We started this year with a commitment to focus on three distinct areas: communication, data, and training. I’m pleased to say that over the past 12 months, we’ve made major strides in all three areas, in addition to a few others. In the spirit of bringing in the new year, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on 2017, as well as leaving you with a teaser of what’s on the horizon technology-wise in 2018.
Communication: Emails, Newsletter, Blog Posts, and More Social Media
Earlier this year, we committed to never sending more than three mass emails per week to the field. The idea was to unclutter your inboxes and cut down on unnecessary messages. I don’t think we’ve once violated that commitment since its induction into our rule book.
We also decided in 2017 to replace our monthly newsletters (Community, Stability, and Integrity) with one bi-weekly distribution, titled Everyother, covering all relevant information and written in a succinct and palatable format. So far, we have had some great feedback about the distribution and will continue to build on our creation.
Blog posts are now being regularly posted to the website. We try to cover a number of timely and timeless topics while also nailing down our future posting schedule. If you’re in the mood for a good read, check out our blog to see the latest posts. I know we silently introduced the blog halfway through this year without much flare, but it’s here now and worth a look.
Lastly, our social media presence has taken a step forward. In previous years, we posted maybe once or twice a week — if that. Now, we post quite frequently with timely, relevant, and interesting content. If you would like to see what we’re up to, just check out our Twitter page.
Data: Salesforce, Zendesk, & More
As a firm, IFP will always work to improve data quality and usage. Our industry deals with a metric ton of data that belongs to multitudes of other parties and is transmitted with varying degrees of security. It’s occasionally hard for some companies to keep up. To this effect, IFP has been working hard on two main data initiatives internally that stand to produce external benefits in 2018 and beyond.
Zendesk: Zendesk is a customer service ticketing software that we implemented mid-year to start tracking and managing submissions from the field to our department inboxes. Both our employees and financial advisors are working to familiarize themselves with this process, but by centralizing requests to inboxes in lieu of individual people, we hope to eliminate the need to rely on those who may be out of the office for any reason. We know it’s a learning process, but we strongly believe this system will greatly reduce turnaround times on pending requests. Internally, we’ve taken the data from Zendesk and fed it into dashboards that each department can use to monitor requests, turnaround times, and more.
Salesforce: We’ve used Salesforce internally as our CRM system for a few years now. However, under our technology team leader, Jordan Slack, we will have completed the creation of and migration to a brand new internal Salesforce org by the end of 2017. IFP employees will have a much more sophisticated interface and system from which to service our advisors. This may not seem like an immediate or tangible benefit for our advisors, but it will allow us to evolve our service model and eventually provide a much-enhanced level of concierge support to them in the coming months and beyond.
As we move into 2018, IFP has a renewed focus on what I’d call external data initiatives pertaining to our institutional data fees from LPL, Fidelity, Schwab, and TD as well as the ever difficult recordkeeper and third-party money manager data feeds. We will communicate more specifics around these initiatives in the coming months.
Coming Soon: Training
As a small to mid-size firm, robust training for our employees or advisors evolves over time as the need for training increases and the resources to implement a training program become available. We have personnel at IFP who are very passionate about training and have stepped up to the plate to help build our training programs for internal and external individuals. Led by Liz Piquet, one of our operations liaisons, our operations team is currently working on a training initiative that includes:
- Updating and documenting all current internal workflows, policies, procedures, and systems (technologies)
- Identifying common advisor training needs across all categories: onboarding, compliance, technology, custodians, etc.
- Using items 1 and 2 to create training curriculums for IFP employees and training modules by subject matter for advisors
- Vetting learning management systems (LMS) and selecting one for deploying the curriculums and modules that we develop
We hope by mid-year 2018 to have a working version of our training program with the intent to continuously evolve and improve it as we grow.
Getting Stuff Done: Workflows, Project Management, and Technology
In addition to communication, data, and training in 2017, we began focusing on ways to improve getting projects done, for lack of a more sophisticated phrase. We had workflows that need to be updated and documented, not to mention automated. We had policies and procedures that needed to be refined and optimized. We also had numerous people in various departments working on many different projects that needed to be better organized and outlined. To start solving for these needs, we did the following:
- Launched a workflow project, also being led by Liz Piquet, whereby each department is updating every one of their workflows (large, small, or tiny) and mapping them in flowcharts as well as linking each step of the flowchart to relevant policies and procedures documents.
- Formed a Project Management Office (PMO) consisting of Aaron Prida, one of our operations liaisons and project manager, Jordan Slack, our Director of Technology, and myself. The PMO has the responsibility of overseeing, tracking, and managing all active projects for the firm and ensuring contributors are meeting deadlines.
- Deployed new technologies to allow our employees to make items 1 and 2 possible. They also help reduce friction in areas like meeting scheduling and conference calls. These include:
- Moqups: an online, cloud-based, flowchart designer
- Milestones PM: a project management software built on the Salesforce platform
- Box: a cloud-based document storage software that allows us to dynamically create and link policies and procedures and other documents to other software and processes
- Calendly: a calendar app that integrates with your calendar and allows you to direct people to a link where they can only schedule time on your calendar that shows as free
- UberConference: a free personal conference call and screen sharing software that eliminates many of the frustrations associated with conference calls
Again, this ‘getting projects done’ initiative is mostly internal, but everything we do at IFP is geared toward servicing and supporting our advisors, so the more we can create and foster an efficient environment internally, the better our advisors’ experience will be externally.
Final Thoughts: Cliffhanger
As you can see, 2017 was a busy year, and 2018 looks to be just as fun. As you can hopefully tell, we are focusing and will continue to focus on improving and optimizing everything we do with the ultimate goal of perpetually enhancing the IFP advisor experience. One key part of that experience is the IFP portal. In 2018, we will be rolling out a brand-new advisor portal equipped with more functionality, integrations, and tools. Look out for the first iteration of this system in Q1.
That’s all our technology team will let me share at the moment, but I promise that IFP is quickly becoming a technology company (we recently hired our first software engineer, Saransh Singh!). Our advisors will soon see what that means and how it will benefit them.
We hope that 2017 was fruitful to all of our employees and advisors and we thank everyone for being part of our firm. Here’s to next year and beyond as we all continue to evolve, grow, and enhance the lives of those connected to us.