With Outlook 2000, your work and life can become easier to manage. Start by learning how to organize your e-mail.
Microsoft Outlook 2000, which is available with Microsoft Office 2000 or as a stand-alone program, is overkill software that is underutilized by 95% of the people who own it. Financial advisers are especially guilty of that since many only learn the basic e-mail functions.
Here are five Outlook features that will save you and your team time and increase the services you can offer clients. Remember to run all of these ideas by your compliance department before you implement them.
BCC Field This is not an advanced feature, but it is seldom used. Nothing makes clients question your integrity like an e-mail that starts off saying, "You are one of my few, very special clients, and I wanted to send you this unique investment opportunity."
That's because they can see you have sent it out to 32,000 other e-mail addresses. BCC stands for blind carbon copy. Make sure you put client and prospect e-mail names in this area when you are addressing your e-mail so they cannot see who else is receiving it.
Distribution Lists These lists enable you to lump certain types of clients together and group their e-mail addresses. You may want to create several lists such as "Active Traders," "Nervous Nellies," "Clients With Young Kids" or "Retirees."
This way you can send out a note to that specific list (using the BCC field only, of course) without having to enter all the e-mail addresses. You can also organize your contacts with these lists if you choose. You create lists by hitting File>New>Distribution List or Ctrl+Shift+L and then select members from your list of contacts.
Sharing Folders You can designate any folder (such as contacts) as a shared folder by highlighting the folder and then clicking File>Share>This Folder and choosing another person to share it with.
If you give the person full editor status (under permission), he or she can add and remove e-mail addresses for you. This is an excellent way to allow maintenance of your e-mail database by assistants, even if they are not on a network. Updates are sent automatically via e-mail.
Flags As you're going through your e-mail, you may come across a message you don't want to deal with right away but don't want to forget either. Clicking the right button on your mouse will bring up the option to mark the message "Flag for Follow Up." That enables you to set a reminder date and an activity.
For example, a message from a client asks to be notified about new online account management tools you mentioned in your previous meeting together. You can flag that message to follow up when those features debut. When the rollout date comes, an alarm pops up on your computer screen. And after you check that the tools work smoothly, you can send information to the client on how to use them.
Rules Wizard This is an amazing feature that automates mail handling. Using the Wizard, you create a specific set of instructions that function automatically. If you're on vacation, you can set up Outlook to reply with an automatic response to every e-mail you receive and forward the e-mail to your assistant to handle.
Or you can specify that only client e-mails are forwarded to your assistant and are flagged for follow up the day you return. This makes e-mail easy to prioritize later. You also may wish to do something as simple as having e-mail from top clients show up in red so it is simple to spot.
You access Wizard from the Tools menu and then walk through the options.
Widespread conversion to e-signatures, not just in financial services but for commerce in general, will take at least a few years.
Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., projects that it will be 2005 before business-to-consumer e-signature capabilities hit what it calls the "the knee of the curve" - the point where a new technology has penetrated 10% to 15% of its potential marketplace.
From there, new technologies grow rapidly and become mainstream, says Frank Prince, the consulting firm's senior analyst in its e-business infrastructure unit.
Until then, legal questions will slow down adoption of the technology. The validity of e-signatures has yet to be tested.
"Many of us will be waiting to see that first court case, whenever it occurs," says Dwight Arthur, managing director at the Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. in New York. "Before you rely on electronic signatures for high-value transactions, you want some confirmation that the courts would be enforcing them."
The challenge is validating that digital John Hancock, says Michael Baum, vice president of practices and external affairs at Verisign, Mountain View, Calif., one of the leading vendors of secured systems. The new law "does not, and I underscore, does not, address the extent to which an electronic signature can be proven" as genuine, Baum says.