Problems are everywhere and it’s a natural human tendency to avoid them; however, try as we might, they don’t just go away. Even the best-laid plans typically encounter an unexpected hitch or set back due to wildly unpredictable events.
So, what can we do about it?
Many successful individuals and companies have a very specific approach problem solving, often involving a bit of flexibility to account for unexpected bumps in the road. In addition, the more problems they solve, the more efficient they become at addressing future issues that arise. During my tenure at IFP, I’ve learned a number of lessons from my experiences and studied how others have responded to internal crises throughout history. Here they are.
Take the problem head-on. Also, don’t get lost in the sauce by reiterating all of the reasons the problem exists or explaining why it’s a big deal. There’s a reason it’s called circle talk – it just keeps going round and round without solving the underlying issue.
Grab the problem by the horns and find a solution. Start by creating a plan of action that explains the current situation and the ideal end result you’d like to achieve.
For just a moment, consider that anything is possible and, once you have a bigger pool of ideas, filter down to a more feasible idea. Don’t automatically assume that certain solutions won’t work or are completely unrealistic.
Remain calm. Trust me, I know problems can create incredibly tense environments that are the anthesis of productivity. These situations can be avoided (or diffused) by keeping your own emotions in check while taking into consideration the emotions of the team around you.
This is especially true if you’re considered the leader in the room. Don’t allow feelings of fear or stress to cloud your perspective or spread into the individuals around you.
Given that you’ve hired the right people, everyone in the room is a subject matter expert in their respective field. Value their opinion and insights. Don’t immediately shut them down or discourage them from speaking during meetings. While they may not have the silver bullet you’re looking for, their ideas may eventually lead to the solution.
So, what are you going to do tomorrow when problems start knocking on your door? If you want to be the best, the effectiveness of your actions – whether as a company or an individual – should not be gauged on how little goes wrong, but rather how you address the situation when things hit the fan.
Technology is one of those things in life that’s constantly changing, forcing us to relearn systems, adapt and overcome. Call it forced adaptation. Call it annoying and counterintuitive at times. However, technology can be the answer to a difficult problem or just the tool we need to make our lives a bit easier from day to day.
To illustrate my point, I was gifted a Google Home Hub and a Nest Thermostat over the holidays this past year. Although I previously found myself reluctant to join the whole “smart home” bandwagon, my mind was now racing with a plethora of tantalizing home automation ideas.
I may have gone a little overboard. First, I installed the Nest and connected to the Google Home Hub. Simple enough. For about a week I fiddled with the controls, adjusting temperatures from work and programming routines based on my schedule. Needless to say, I was hooked. Over the next few weeks I installed a surveillance system, smart bulbs and smart switches to bring my house up to 22nd century standards.
Shortly thereafter, I left the Google ecosystem, choosing instead to use the home automation software called Home Assistant. My next task was to assemble a miniature computer with the Raspberry Pi as my base and a variety of other components to build the structure. After installing the software, my house now adjusts and triggers specific actions based on where I am (or rather, where my phone is) in the house.
I had a lot of fun building this system, but it took an outrageous amount of time to get all of this up and running. Out of the box, these systems are nice, yet lack the level of sophistication one might expect from a self-described home automation system.
At any rate, this adventure taught me several lessons that I believe can be applied to the world of Fintech and the software advisors leverage on a daily basis.
Building the Financial Advising Software of the Future
You might be able to build the coolest, most sophisticated software featuring artificial intelligence and other modern technological advances, but it’s all worthless without a solid user experience. This aspect is extremely important, challenging to get right, and very often an afterthought when created technology systems.
It’s like learning a new language or learning to interact with a new demographic of people you’ve never interacted with before. It’s also about forming new habits; this process often takes a good deal of time to fully pan out.
Let’s use an example: If you’ve controlled the TV with a remote your entire life, it’s hard to retrain your brain to use voice commands instead. The same goes for turning on and off the lights in your house. At first, it can feel inconvenient relative to the normal way of doing things. Even programming automation based on your habits and schedule requires you to define your habits and schedule, which can take time and isn’t always the easiest.
Check out the diagram below to help you better understand this phenomenon.
The learning curve for some technologies can deter early adopters before they adapt and discover the true benefits. Ergo, I believe it makes more sense to slowly introduce new technology in smaller, more manageable chunks that address their immediate needs without overwhelming them with everything and the kitchen sink.
Introducing The “Hassle Factor”
That initial struggle to adapt (which is that hill in the graph above) is what I refer to as the “hassle factor”. Can positive reinforcement help to get users over this theoretical hurdle? Maybe, but I think training and handholding when rolling out technology could be useful and is just as important as the quality of the technology (or the wow factor).
As I was writing this, I couldn’t help but think about this illustration (see below) I saw recently on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s website that discusses complex changes in an organization and how they’re addressed.
This is particularly relevant to IFP, as we are right in the middle of rolling out complex changes to both our advisors and internal employees.
Putting this framework around the home automation example from earlier:
Vision: I can automate my home to make my life easier and optimize energy consumption without giving it a second thought. Just as you may feel when adopting new technology, I did not initially foresee the benefits of installing these systems.
Skills: To start using the new tech, I needed to train myself and form new habits.
Incentives: I’ve effectively reduced energy costs at home and effort spent on reducing them.
Resources: Although I started with an open source platform, Google Home Hub, and decent documentation, tech support or a consultant would have been more ideal.
Action Plan: My action plan was rough at best, which led to several cycles of buying and installing hardware, especially once I better understood the technology’s nuances. This resulted in money down the drain and time spent installing and then reinstalling switches and electrical components. This was likely my largest hassle factor.
Per the Managing Complex Change framework, I would have greatly benefitted by having both vision and an action plan before beginning my adventure. I experienced a ton of confusion and false starts and felt like quitting multiple times. However, if I had no experience in technology and was not resourceful with internet search engines and knowing how to code, I would have lacked the skills and resources required to continue. I most definitely would have bailed at some point before finishing the job. I am still not entirely finished, although I’ve now moved past the hassle factor hump and am starting to see the benefits.
Minimizing the Hassle Factor at IFP
You may have heard that we’re launching some new technology at IFP, namely Advisor[X] and the integrations therein. Our primary goal was to mitigate the hassle factor through something similar to the Managing Complex Change framework from the very beginning. Here’s how we did it.
Streamlining the Sign-up Process
The very first interaction with Advisor[X] needed to be smooth. Although you will only traverse the sign-up process once, we never wanted it to become a deterrent. As everyone in this industry knows, first impressions are everything.
Designing the Layout
IFP Web Designer Scott McCreedy collaborated with the IFP Technology team to design and progressively edit the user experience based on advisor feedback. It’s also mobile responsive, meaning it will adjust to the size of the screen on your tablet or phone, so you can access Advisor[X] wherever you go.
Emphasis on Accessibility
Advisors can access a member of our technology team in a number of ways. First, they can provide feedback regarding Advisor[X] from the top navigation bar after logging in. Second, we integrated a robust request and tracking system to help advisors quickly find the status of their support tickets with ease (see below). Third, we created the Knowledgebase. It’s designed as a collective effort to answer the big questions, identify gaps in knowledge that need to be filled, and provide an ever-growing database of internal updates to keep advisors informed.
We don’t want to be another firm that hasn’t pushed a meaningful update to their platform in over 10 years. So, we’ve vowed to constantly evolve Advisor[X] based on user feedback and usage data we’re collecting on the back end. Our teams are also proactively developing various sections of the software to scale with future needs or streamline processes that are typically handled by old school paperwork.
The Fight Against Hassle Rages On
While it’s certainly not a perfect science, we are striving to build the technology platform of the future. Rather than restrict advisors to a proprietary platform with proprietary software, we decided to build the crossroads for all the top third-party applications in one place. After all, you and your clients deserve the power of choice.
By now, we’ve all heard the tales. Maybe your neighbor’s identity was stolen, a credit card was compromised, or an account was hacked, spilling personal information into the unseen corners of the dark web. Did you know you can check if your information has been compromised in a breach via the Have You Been Pwned website? If you’re like many Americans, your information will likely show up as compromised in one way or another.
In the financial advising world, we’re no longer talking about a simple compromised shoe store account password or a hijacked email account; we’re talking about the livelihood of investors and possibly the future of your career in finance. Now that I’ve got your attention, I wanted to talk about a few ways that IFP is working to strengthen our cybersecurity and nurture an ecosystem that promotes a secure digital workplace.
Cyber attackers relentlessly attempt to access client accounts. It makes sense; there’s a large amount of money in these accounts and some people hardly check their retirement nest eggs, let alone on a daily basis. To combat this, we’ve integrated multi-factor authentication (MFA) into as many systems as possible at IFP. MFA is one of the most effective ways to secure access to prevent brute force attack. Advisor[X], our upcoming proprietary technology platform, will feature one of the most sophisticated methods of MFA, placing the most sensitive login credentials behind the protection of our single sign-on (SSO) interface.
As an added layer of protection, all credentials captured for authentication via Advisor[X] are heavily encrypted. Our system will also verify whether passwords in real time to determine if they were stolen in previous breaches and, if so, recommending a password change to the user. Lastly, in the case that an attempt is made to penetrate our authentication layer, our team is immediately alerted and made aware, allowing us to respond immediately.
Alright, now that we’ve covered authentication and how it’s integrated into our technology stack, it’s time to talk about the foundation of Advisor[X] — our data infrastructure. It’s one thing to build a secure platform, but without solid ground work, it means nothing. After an absurd amount of research, we chose Amazon Web Services as our primary data storage center. Additionally, we’ve partnered with a global consulting firm that specializes in data infrastructure and security for financial services to metaphorically nail everything to the floorboards.
We chose this path to provide sustainability to support our initiatives, including the expansion of our platform and IFP’s advisor network. It’s also about taking data, making it actionable, and improving the experience for our advisors using the platform.
In addition to our data governance policies, IFP is has chosen to be intentional about the partners that we work with. It is important that our partners share our passion for security and protecting our advisors and their clients. Our due diligence process is built around ensuring that any company that we work with has the appropriate controls in place to manage, track, and protect any data point that is provided by IFP or generated by the third-party company.
While cybersecurity is a hot topic across all industries, we believe that the financial services sector is extremely susceptible to these attacks. IFP believes in protecting clients from danger and our advisors from losing their credibility (or possibly their credentials and livelihood). That’s exactly why we’re building Advisor[X]. It’s more than just an application launchpad; it’s a chance to build a platform our advisors can trust without excess doubt or worry.
Third party service providers mentioned are separate entities from IFP.
Prior to the launch of our broker-dealer, we saw a need for a more intuitive user experience when interacting with our firm. As we sat down at a conference table overlooking Tampa Bay in the early hours of a cool March day, our team had an epiphany. A third-party technology stack was never going to provide the customization, innovative approach, or the level of direct accessibly that we prefer to provide for our advisors.
We’ve invested a significant amount of time and money planning out the structure and vision of our platform. We started out by determining the core components that would create a frictionless experience for our users and then worked to identify key technology and tool providers that would grant us the flexibility to continuously improve based on user feedback. Here’s how we’re building it.
We’ve built Advisor[X] on top of established, comprehensive platforms that were developed by companies spending millions of dollars and thousands of developer man hours on R&D. This allows us to focus on what really matters: streamlining the advisor experience. Our engineering team leverages existing APIs that allow for a more efficient transmission of data across applications.
The underlying tools and methodologies we’ve chosen give us the flexibility to bring features to production more quickly, without sacrificing quality or intentionality. Python, the framework we used to build Advisor[X], is the same technology used to build Instagram. In addition, many of the components that are being used in our backend logic and data interactions are also being deployed by Facebook, Google, YouTube and Dropbox among others.
We chose this stack for a few reasons. In the short term, these tools allow us to bring features to bear far less code than other frameworks. This give us flexibility in how quickly we bring features into production.
In the long term, many of the more complex concepts that will power features within Advisor[X] are being used by the leaders in these fields. The Data Science community has brought a huge amount of knowledge and resource into Python, allowing the integration of machine learning, natural language processing and other complex algorithms to be used in platforms like ours.
Our team of stakeholders has years and years of experience in the financial industry. This combined experience has driven the vision of Advisor[X] from the beginning. That said, it is important that our users direct our roadmap. To quote our CCO, Chris Hamm: “We’re taking every advisor pain point that we encounter and creating a solution for it.”
Our platform is not being built in a vacuum; instead, our advisors have the power to guide the development and priority of features that we provide. We have already added several improvements to Advisor[X] based on ideas from our early adoption users and we are excited for what the future holds.
We set out with the goal of creating a frictionless advisor experience that would drive efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business. We’re building it to ensure that Advisor[X] will continue to be relevant as our industry changes and technology evolves. With all of that said, the importance of the tools isn’t in the technicalities; it’s about the flexibility that the tools provide. This flexibility allows us to hold true – now and in the future ¬– to our vision and ensure that Advisor[X] is the best tool for advisors.
Third party service providers (OR strategic partners) mentioned are separate entities from IFP.
Problem solvers are the cogs that fuel innovation. Throughout history, they’ve come and gone, solving some of life’s greatest mysteries. Someone sees something that they don’t like and try to fix it. Take land travel for example. As far as historians can tell, horse riding became popular around 800 B.C. Nearly a century later, the steam engine was created to carry passengers across vast distances.
Fast forward to modern day.
We have much faster trains. We have cars. We have jet planes that can fly 800 miles per hour. Point is, things change. Technology evolves and if used correctly, it can really enhance the way the way we do things. As a financial advisor, there are an increasing number of tools at your fingertips. The question is, are you using them and, if so, are you using them right?
Finding a CRM for Your Practice
More than ever managing client relationships is at the epicenter of a good advisor value proposition; and while you might not call it a CRM, every advisor has a tool that they use to manage client relationships. It may be a rolodex, a stack of index cards, or notes in Outlook. To say that these are tools is true. The problem with these methods is that they aren’t great for securely storing or organizing sensitive personal information.
A true fiduciary looks out for their clients’ best interests, especially when it comes to private data. This can also help save time and keep your firm compliant.
Speaking of data, it’s one of the main drivers behind the increasing power of technology. The more useful data that is available to you, the more value you can deliver to clients and their financial plan. CRMs can be great tools to capture and analyze useful data. One of the best things that you can do as an advisor (or advisor admin) is ensure that your CRM has relevant and updated information about your client relationships.
Cross platform integration is one of the most beneficial changes that has recently impacted consumer technology. In the past few years, we have seen the trends of integration start to take off in the fintech space as well.
If you can use your CRM as a source for entry and deliver client data to other platforms through integration you might see an uptick in both efficiency and ROI. If you aren’t leveraging integrations currently, you should be. If your CRM doesn’t offer integration options, start looking for a different service.
If you have your data and are leveraging your integrations, there’s still more bandwidth you can get out of your CRMs. The reality is that relying on humans can be risky. We are unreliable, and we forget things. Using CRM workflow capabilities allows you and your team to offload minor client relationship tasks, allowing you to focus on the more important responsibilities.
Technology should drive efficiency. As you assess your practice, are you using technology to improve your business process? Is your use of technology adding value? If these things are not happening, you need different technology, or you need to use it differently. If that feels like a stretch, take it one step at a time.
If you’re not already doing so, a software-based CRM is a great start. If you already have a CRM, start exploring some of the additional features. Set up an integration with your financial planning software or implement a Client Onboarding Workflow. Now more than ever, technology is essential to being successful as a financial advisor. CRMs are a great way to start organizing client data, integrating with other tools, and driving workflows while you spend more time building client relationships.
Becoming more efficient is a perpetual task; you can always do better. The more efficient you become, the more you can free up time to spend on the things that matter most. In 2018, I set out to become more efficient as an as an individual and find ways to help streamline some of the systems here at the IFP home office. Although I found many options available online, three tools stood out among the crowd, allowing us to improve efficiencies in a number of critical areas.
Scheduling calendar invites for meetings and calls with people outside of my company used to be painful. Someone’s assistant would request my availability, no time slots would fit the bill and we’d end up ping-ponging dates and times until we were blue in the face. I began having nightmares around the phrase, “What works best for you?”
Enter Calendly. There are a few different appointment scheduling tools out there, but we prefer Calendly because of the simple UI, ease of integration and, quite honestly, the name. After signing up for Calendly (the basic version is free) and linking your email calendar, a custom hyperlink is provided for scheduling purposes. This link brings them to a website where they can view times, check availability, and book an appointment on your calendar that works for both parties. Also, if you need to block out times and dates from your calendar, you can make that adjustment in Calendly’s settings.
Every employee at IFP has a Calendly with a link attached to their email signature. Now whenever someone asks to schedule time on my calendar, I direct them to the link in my signature. They’re able to schedule a meeting with me that’s free of conflicts without sending a single email or making any calls.
Calendly also has a robust team interface, allowing people to schedule a meeting with multiple individuals at once, see everyone’s availability on one page, and view key scheduling metrics. This is a great way to monitor your staff’s schedules and manage time efficiently.
Calendar invitations are typically long, convoluted messes filled with conference call instructions featuring 15 different numbers and codes. Then, once I finally dial into the session, I’m forced to listen to 90s elevator music until the host is ready to go. If there’s a screen sharing component, I might be required to download a separate software or plugin to make it all work.
They also love Uberconference’s hold music, which is a parody jingle about a man that’s been on hold all day. It seems like every other call I host, someone mentions how much they love the hold music. Uberconference also gives you a custom URL when you sign up. If you want to host a call with screen sharing, you simply provide the call participants with your custom URL, and that’s it – no downloads, no plugins. And the UI is very intuitive and simple.
At our firm, we leverage Uberconference and Calendly together. Now when someone clicks the Calendly link in my email signature and schedules time on my calendar, the calendar invite that gets generated automatically includes my Uberconference number and URL, which you can set up in your Calendly settings.
Project management is a skillset our firm is constantly trying to improve. It’s a challenge to manage multiple initiatives across multiple teams at IFP. Although, the ability to do this successfully is what separates good companies from the rest. For instance, we recently adopted the agile approach to project management for our marketing team and we needed a scalable, flexible tool to build on.
Enter Trello. Trello is a web-based project management application. Our Senior Graphic Designer used it at her previous firm, so she recommended we try it in conjunction with our new agile approach. So far, it has worked great. The UI allows us to categorize our projects easily into various columns and create “cards” for every project or to-do. These cards can then be dragged and dropped between columns, edited as details develop, and converted into more cards if necessary.
The Trello user interface is also great when managing projects on the mobile app. I liked Trello so much that I adopted it as my personal to-do manager, which I can access seamlessly from my laptop or iPhone. The column and card functionality also really helps me prioritize my to-do’s, something I wasn’t great at before.
When I talk about Trello, people often offer suggestions for other tools like Asana, but often those tools are pricey or offer bloated features that I simply don’t need. The free version of Trello delivers immense value, and the ‘Power-Ups’ you can buy as enhancements are priced very reasonably. Considering the price point and functionality, Trello is our #1.
There you have it – three free tools that can help anyone become more efficient. Although there are many on the market, we feel that these three have provided the most benefit with no initial investment. Check them out and let us know what type of tools use and love on our LinkedIn or Facebook.