PANC 2014: Technological Improvements for Advisers

As software, applications (apps) and technological devices continue to evolve, they will effectively support rather than replace retirement plan advisers.

That was the consensus among speakers on the “Technological Improvements for Advisers” panel at the 2014 PLANADVISER National Conference. To this point, plan advisers should not forget the tremendous value of in-person meetings with their plan sponsor clients and participants. “You need face-to-face to move the needle,” said Manuel Rosado, vice president and partner with Spectrum Investment Advisors Inc.

However, Hefferman Financial Services is successfully using Skype to replace some quarterly one-on-one meetings with sponsors and participants, said John Clark, vice president with the firm. “Participant education is critical to help them understand retirement readiness one-on-one and to effect changes, whether that’s improving deferrals or asset allocations,” Clark said. “We have also started using Skype to participate with participants in virtual face-to-face meetings. We believe it is important for participants to see the face of the person they are working with as opposed to ‘robo-advisers.’ By helping participants get to know us, that is a differentiator and is building closer relationships with them.”

Video modules presented via the Internet are also an effective way to reach large corporate groups, Rosado said. To date, Spectrum has relied on clients’ production teams to create these videos, he added.

Technology can be “as complex as a new app” or “as easy as a phone call,” Clark said. The important thing is to “find technology that your plan sponsor employees are comfortable with.”

However, when using online meeting tools such as WebEx or video phone calls through Skype, keep in mind that these present “more compliance issues than face-to-face meetings because of documentation,” Rosado said.

Clark agreed, and suggested advisers make sure to document the points covered in these conversations through customer relationship management (CRM) tools such as SalesForce.

Another Web-based tool that Spectrum has used very effectively enables participants to log onto the firm’s website to schedule one-on-one meetings when the firm’s advisers visit with their company in person. “They get a reminder 15 minutes before the meeting. It beats calling or paging them,” he said.

Spectrum tried replacing paper-based documents for its plan sponsor investment committees with iPads to no avail, Rosado said. Heffernan actually has gotten its investment committees to embrace iPads by “accidentally” forgetting to bring the 250- to 300-page documents. “We didn’t give our investment committees an option,” Clark said. CRM tools paired with investment committee meetings are also very valuable; Heffernan uses SalesForce after meetings to assign follow-up tasks to its team members.

As to whether a retirement plan advisory practice should invest its own money to develop customized technology or rely on a vendor, “we want to be independent,” Rosado said. Spectrum, for instance, has developed the software to develop a fund scoring report based on Morningstar data. However, due to the complexity of target-date funds (TDFs), Spectrum is relying on third-party analysis tools. Another, different software application that Spectrum has developed conducts profitability analysis.

Technology in the Future

One technology that retirement plan advisers would like from recordkeepers that does not yet exist is an integrated CRM system that could, at the touch of a button, combine all plan data and issue comprehensive reports as opposed to multiple spreadsheets, Rosado said. “While some broker/dealers [B/Ds] and recordkeepers can harness and slice and dice that data, we are not there yet with respect to a fully integrated CRM system,” he said.

Envisage Information Systems is working on a data aggregation tool that it hopes to roll out in the next 18 to 24 months, said Christen Marsenison, vice president of client services and delivery at Envision. “We currently have an adviser portal, but it isn’t integrated.” Five years from now, Marsenison believes that technology providers will invent a way for an individual’s retirement savings data, goals and background to become centralized and portable—“enabling retirement plan advisers to develop a ‘lifecycle relationship’ with each individual throughout their entire life,” she said.