Don't get Eliot Weissberg started about integration.
When his programs work, that’s great. But when they don't? It can disrupt his entire schedule. Take the last upgrade to Mountain Lion for his MacBook Air – a relatively simply upgrade with some well-meaning tweaks to the operating system. But when Weissberg relaunched his CRM software, he noticed a few scheduled appointments had mysteriously moved to different dates. Others disappeared.
"Most days well-seamed technology is wonderful," says Weissberg, owner of The Advisors Center in Avon, CT. It is, he says, difficult to suss out which element in an integrated technology system is responsible for the problems. “When it works, it's great. But when it doesn't, it's not pretty."
Sure, syncing an iPhone to your computer is integration, and we’ve all experienced difficulties getting an app to do what it is supposed to do. It’s a minor annoyance, but at the advisor level, integration problems can mean a CRM program that’s not able to populate data into a portfolio management system, or a trading information link failing to register in a report. That can cost you a client, or even, in the age of compliance and regulatory oversight, a job.
Broker/dealers and technology firms from Schwab to Raymond James know their future is dependent on an ability to seamlessly integrate a work environment for reps. Raymond James recently released a work station that integrates data such as client and portfolio holdings from Albridge into its Morningstar Advisor Workstation. Schwab's integration is based on CRM platforms from Junxure and Salesforce and various workflow options; there is a Microsoft Solutions integration currently in beta.
But advisors think more is needed. A new study from asset management solutions firm SEI shows that 61% of reps feel their tech isn't streamlined well enough. Just 7% of the 250 reps surveyed stated their technology tools and software are fully tied together, according to the July study. And 86% believe there's room for more streamlining in their practice.
Yet firms that are pushing integration to their rep community are finding advisors are not always quick to adopt new additions. Sometimes integration is not just about pushing a button and making everything flow — sometimes it also means having to adjust the way an advisor works,
"Many clients are kicking the tires," says Brian Shenson, vice president of Schwab’s advisor technology solution. "They struggle not only with these systems, but how an integrated system changes their work flow. You have to help a team with how they should act in a more efficient way."
Schwab’s own research found that 61% of their advisors say integrating technology is a barrier they face in their businesses. However as more options appear, sometimes the variety can be overwhelming. Do you launch a compete overhaul? Cherry pick one program to connect or two? SEI reported that just 27% of advisors considered themselves "pros" in terms of handling their own firm's technology. Sometimes an easier pace is just one toe in the water at a time.
"Our technology consultants help them find opportunities for improvising capabilities, and that can be a niche application," says Shenson.
And Weissberg agrees sometimes less can be more. While the firm has a technology team, they're not on site 24 hours a day and often fixes have to be handled by one of the six people who are in the office. While he likes having some things integrated, he thinks those who have yet to stitch their programs together shouldn't be so fast to jump aboard.
"For the average non super savvy tech rep, non-integration is somewhat of a blessing," he says. "Things may not be integrated, but at least they work. As you integrate there are other issues, and it’s not always a panacea."