MyVirtualCOO’s Jennifer Goldman explains why new is not always better for your IT system.
On Sept. 19, Jennifer Goldman of My Virtual COO will speak at External IT’s inaugural Wealth Management Technology & Cybersecurity Summit in New York. This event gathers industry leaders and influencers for a day of collaboration and networking on the most crucial matters impacting their businesses. This blog is the fifth in the series of profiles of speakers for the upcoming summit.
New financial technology software hits the market so frequently that wealth management firms often struggle to keep up with every trend on the horizon. Advances in fintech may prove useful at some point, but RIA owners and executives must remember why new tech is not always better tech.
Many times, the answer is as simple as this: “You don’t really need it. It’s a question of what the tech is going to do for you,” says Jennifer Goldman, president of MyVirtualCOO, which provides guidance on operational excellence for advisory firms. “There’s a lot of tech out there, but 95% of it doesn’t fit what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Firms that achieve successful tech adoption do two things well, Goldman says. First, they think through the “flow” of what is necessary to design the IT structure, which entails how the firm’s data will enter the system and who will be involved in training relevant staffers. Next, they comprehend the benefits of the new technology, which includes how the potential upgrades would improve the working day and the client experience.
This type of planning usually requires the presence of what Goldman calls a “champion” – someone who is familiar with the software in question and would oversee its use once adopted. Firms with a designated chief operating officer may rely on this person as their champion. But a top advisor could serve as the champion at a firm that’s considering adopting new financial planning or portfolio analysis tools.
Since many firms lack an official COO or IT specialist, identifying the champion can become its own task. Doing so is worth the effort, Goldman insists, since firms without one are at greater risk of making bad tech decisions, or postponing the decision-making process far longer than they should.
Failure to properly adopt technology is linked to a few pitfalls that busy firms can easily encounter. Foremost among them is the assumption that, on Day One, untrained employees can install multiple new programs – such as CRM, document management, trade execution and cybersecurity tools – then immediately maximize their abilities. Firms should expect at least two months to pass before staffers can harness the full potential of a new platform.
Another big obstacle is the tendency over time for employees to download different programs onto their respective desktops, without coordinating their actions or following executive direction. This can lead to significant time wasted on inconsistent operations and a plethora of barely used programs. Any boss who doubts this occurs at their firm should reflect upon the number of abandoned apps sitting idle on their own smartphone, Goldman points out.
Still other impediments to avoid include a fear of the cost of adopting new technology, fear of change and fear of losing control. An obsession with control has kept many firms shackled to generic spreadsheet programs, for tasks that could be optimized in software tailored for wealth management. To be sure, spreadsheets have their place, but an efficiency-focused RIA can find more suitable tools to build asset allocation models. Maintaining a chokehold on control can limit a firm’s ability to use technology to minimize human error and scale up in client size.
Once firms overcome those hurdles, they still must select the most suitable programs. Goldman suggests writing down and ranking exactly which features you believe you need as well as which features you believe you want, then testing two potential upgrades against your current tool according to these criteria.
Sufficiently large firms may benefit from buying a single software license for each of the two potential upgrades, then having the same people spend a little time each day comparing them. This should be the champion as well as a couple other relevant users. Your ranking of needs and wants may evolve during this exercise, which could take well over a month to complete.
Technology overhauls might change a lot more than a firm’s software, Goldman warns. They might change the very culture of the firm. MyVirtualCOO has been helping a firm, with over $357 million in assets, outsource and revamp its tech platform. In the process, the firm improved efficiency and added clients.
However, while analyzing operations, the team discovered that a couple crucial executives may not be in the most appropriate roles – either due to mismatched interests or skillsets. Consequently, their duties are beginning to shift. “I could tell that story several times over, of firms that saw the light,” Goldman says.