts, and expand their reach through friends.

*Advisors should check with their respective firms' compliance policies before engaging in social media activities.

The opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this material are derived from proprietary and non-proprietary sources deemed by BlackRock, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries (together, “BlackRock”) to be reliable. No representation is made that this information is accurate or complete. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass.

BlackRock is not affiliated with any of the third-party entities mentioned in this material.

This material does not constitute a recommendation by BlackRock, or an offer to sell, or a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any securities, product or service. The information is not intended to provide investment advice. BlackRock does not guarantee the suitability or potential value of any particular investment.

For use with institutional and professional investors only – proprietary and confidential.

©2016 BlackRock, Inc. All rights reserved. BLACKROCK, BLACKROCK SOLUTIONS, BUILD ON BLACKROCK, ALADDIN, iSHARES, iBONDS, FACTORSELECT, iTHINKING, iSHARES CONNECT, FUND FRENZY, LIFEPATH, SO WHAT DO I DO WITH MY MONEY, INVESTING FOR A NEW WORLD, BUILT FOR THESE TIMES, the iShares Core Graphic, CoRI and the CoRI logo are registered and unregistered trademarks of BlackRock, Inc., or its subsidiaries in the United States and elsewhere. All other marks are the property of their respective owners.

Prepared by BlackRock Investments, LLC, member FINRA

DC-0658 / 12-13