So, you have reviewed the client’s circumstances, discussed the options, developed a roadmap, excited the client about their plan and then it’s “Great! Let’s do some paperwork!”
That frown you see on the client’s face is one of the costs of friction, which Julianne Hertel remembers all too well in her advisory practice, Dream Big Wealth Strategies in Worcester, Mass., before she turned to tech. During her session on Using Tech to Create the Frictionless Client Experience on Wednesday in NAIFA’s Performance + Purpose virtual conference, Hertel told the story of the lightbulb moment that illuminated the need for a frictionless process.
“We took all of the excitement, and then asked them intimate questions about their health or how old their parents were when they died,” Hertel said. “We were sucking the air out of the room.”
That got her on a quest to find the tech that would take the friction out of their process to create a better experience for her clients and exponentialize efficiency in her two advisor, two staffer office. She set out with a few guiding principles, the tech had to improve communication, efficiency and be simple to use because they are not tech-savvy and do not have tech support in the office.
The result was so successful that when COVID-19 closed Massachusetts last year, all the staff members had to do was take their work computer home and they could function as if still in the office.
On their road to a frictionless future, they started with tech solutions offered by her broker-dealer. And if they 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. They wanted to start with tech that increased office efficiency before introducing new technology to clients.
Slack is an online tool for instant messaging and communication within a group, such as an office. They can message individual team members or create group messages. They can also create different channels or topics of conversation to help organize group messages.
They don’t send client information through Slack, but instead use 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 an organization of their size.
Trello was also a game-changer for the office because the project-managing software that 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 office has access to. They each have their to-do lists and other lists for tasks like client prep. On each list, people can create cards with specifics.
“For example, I may add a card to my assistant’s list that says ‘J.S. July 27,’” which would indicate to the assistant what date and for whom to look for the meeting notes, Hertel said. “Then inside that card I created, I can add a checklist of items that have to be completed. We can set deadlines, we can assign specific tasks to specific members of the team, and we can send quick messages inside the card.”
Another example is a staff member might add a message like, “Shay contributes $400 per month to a Roth IRA,” for Hertel to see during the client meeting.
The cards can be dragged from one person’s list to another to assign tasks. Users can also 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.
They even used Trello to organize an office move last year.
“Since this project had so many moving parts, including a build-out, we created the board just for that move and then created lists on that board,” Hertel said. “Some of the lists include legal and regulatory documents, construction work, stationery marketing materials, and then each of those lists had cards within them that broke down the projects even further. For example, the construction list had cards titled electrician, contractor, painter, signage. Trello helped organize and simplify a huge project of our office move into smaller bite sized bits and allow us to constantly track and monitor our progress.”
They use 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 sub-folders with titles that such as bank statements.
Each new account includes a sub-folder 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.
“Our audits are nothing like they used to be before we implemented eFileCabinet,” Hertel said. “Now 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. Instead, my assistant will be provided with the list of client files that have to be reviewed, and she simply grants access to just those files.”
The service also cut down on the physical office space they needed. Even though they still have 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 our names and addresses, dates of birth, along with being their go-to location for policy briefs and other account specifics.
They log 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 that are using their bucket system. At the beginning of each quarter, a staff member will run a report for everyone tagged as 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.
“We also use our CRM for reporting every single client contact by any member of the team,” Hertel said. “We found that this leads to exceptional service. A client feels listened to when I can tell them I know all about the conversation they had with my staff member a few months back. Logging a phone call or an email takes just seconds, but makes the rest of the team more in the know and a lot more efficient.”
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 telephone,” 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.”
She then sends the text and audio by email to a staff member who tidies up the notes and adds them to the office’s planning software “vault” that the client and office have access to.
This is a voice over internet protocol, or VOIP, system that works with their desk phones. The system doesn't feel any different than a traditional phone system, Hertel said. But they also have RingCentral app on their cell phones 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 me 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.
“We've eliminated any concern about whether the office is open for calls or not, especially with the pandemic,” Hertel said. “It has helped our office efficiency tremendously. It's led to quicker callbacks for clients who have left voice messages, and just an overall better experience.”
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 calendar. Hertel usually meets with clients on Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays, so she set those parameters so clients can only see availability on those days.
On the day before the meeting, Calendly sends clients a reminder email that they can use to reschedule or cancel it they need to.
“I oftentimes 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. “Calendly makes scheduling easier for us but also makes it frictionless for the client.”
This is the planning software approved by the practice’s B-D. They create financial plans, analyze recommendations, aggregate accounts, all with eMoney as many advisors do. Hertel said they also use eMoney to enhance the frictionless experience.
“We work hard with the clients walk them through how to use it best,” 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 linke their 401k 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 them to walk through the various steps and capabilities.”
They 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 then 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 if lost, 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.
“At the beginning of the session, I shared with you how this whole journey with technology started,” Hertel said. “I shared with you how we would create momentum and then we would introduce all of this unnecessary friction.”
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 except 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.
“While there's not a specific time that the form is completed, it is usually somewhere between factfinder and the first or second closing meeting,” Hertel said. “But most importantly, is completed long before the point of application.”
The system does not slow down the process but builds the application as the advisor works with the client while not taking away from valuable advising time. It keeps the momentum moving so that the steps are ready for the advisor and clients in between meetings. When they get to the closing meeting, all the client has to do is review the electronic application.
“I can say to the client, ‘OK, our next step is already completed. We have all your information already. We're just going to send you the application. Please review it, of course, but all you have to do is then DocuSign.’ So, we can keep up the momentum and keep their spirits high. We're no longer making recommendations and jumping straight to paperwork. Our clients now leave our meetings excited and motivated.”
Steven A. Morelli is a contributing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines. He was also vice president of communications for an insurance agents’ association. Steve can be reached at [email protected]