Financial Advisor Marketing & Technology

Marketing & Technology For Independent Financial Advisors


Archive for March, 2010

Add An Event Calendar To Your Website

Advisor Products made it easy today for advisors to add an event calendar to their websites.

If you want to conduct webinars about investing, for instance, you can advertise those events from your website. You can also list offline events, such as client appreciation dinners, picnics, and other events you want clients and prospects to attend.

The video below shows you how to create an event calendar page from the AdvisorSites BackOffice and how to add an event.

Advisors can couple the event calendar page with a GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar license to leverage the event calendar. You can use GoToWebinar or Advisor Products Email Newsletter feature to email invitations.

If you create a webinar in GoToWebinar, you insert the registration link on your event page. Anyone visiting your site can thus sign up for your webinar.

After you conduct a webinar, you can edit its description and link to a replay of the webinar. Adding a list of all your educational and marketing webinars to your event calendar is a powerful marketing and client communications tool.

The event calendar also makes it easy to charge for events and accept payments by credit card through PayPal. To charge a fee for a webinar, you’ll need a PayPal account. PayPal gives you a link and button that you can add when setting it up an event in your event calendar.

The event calendar page alone won’t bring people to your webinars. You need to advertise the event and send emails to get people to sign up. But the event calendar page is a great way to show prospects about activities at your firm. If you host an online monthly webinar or an offline monthly client seminar, listing the events in the event calendar shows prospects that your firm is involved with clients and making an effort to educate and keep in touch with them.

The event calendar is one of many different types of pages you can add to your website yourself from the AdvisorSites BackOffice. You can also call our help desk at (888) 274-5755 for assistance. There is no charge for adding the event calendar page to your website.

Please let us know what you think of the event calendar. Will it be something you add to your website? How can we improve it?

eventcalendar.mp4 (12.88 mb)

Advisors Putting Client Data At Risk

To save money, some advisors are putting client data in jeopardy, and the trade press isn’t helping matters.

I’m talking about two incidents in the past few weeks, one involving Google Docs and the other involving a CRM called Zoho.

I was hosting a webinar on February 12 about CRM systems for advisors when the Google Docs platform came up during the Q&A period, and I mentioned that Google Docs was not secure. An advisor chatted telling me it indeed was secure.

Without verifying it myself, I hesitated telling attendees at the webinar that Google Docs was secure. But I felt obliged to report what he said. So I told attendees an advisor had chatted in to say Google Docs was indeed secure.

After the webinar, I emailed the advisor and asked if he had any substantiation that Google Docs was secure, and I also did some research. Within minutes, I found a Google forum post that said documents to Google Docs could not be protected with their own password. I sent another email to the advisor with that link. He never responded.

To get the facts, I asked two seasoned engineers from Advisor Products to check into Google Apps’ security.

Google Apps offers a Standard and Premier Edition. Their findings, which pertain to the Premier Edition targeted to businesses, show that it would be reckless for an advisor to store client data on Google Docs.

It may be okay for an advisor to use Google’s calendar and other features. But if you want secure document storage and sharing, be aware of the following limitations:

  • You can’t force users to create “strong passwords.” Google has a tool that rates the strength of a password when you create it. The tool’s requirements are not up to professional standards. A strong password requires using non-alphanumeric characters (i.e., !, @, #,$, etc.). It is also at least eight characters and preferably 12. By default, Google Docs requires only six-character passwords, and it allows you to create a password as short as four characters. As long as your password contains a combination of four letters and numbers, Google’s password-strength rating tool will tell you your password is “strong.”

  • Google does not automatically force expiration of passwords. Some broker/dealers now require that vendors automatically kill passwords after three months and require users to create new passwords.

  • The way Google Docs passes access to documents via email is inherently flawed. If you use Google Docs to share a document with a client or another professional, Google enables you to send the link by email. Email is not secure. Moreover, anyone who receives the email with the link can open the document—without a password.

  • Documents on Google’s servers are not stored encrypted. They’re encrypted when you upload them and when you download, but not stored encrypted. This could be an issue if a Google’s server storing your document is breached.

  • Google Docs doesn’t accommodate the hierarchy of users with different permissions that advisors need. Document-sharing vendors in the financial services business enable different roles and rights for their staff, advisors, advisory firm staff, a B/D’s compliance department, outside professionals and advisor works with, and clients of advisors. Google Apps has just two levels of authorization.

  • Google Docs does not have bulk upload capabilities, enabling you to upload performance reports, financial plans, rebalancing reports, and other documents in batches.

  • Google Docs and Apps do not integrate with financial planning, portfolio management or other practice management apps used by advisors.

Google is a remarkable company and it could address these issues. But with its vast audience and potential, it has priorities other than serving the tiny independent financial advisor market.

Google Apps Marketplace enables third-party vendors to leverage web interfaces. Third-party apps are likely to address some of the security issues posed by Google Apps and provide features and integration needed by advisors. But it will take months—probably years—for an advisor to pull together an integrated suite of professional apps that leverages Google Apps. But it will require stitching together specialized components from different vendors in the App Store, which would complicate matters for advisors significantly. Anyone who tells you advisors can use Google Docs today is reckless.

Which brings me to Zoho CRM, the subject of a rave review in one of the trade magazines for independent advisors.

Zoho is a web-based CRM that is integrated with Outlook, Facebook, and several other popular consumer applications. In addition to CRM, Zoho also offers an extensive suite of web-based software for word processing, spreadsheets, invoicing, online meetings, calendaring, sharing documents and more.

“Combining Zoho CRM with Zoho email and Zoho Docs gives you robust CRM, integrated email that includes email storage, plus an integrated online entry-level document management solution at an unbeatable price,” the article says.

“Perhaps the greatest differentiator for many potential purchasers is security,” says the article. “Overall, the security capabilities of the application are impressive.”

Zoho is indeed an impressive application but documents are not stored in encrypted format. Zoho’s website says passwords are encrypted but says nothing about whether documents you save on its servers are stored encrypted.

Since the security information on Zoho’s site was vague, I called Zoho to ask about its encryption.

I could not understand everything the salesman said because of his thick Indian accent (despite the fact that I've grown pretty good at understanding Indian accents because my company outsources many development projects to India). Initially, the Zoho salesman told me all documents were indeed encrypted. But when I questioned him further, he suggested a security specialist call me back.

The security specialist called back the next day. While he was polite, I had difficulty understanding everything he, too, said because of his accent. He confirmed that documents stored on Zoho Docs are not encrypted.

An April 2007 post on a Zoho forum said the company “may consider encrypting the entire Zoho server.” Apparently, Zoho has not gotten to that yet.

Encrypting passwords is important but inadequate for most advisors who took the time to learn about security. Not encrypting the documents means a hacker who breaches Zoho’s servers would be unable to read the users’ passwords, but he could read the documents stored on its servers. It’s an obvious risk. In addition, some Zoho employees have access to the files stored on Zoho Docs and could read them. That would not meet the standard advisors should insist upon, standards that are now required in some states and that are likely to become federal law in the months ahead. Zoho Docs security may be fine for most businesses but not for financial advisors who are responsible for protecting client data.

Moreover, financial institutions are putting advisor vendors through security audits and requiring that they have documented security policies and procedures in place. One large B/D, for instance, requires documentation on 20 policies, and each policy is a multi-page document covering how a vendor handles passwords, back-ups, security incidents, and business continuity. Another requirement: All new hires at tech vendors must be given a criminal background check. Some B/Ds also now require vendor systems to detect and stop intrusions.

(Interestingly, RIAs shrewd enough to use the web-based apps approved by large BDs get all of these security benefits for free, while reps are paying for them.)

Like Google Apps, Zoho Docs doesn’t allow advisors the role-management and user hierarchy features that advisors need. Nor is it integrated with advisor systems. It would take months for Zoho to address these and other shortcomings, assuming Zoho wants to specialize in the independent advisor market.

To be sure, Zoho and Google Docs cost less than applications that are created for advisors. That’s because Google and Zoho are not specializing in advisors. If they did, you’d pay more for all the features. Advisors who move to these apps as they are constitute]d now are risking a lot more than they realize and are paying for it in the long run by not getting the right features to handle their needs.

In running a technology company that has served independent advisors since 1996 and that provides a secure document sharing between advisors and their clients, I’ve been humbled in trying to meet the demands of the profession. (Writing about technology for advisors is easy; making technology for advisors is difficult.)

While you may want to believe that some inexpensive application is going to be a panacea, use your common sense.

Be as skeptical as you are when you read an article in a consumer personal finance magazine about an investment that promises returns of 10% annually through good and bad times.

If an app for advisors sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

401(k) Webinar Hits The Mark With Advisors

Last Friday’s webinar with Charles Epstein, the 401(k) Coach, was a big hit, as you can see from the comments from attendees shown below.

Epstein is a financial advisor who achieved success in the 401(k) business, so much success that he started a coaching program that has trained about 1,200 advisors. He’s also one of our featured bloggers on Advisors4Advisors.

Epstein is a pragmatist and offered real world wisdom that advisors appreciated. GoToWebinar, the tool we use for running these sessions, indicated that every single one of the attendees was “highly interested” in Epstein’s presentation. I can’t recall any other speaker who was able to hold the interst of the audience as well as Epstein.

Epstein’s session is available for replay at Advisor Products and on Advisors4Advisors.

Epstein provided a handout that can be used by fiduciaries to conduct an meeting with a plan sponsor that is a prospect, and it can be downloaded by members of A4A in the Advisor Rewards section of your profile.
The Financial Advisor Webinar Series Friday, February 5 at 4 p.m. EST
Epstein will be doing another webinar in April or May.
What did you think of the webinar? How can we improve it?

  • Very good overview of the 401k market for advisors. I like it when speaker provides resources like he did. Would like to see more on how to market services to companies.
  • More events with Mr. Epstein
  • Outstanding. Short and to the point. Thank you for taking the questions.
  • I thought it to be great information
  • It was good. I am interested in hearing from someone experienced in fiduciary plans the top shelf plans where advisors take on ERISA 3-38.
  • Interesting topic and completely new to me
  • A transcript, available upon request by an attendee, would help a great deal.
  • Good
  • Excellent webinar.
  • Very good session…only complaint is he went a little fast, but the slides and a replay is available so it is no big deal. Thanks very much.
  • It was excellent, and I especially appreciated your allowing download of slides. I wish I had known throughout the presentation however, because I was feverishly writing down each slide!
  • I really like your webinars. If I could change anything, it would be to keep them to an hour. I don't know how you do this because I don't think there is a lot of wasted time, but I personally struggle with the dual desires of wanting to continue learning and also moving on to the next, scheduled thing. This is fairly minor but I would prefer they be a little shorter.
  • Make a CD of the audio
  • Great Information.
  • I think it was very good. Thanks for coordinating and brininging important topics to us RIA's.
  • Excellent topic. Presenter moved a little fast and glossed over a few complex topics.
  • Sensational amount of information packed into an hour. Great job with the questions at the end of the program, Andy. They were delivered clearly, and you moved the answers right along without letting the speaker get bogged down.
  • I liked it.
  • Very good webinar. Good topic!
  • I liked it. It was helpful.
  • Very informative. Discussion included many topics I was not aware of especially fiduciary responsibility issues for the advisor to a plan.
  • Very good. Always like more take away, actionable items to implement. Not always just a sales pitch to sign up for a new program.
  • I appreciated the information. I would be interested in hearing the additional portions of the 401k Coach program on A4A.
  • Great timing for me since I am entering this service area.
  • Very informative
  • Good info & resources. Would like to hear Part 2 from Charlie (the remaining 3 steps)
  • This was a great webinar. Moderation intro was a little too long and slow
  • Very good and any process template or handouts would be appreciated
  • Spectacular. Thank you so much.
  • Awesome good information. Sometimes it is helpful to identify those things that "you don't know you don't know" and then provide resources to fill in the gaps.
  • Bring back for steps 4,5,6
  • Charlie is terrific!
  • Terrific very informative insightful and useful
  • Sometimes Charles moved onto a slide before giving the audience time to process what was on the slide. Being able to download the slides before the presentation would have been helpful
  • It moved very fast for me since I'm not active in this part of the business now, but it was a great presentation.
  • There was a lot to cover. Better to sometimes just commit to a 90 minute program. Thanks.
  • I thought it was informative. He had to fly through his slides, so I feel like I need to go back and look at them again.
  • Give and take questions
  • The audio was in and out and when I called the # the password was invalid it said.
  • Great questions Andy

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