Practifi, a business management platform for the financial services industry, was planning to change how it interacted with email and calendar scheduling programs but wasn’t sure how to proceed.
Should it pursue deeper and more usable integrations with existing email and scheduling providers, or should it try to build one of its own to replace other technology its clients were already using?
“Oftentimes, our questions can be boiled down to that basic dilemma,” said Lindsey Hanson, Practifi’s head of client success. “Those questions are best answered by listening to the expectations of the clients around us.”
That’s why Practifi, an Australian fintech provider that expanded into the North American market, has a U.S.-based client advisory board consisting of key clients that can sound many of the company’s questions and provide feedback on its products and offerings.
When the technology provider asked its clients about a potentially new email and scheduling app, it did not get the answer it expected.
“We assumed that there were certain functionalities our client would be looking for Practifi to build or take over,” said Hanson. ”While we found that there were definitely certain enhancements they wanted, the board also told us that they weren’t looking to us to replace their email inbox experience. That was surprising, but incredibly useful. It led us to focus on integrating functions and functionality more seamlessly, instead of spending resources building something they didn’t want or need.”
The client advisory board has also played a role in Practifi’s brand new compliance application, which offers a dedicated dashboard for a firm’s compliance personnel to enable automated oversight and more efficient responses to the business’s compliance needs.
Not only can members of the advisory board validate or redirect Practifi’s thinking, they also receive the opportunity to communicate with other clients, share best practices, and have direct access and communications with the company’s leadership, said Hanson.
“Hopefully, these boards are beneficial for everyone,” said Hanson. “They’re helping us make sure we have good client communications and a genuine understanding of the business problems they are trying to solve, and what we are providing back are products and technology solutions.”
Technology changes quickly, and for advisor-facing fintechs, the industry they serve is changing quickly as well. Not only are regulations on advisors and broker-dealers a moving target, but the various laws and rules governing client accounts, transfers and taxation are also in motion.
Constant client communication is the only way to keep up with all of the change, said Hanson.
“Practifi strives to maintain a deep connection with all our clients,” said Hanson. “In addition to the advisory board, we are constantly communicating via our client success, support, learning and professional service teams. The advisory board is a way to step away from the day-to-day and think in a forward-looking manner.”
Thus, the advisory board avoids discussions about day-to-day operations and looks at Practifi and its relationship to the financial services industry from a higher level, said Hanson.
The firm brainstormed the idea for an advisory board for several years, registering interest from clients to make sure there was a desire to participate on the board. After finding sufficient interest, an eight-member board was formed, chaired by an industry representative friendly to Practifi but not otherwise associated with the business.
It’s important that the client advisory board chair be an expert at facilitating conversation and a credible go-between for the clients and the firm, said Hanson. In Practifi’s case, the chair also has a certain level of agenda-setting power, putting a premium on good alignment between the chair and both the clients and the firm.
Practifi plans to expand the board as their business and clientele grow.
“We targeted clients who were successful implementing Practifi and who had open and transparent bylaws,” said Hanson.
Hanson said that Practifi went out of their way to create a diverse advisory board. While all members experienced a certain level of success using the platform, each represented a different type of business within the financial services industry.
All of the members were enthusiastic about participating on the board, said Hanson.
“Sometimes, the agenda is a mix of talking points from our client and maybe a few items that we need input on,” said Hanson. “Oftentimes, it’s the output of workshops and other meetings that fills the agenda. We still try to make time for plenty of open dialogue.”
The board meets quarterly. Practifi proposes the meeting’s agenda well in advance to allow members to consider the topics and create an active, open conversation.
Quarterly meetings are sufficient to give Practifi timely feedback, but also allow board members time to consider the agenda without overburdening them with too many meetings. So far, Practifi has had a 100% participation rate on its board.
Each agenda includes time to discuss the changes Practifi has implemented in response to the feedback it solicits from the board—thus, participants in the client advisory board have the privilege of seeing the fruits of their labors.
“We regularly invite board members to product breakout sessions where we deep dive into new product features and give them an opportunity to communicate with our product team in an intimate, real-time manner,” said Hanson. “These sessions are part feedback, part strategy.”
The board is another element of the technology provider-client feedback loop and representative of the firm’s dedication to client success. The essence of technology is problem-solving. Thus, clients voice their problems, the technology provider hears those problems and proposes solutions, and then solicits feedback to fine-tune or expand the suite of solutions it provides.
“We know that our clients’ time is valuable, so we make sure that the time they spend with us is mutually beneficial,” said Hanson. “Through this advisory board, they have the opportunity to directly impact our product strategy and have direct and open communications with our leadership team. In return, we get validation and feedback on our thinking, input to help us prioritize and develop a roadmap, and ultimately, another avenue for engaging with our clients in an impactful, forward-thinking way.”