PANC 2013: Information Technology

Panelists at the PLANADVISER National Conference discussed the costs and potential benefits of technology.

Advisers should look at three areas when deciding what technology initiatives to implement in their practices: prospecting and marketing; servicing and reporting; and growth and retention. Jason C. Roberts, CEO of Pension Resource Institute LLC, encouraged advisers to look into the “tech lifecycle” of their needs and go through “technology triage” to find the gaps. Rather than wiping the slate clean, Roberts suggested advisers look at what a client currently uses and see what programs or tools could be integrated into that system.

Regarding business operations as a whole, “The ability to control your technology is based on who you are affiliated with or how you operate your business model,” said Mark D. Ray, a principal at Praxis Consulting who utilizes a customer relationship management (CRM) system to organize and document client information. Michael S. Woods, a managing director at Pensionmark Retirement Group, agreed that technology is necessary for efficiency. He described the CRM system at Pensionmark, which takes care of everything from maintaining client information to tracking communication and setting reminders for employees on issues across the board.

While cost is a factor in technology integration, both Ray and Woods find it to be well worth the expense. “The more we can control in the office, … we feel we have much more control over the deliverable,” said Ray. Spending more on technology often benefits more people, Woods added. While many clients look at new opportunities and see only the extra work involved, technology can reduce the time those new initiatives would require.

Technology also brings more options in terms of communication. While cold-calls and referrals can still be very effective, webinars and email blasts also benefit clients greatly. 

Advisers can even differentiate themselves through their technology, Roberts noted. “Maybe they’re not asking the questions overtly,” Roberts said, “but behind closed doors we’re hearing a lot of emphasis put on the value of the tools and technology the adviser brings.” Plan committees understand that the more streamlined an adviser’s process of gathering information and warehouse documents, the less time the committee has spend managing the plan. According to Roberts, this is often a determining factor in who a sponsor chooses to advise their plan.

Technology plays a large role in analytics  and profitability reporting as well. “We do a lot of qualitative work. We don’t just rely on score,” said Ray, explaining that Praxis Consulting’s CRM program helps the firm to input and track that qualitative data, making it easier to deliver quarterly reports. Pensionmark’s system, which tracks all communication from emails to phone calls, supports profitability reporting and makes it significantly easier to respoond to sponsors that ask: “What have you done for me lately?”

All three panelists agreed that without technology—including social media—your company could suffer. “[Social media is] a full-on commitment. It’s not something you do casually,” Ray said. “You really have to understand it to do it.” He added that “technology can move you forward or it can hang you up.” Roberts noted, “If you’re using technology, and it’s piecemeal and you don’t have a consolidated way to deliver to the client, then you might be running in circles.” Technology must be integrated and used correctly in order for it to be effective.