You need a contact management program. Should you go with your firm's system, an outside product designed for the brokerage industry, or an off-the-shelf generic program?
Let's first look at outside programs. One popular broker-specific product is Broker's Ally. It has predefined categories for classifying clients according to typical investment needs and interests, including investment preferences, risk, suitability and tax considerations. It's easier for a user to get started right out of the box rather than having to customize a generic program to sort and identify clients.
Let's say you want to contact all clients over age 70, their relatives and accountants about the new IRA distribution rules. If you have filled in most of the fields, you can do this right away with Broker's Ally. With a generic product like ACT!, by Interact Commerce Corp., this type of search requires you to first set up your database and enter client information in anticipation of running this kind of query.
Broker's Ally has attempted to preprogram many of the data relationships and workflow routines that are typical of the brokerage world. Personal data like birth date, income level and risk level, etc., can be cross-referenced with particular holdings. Related accounts like parent, child and referring CPA can also be easily correlated. Much of this can be done with ACT!, but you'll need to spend time setting up the parameters or hire someone to do it. You can also customize Broker's Ally to allow importation of data from outside sources.
Many brokerage firms have arranged with Broker's Ally (and other vendors) to customize the program for their brokers. Some of the advantages include the ability to import client data. You still must input personal notes, however.
The cost of Broker's Ally begins at $395 and can go up to $1,495 for the advanced portfolio management level. For more information, call 215/542-5710 or go to www.brokersally.com. ACT! is available at retailers everywhere and sells for approximately $200.
Joel Tepp is a broker in Seattle, Wash.
Should You Use Your Firm's System?
Most firms offer brokers, and encourage them to use, an internal contact management system. These are convenient because they are integrated with the company's workstation.
But convenience comes at a price.
Outside programs often work better and may have features you prefer. And if your client information is on the firm's workstation instead of a personal computer owned and maintained by you, it may be more of a hassle to access that information should you ever change companies.
(Note, though, that under most firms' employment agreements, you can be sued for simply contacting customers regardless of where the contact information came from.)
With customer information contained in the firm's system, a former employer will have a better shot at retaining your clients. Your successor will have a handy way to reach all your clients and will have records of conversations, personal preferences, prospects and referral sources.
Lawyers will tell you that this same information kept on your PC at home also belongs to the firm. But at least it won't be readily accessible by someone else.
You will also be restricted by the pace at which your company upgrades. That pace may be slower than you would like. Or you may come to like a current version, but be forced to switch to the upgrade at work as well as at home and on the road.