Technology can do a lot of things for an advisor. Case in point: Julianne Hertel wanted to travel more, so she pursued a tech transformation top to bottom at her small firm.
That modernization of her advisory practice, Dream Big Wealth Strategies in Worcester, Mass., certainly helped serve clients better. But it also gave Hertel, 42, the freedom to chase her dreams to travel the world.
“I can travel more only if I can be detached from my office,” she explained. “We have a family home in Ireland, and I want to be able to go for a month at a time or two months at a time. I’d like to be able to still communicate with clients and work with clients, without them necessarily knowing that I’m in Ireland at the time.”
Hertel set out with a few guiding principles: The tech had to improve communication and efficiency and be simple to use.
The result was so successful that when COVID-19 closed Massachusetts last year, all that the staff members had to do was take their work computers home and they could function as if still in the office. The office reopened this summer, and Hertel is still committed to face-to-face meetings.
But the freedom to communicate across thousands of miles is taking the office to new heights.
“We have clients that live in various parts of the country that we’ve never met in person,” Hertel said. “We’ve only met them on Zoom.”
On their road to a frictionless future, Hertel started with tech solutions offered by her broker-dealer. And if she or her staff considered any other tech, they ran it past their B-D. The client experience and strict confidentiality were paramount.
The project had two parts: office-facing and client-facing. Hertel wanted to start with tech that increased office efficiency before introducing new technology to clients.
“Everything was built on top of everything else, and there were failures that were followed by successes that were followed by other failures,” Hertel said. “It’s like two steps forward, one step back — that’s absolutely how our evolution happened.”
Slack is an online tool for instant messaging and communication within a group, such as an office. The team can message individual team members or create group messages. They can also create different channels or topics of conversation to help organize group messages.
Hertel’s team doesn’t send client information through Slack, but instead uses initials or first names if it is necessary to communicate about a client.
“Slack is so flexible that my study group has also adopted it for our communication,” Hertel said. “We can message each other one-on-one, and we also have channels for our group that specifically focus on things like accountability, business development, and health and wellness.”
Slack does not cost anything for the office because they use the free version, which works for a small organization.
Trello was also a game-changer for the office because the project-managing software helped organize everybody’s work.
“To start with, I’m a list maker,” Hertel said. “I like to make lists with lists included. I love tons of details, and Trello helps with that. But it also keeps our office organized with all the different day-to-day activities.”
Hertel described Trello as a giant bulletin board that the staff can access. Staff members each have their to-do lists and other lists for tasks such as client preparation. On each list, people can create cards with specifics.
The cards can be dragged from one person’s list to another to assign tasks. Users also can create template cards to reuse, such as checklists. The checklist indicates which staff member is responsible for particular items, such as pulling a life insurance policy brief, making sure the planning software is updated and writing investment reports. Once the template is made, it can be replicated in seconds for specific client meetings.
The team even used Trello to organize an office move last year.
Hertel’s team uses two cloud storage systems. Dropbox is for nonconfidential client information and other office documents such as marketing material and the employee manual. They pay a small monthly fee for the service because an IT consultant said they would get more storage and better security over the free version.
Confidential client information goes into eFileCabinet, which was approved by their B-D. Inside the file cabinet, each client has a folder with subfolders with titles such as “bank statements.”
Each new account includes a subfolder for account opening or delivery paperwork, beneficiary forms, and other related documents. Staff members can access the files remotely, which came in handy when the pandemic hit Massachusetts.
A key benefit is realized during compliance audits.
“When the day of the year comes for our compliance audit, I no longer have to be available for hours at a time to pull hard files,” Hertel said. “Instead, my assistant will be provided with the list of client files that have to be reviewed, and she simply grants access to only those files.”
eFileCabinet also enabled Hertel to cut down on the physical office space her practice needed. Even though her staff still keeps hard copies, most of the files have a maximum of 10 pages, she said.
Hertel uses a version of Salesforce provided by her B-D for the office customer relationship management system. The CRM stores client data, such as names, addresses and dates of birth, along with being the team’s go-to location for policy briefs and other account specifics.
The staff logs clients as A, B, C, D and E to help guide the service and communication model for their clients, as Hertel said many practices do.
But they took it a step further by adding tags such as parent, grandparent, business owner, interested in socially responsible investing, retiree, and most recently, clients who are using their bucket system. At the beginning of each quarter, a staff member will run a report for everyone tagged in the bucket system for a check-in.
“We’ll also run a report on all of our clients that we’ve tagged as grandparents,” Hertel said. “We then send all of those clients a simple message wishing them a happy Grandparents Day. We do the same thing on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.”
There’s no limit to the types of tags that you can use, she said, adding that she knows advisors who tag clients based on their alma mater or their hobbies.
This is an online digital service to transcribe notes that can be then transferred to other software.
“For example, after I meet with a client, I open the Otter app on my phone,” Hertel said. “I then will dictate the notes from the meeting, including some of the softer things that I may not have written down, such as they’re about to travel to Italy or they just adopted the dog.”
This is a voice over internet protocol, or VOIP, system that works with their desk phones. The system doesn’t feel any different from a traditional phone system, Hertel said. But they also have the RingCentral app on their cellphones for when they are not working in the office. Anybody on staff can be on the other side of the world speaking with a client, as if they were sitting at their desk.
“This was the case once I was taking a train from Prague to Budapest and I was speaking with a client on the app using the Wi-Fi on the train,” Hertel said. “And the client had no idea that I was in Eastern Europe rather than in western Massachusetts.”
The phone system transcribes each voicemail and sends an email with both the text and audio file. Hertel’s voicemail tends to be service-related and best handled by a staff member. She forwards the email to the appropriate staff member to follow up with the client.
This calendar software was one of the most impactful technologies the office adopted to improve efficiency and the client experience, Hertel said.
Calendly integrates with Outlook as the calendar in their office. Staff members have to update the calendar assiduously to be sure clients don’t double-book. The system eliminates the back-and-forth frustration that often accompanies scheduling.
The software creates a link that brings clients to a website that asks what type of meeting they would like, such as a 30-minute office meeting or a 60-minute Zoom meeting. They can view any available openings on an advisor’s calendar but not any other meetings. Then they can click on a slot, type in their email address and add any comments. It appears almost instantly in the advisor’s and client’s calendars. Hertel usually meets with clients on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, so she set those parameters so clients can see availability only for those days.
On the day before the meeting, Calendly sends clients a reminder email that they can use to reschedule or cancel if they need to.
“I often get an email from a client asking to schedule a meeting, and I usually respond with ‘Absolutely! Would you like to send some times that are good for you?’ Or, ‘Here’s the link to my calendar. Why don’t you pick a time that works best?’ Almost every single time, the client clicks the link and picks the time on my calendar, eliminating the back and forth,” Hertel said.
This is the planning software approved by the practice’s B-D. With eMoney, the staff can create financial plans, analyze recommendations and aggregate accounts, just like other advisors do. Hertel said her team also uses eMoney to enhance the frictionless experience.
“We walk clients through it and show them the best way to use it,” Hertel said. “When they first open the dashboard, we will already have linked the accounts that they have with our firm. We encourage them to also link their 401(k) or other types of accounts that they have that are not under our management. We offer to have a Zoom meeting with them if they would like to be walked through the various steps and capabilities.”
The team created a process to follow up with clients who have not set up their accounts, which Hertel said can be common. First, Hertel sends them the welcome email, which explains why they should set it up and how it will help them. Then a financial planning assistant sends out the invitation for the client to set up their username and password. Once the logins are created, an alert is sent to the office, and staff can follow progress and offer help.
“Technology can be intimidating for some clients,” Hertel said. “We want to hold their hand and walk them through before they get frustrated by any of it.”
They also invite clients to use eMoney’s vault, which is secure cloud storage that clients and the office have access to. They encourage clients to use the vault themselves to upload vital documents that would be inconvenient to lose, such as a photograph of their passport, scans of their tax returns and their estate documents. The office uses it to store the client’s financial plan for the client’s access. Clients can also upload documents they want to share with the office, but not over email.
They found that the major source of friction is paperwork. Embracing electronic applications was key to reducing that friction. They have been able to find online applications for almost all companies.
“I can count on one hand the number of paper applications that we’ve completed in the last 12 months,” Hertel said. “Most insurance companies and investment companies we use accept DocuSign, which we use on forms whenever possible.”
When advisors start applications for a product or policy, they no longer complete them at the time of the recommendation. The office has a client information sheet that the staff can use over the telephone with clients to gather what is needed to complete the application.