When it comes to choosing the right technology solutions for your firm, you know it’s important to kick the tires and check under the hood of each of the products you’re considering. But while it’s easy to compare the major features of one system to another, sometimes paying too much attention to the big bells and whistles can keep you from looking at the small details that could ultimately end up making all the difference.
After all, not even a slick salesperson and a mountain of hyperbolic advertising copy can prevent the eventual realization that the software you just bought isn’t user friendly or doesn’t have the capabilities you need.
So, how can you ensure your firm doesn’t choose the technological equivalent of a lemon – a software solution that sucks up all your staff time preparing reports, makes compliance audits excruciatingly complex, and leaves you fuming on hold when you call in search of customer support?
Here are some tips for what to look out for the next time you’re comparing technology solutions for your firm.
1. Consider the Time Costs
If you just compared products based on their major features, you might think that if they seem similar you should go with the cheapest offering. But the cost of the software itself is usually only a small fraction of the total cost involved in implementing a new system. The biggest expense is usually the staff time you put into setting up, using, and maintaining the platform.
Before you shake hands to close the deal, be sure to ask how much time the system actually takes to set up, how long it takes to input information, and the ease with which you’ll be able to complete important things like quarter end processes and reporting. Better yet, seek out other firms who are currently using the products to get their take.
You may be surprised to find out that there are significant differences in efficiency between products that appear similar in other ways. The last thing you want to do is to prematurely pat yourself on the back for saving a few thousand dollars, only to find out later you’ll have to spend tens of thousands more down the road.
2. Think About Compliance and Oversight
Your palms start to sweat whenever you hear the words “compliance audit” – not because you’ve done anything wrong – but because you know from experience how complicated, time-consuming, and confusing an audit can be. Whether the audit is internal or initiated by the SEC, the constant changes to regulations are hard to keep pace with.
That’s why it’s critical that you know how easy it will be to run the reports you need when the SEC comes calling. After all, they won’t accept the excuse that your portfolio accounting software won’t give you the reports you need – just like Mrs. Smith, your fifth grade teacher didn’t believe you when you told her your dog ate your homework.
Look for a solution that has compliance tools and easy-to-pull reports that are continually updated with new regulations, and that provides customer service support on compliance issues.
3. Prioritize Customer Service
The last thing you need is to have your system down and spend all day on the phone talking to someone who doesn’t know how to fix your problem. Avoid that frustration by making sure that you choose a company that offers great customer support.
Check the hours that their help desks are open and the channels they provide support through– whether via email, phone, web chat, or carrier pigeon. Ask current customers about their experiences with customer service and how responsive the company is around feedback.
You want a company that will go above and beyond and who will work as your partner rather than see you as just another client.
4. Think About Business Planning
You’ve heard the experts talk about how Big Data is going to transform how you do business, so it doesn’t make sense to have all that information about your business uploaded onto your portfolio accounting system with no way to use it to improve your company’s performance.
When you’re shopping around to solve one problem, you may not be thinking about the opportunity to fix another. But make sure to look for software that allows you to mine the data that you’re collecting. Who knows, you might find that you’re getting a lot of new clients in one state or from one particular demographic and decide to refocus your marketing dollars. Or the data could show you which advisors are doing a good job in bringing on new accounts or which advisors are losing accounts and that could help you make HR or training decisions. The software should help you see month over month changes so that you can respond quickly to business corrections and also help you see longer-term changes in your business over quarterly or annual periods.
This information will help you stay ahead of your competitors, figure out how to utilize your team more effectively, and serve your clients more efficiently.
5. Stop Comparing Apples to Tomatoes
Apples and tomatoes are both red and round, but I think we can all agree that when you bite into them they taste very different. Similarly, if you only compare the most obvious features and choose a portfolio accounting product based only on major functionality, you could end up getting a product that will cost you much more in indirect costs and missed opportunities over the life of the system.
Make sure that all the small details – most of which don’t make for exciting PowerPoint presentations but are critical to usability – are included so that you never regret choosing to implement the technology. Whether you are looking at portfolio accounting software, account aggregation or CRM, the technology you chose should free you to do what you do best – connect with your clients rather than worry about your technology.