PANC 2015: Leading Edge Technology

The rapid progress of tech advances has brought a dizzying array of applications and software that helps plan advisers to be more efficient and profitable.

Technology must be ready to support advisers in what they do best: helping our participants retire, said Christen Marsenison, vice president in client services and delivery, Envisage Systems, speaking at the 2015 PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday.

Providers have an eye on what tomorrow looks like, she said, as they scout solutions for what will make platforms move forward.

One challenge for advisers is juggling day-to-day responsibilities and the associated technology tasks, added Steven Shackelford, senior vice president, strategic sales at Aspire Financial Services. Managing data is another big issue, Shackelford said. “Advisers are starting to move toward consolidating vendor relationships in order to get the data they need,” he said. A top concern is how to adapt the technology but still leave time for their daily agendas.

Advisers are mulling how to use the many available resources to provide better service and remain profitable, and they continuously struggle with a number of questions, said Anders Smith, senior vice president at Nuveen Investments. These include: How do I use this technology to provide better services for my plan sponsors? How can I be more profitable in terms of how I run my business? How do I get more out of each dollar coming in? “We believe technology can enhance a service model,” Smith said.

Many resources exist to help advisers expand their business, Shackelford said, such as private labeling capabilities, which can make a business much more viable in the marketplace. “It makes you larger than what the client sees,” he said. “You can expand your practice and boost visibility in the industry.” Partnering with the right institutions allow advisers to leverage the strength of the existing marketplace instead of building custom solutions from scratch.

Technology can also influence how advisers manage retirement plan practices and deliverables. Virtual recordkeeper partners can provide the resources to help advisers provide participant education. Instead of holding individual client meets, Smith explained, advisers can do webinars using an iPad preloaded with information and materials, saving the cost of an assistant.

NEXT: Time management, and the costs of managing a plan

An ongoing issue with profitability means that advisers look at the business more as a business. “They’re putting in plan information and seeing what it costs them to manage a plan,” Smith said, adding that advisers try to determine a billable hourly rate and how much time the adviser spends on a specific plan.

“Advisers have a hard time tracking [hours] spent with each client,” he said. “It takes time to track time.”

Gamification is gaining traction, Marsenison said, referring to a practice to reward participants for certain behaviors and increase enrollment. A recent study showed that 49% of men and women older than 28 spend four hours a day playing games on devices or computers, Marsenison pointed out, making the trend all the more vital for younger plan participants.

Millennials’ communication preferences are also a hot interest, Shackelford said, and one that could influence an adviser’s own practice with the use of alerts, to cite just one example. Another characteristic of Millennials that will influence technology, Marsenison said, is their level of trust. Study after study showed an enormous differential: Baby Boomers ask the hotel concierge for a recommendation, but Millennials go straight to Yelp.

“How does that change the business model, for a business built on trust?” she asked. “They still need advice, but how do you get in front of them? The technology will have to be very different.” Perhaps what is needed, she said, is a for advisers.

“We’ll have to solve the issue of Millennials,” Shackelford added. “They’ll be a big part of our growth.”

Technology is coming to define the recordkeeping industry in terms of supporting plan sponsors and plan advisers. Advisers can address a critical issue for plan sponsors—tools for participant enrollment—with recordkeeper tools and services for education, Shackelford said.

“The industry has not yet solved how plan sponsors can continue to increase enrollment in the plan,” he said. But the industry is producing a range of resources for participant education, freeing up the adviser to spend more time building a practice.