Innovation is happening everywhere around us, all the time—but when do you need to drop an old piece of technology in favor of something new?
It’s common for advisors to have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with their technology—most advisors got into the business out of a love of working with people or investment portfolios, not out of a love of using software.
But sometimes a user’s frustration with their technology provider is a sign of larger problems, said Randy Lambert, Executive Vice President, Tech Operations at Orion Advisor Solutions. To get the best experience in place for their clients, advisors sometimes have to change software providers.
“Orion was born out of the need of our registered investment advisory firm to improve its technology… we spent over two years looking for the right technology stack that would check all of the boxes and determined that it would make more sense to build our own solution,” which led to Orion Technology’s launch in 1999, said Lambert. “We’ve learned a lot.”
Two trends make it important for advisors to be willing to update their technology, said Lambert—one is that advisory practices have to find ways to become more efficient over time in order to continue to grow, scale and evolve as businesses. The other is that clients are expecting more value over time from their advisor, and advisors are responding by providing more services—often without raising their fees.
Keep in mind that technology and consumer expectations around technology are constantly advancing. What suited a firm three, four or five years ago might not be as suitable this year.
That’s why when a technology provider falls short, an advisor shouldn’t shy away from the often painful process of transitioning to a new provider, said Lambert, who offered four red flags to indicate when it might be time to make the change.
Communication and Feedback
If a technology provider has no system for communication and feedback with the advisors using their software, that’s a red flag.
In Orion’s early RIA days, Lambert encountered tech providers who were unwilling to help create customized reports to help Orion display differentiation to its clients, insisting that they use generic reports.
“That didn’t sit well with us,” he said. “At Orion we value innovation-driven excellence, and we work to understand advisors’ objectives by listening first. I think that’s the key: listen first and build an advisor-driven technology stack.”
Features and Pipeline
If a technology provider has not introduced or launches any new features in the past 12 months, or they do not have a roadmap that shows plans for upgrades and improvements over the next 12 months, that can also be a warning sign for financial advisors.
A lack of new features and updates puts advisors at a risk of falling behind, technologically speaking, and short of their clients’ expectations.
“We use a continuous integration, continuous delivery process,” said Lambert. “That keeps the risk low for changes being disrupted because the changes are compartmentalized, and they’re updating all the time.”
Support and Help
A major red flag is when calls to support or for assistance end up being met with a busy signal or are never replied to at all.
“We had a provider we used where they would have a busy signal if I didn’t call before 8:30 Central time,” said Lambert. “They can’t even handle the incoming calls that we have. This is a problem that’s prevalent with technology providers. If there is a commitment to service in your engagements, then you’ll feel that and you’ll see that with the resources that are available to you.”
A good technology provider should provide multiple ways for users to get in touch with them, said Lambert, it shouldn’t just be an email or a help desk phone number, but several different channels.
In Orion’s case, a blend of traditional support communication methods, like phone calls, is blended with a digital experience.
“Seventy percent of our clients get ahold of us through a digital (channel),” said Lambert. “They don’t have to dial a phone number, they can just connect to us, but even if they want to call us and talk to us on the phone, they’re still going to be connecting to us digitally through our website.”
The last red flag is by no means the least important—integration, or, literally, does the technology communicate well with the other pieces of software in your firm’s technology stack.
“This is a constant battle that we’re seeing,” said Lambert. “To run an efficient business, you need to have your technology stack seamlessly connected, and that means having seamless connectivity through single sign-on to reduce security problems. When tools aren’t integrated, it can create more risk for you.”
If, upon review, a technology provider is flying one or more of these red flags, it might be time for the financial services firm to consider alternatives, said Lambert. The next steps to take the firm into a due diligence process in which various technology providers are vetted.
To do that, someone needs to be in charge of reviewing and selecting the new technology provider, said Lambert, to ensure alignment of interests between the firm and their new vendor.
“This needs to be a stakeholder within the organization and someone who can make decisions,” said Lambert. “…Then you create a list of questions that you’re going to have for each provider, so you can give them all a scorecard.”
When each potential provider is asked the same set of questions, it’s easier for a firm to compare the pros and cons of working with them.