In His Own Words: Financial Advisor Philip Benson On Implementation Of AdvisorVault For PortfolioCenter Reporting And Secure Client Portals
On June 1, 2012, Philip Benson Financial Services, an investment management and financial planning firm in San Francisco, purchased AdvisorVault’s integrated PortfolioCenter application from Advisor Products. AdvisorVault is a secure client portal system and can batch process PortfolioCenter reports. Within three months, Benson was successfully using the integrated application to deliver quarterly performance reports and invoices to clients securely, saving the firm time and money.
Philip Benson, 64, who spent three years at Merrill Lynch before giving up his securities sales licenses in 2003 and founding his fee-only fiduciary firm, explains his firm’s successful implementation of AdvisorVault as a secure client portal, in his own words below.
We manage portfolios for 40 families — their investable assets and their children’s 529 college savings plans — and we do financial planning for most of them. I do the investment management and the financial planning along with the help of my associate. We needed to become more efficient. We did not want to raise our fees in this economy. I concluded the solution was not hiring more staff but maximizing technology. Each quarter, we both spent about a day and a half printing, stuffing, stamping and mailing the reports. It was obvious we could benefit from electronically uploading invoices and quarterly reports to a secure vault.
I looked at several solutions, some of which were less expensive than Advisor Products. But AdvisorVault is keyed into financial services and Advisor Products has a relationship with Schwab Performance Technologies allowing it to provide bulk-upload features. Plus, your product has been offered for several years.
Our project manager, Kevin Chin, suggested that, rather than sending out one mass email to all of our clients, we launch 10 clients at a time and follow up with calls to each of them when needed. That was a great approach. Out of 40 clients, only three have not signed up.
We deduct the fees from most client accounts, but some prefer to write the check every quarter. We were able to personalize emails using AdvisorVault’s communication module for both types of billing situations. The beautiful thing is your developers make it look like the emails are coming from us directly.
When I did my due diligence, I heard Advisor Products had a good product but that we might not be able to get as much support as one might want. That was absolutely not the case; it could not have been further from the truth. We got all the support we needed. And we are the type of client who may request a lot of support in the beginning and then we tend to sail on our own until something comes up when we need additional support.
I don’t want AdvisorVault to distance me from clients. I want technology to help me stay in contact with clients and free me to build new business. If only 75% of clients log in to look at their reports, I send an email asking the other 25% who have not logged in to ask if they need any help. When I mailed out paper statements, we did not know who was opening the envelopes. Now, I can reach out to those clients who had not reviewed their reports.
We were burning paper, ink and time. We were combining different documents into PDFs in preparation for printing. There was a lot of manual labor involved. The AdvisorVault piece that previously took a day and half every quarter takes about an hour now, plus we’re not spending on paper, ink, and postage.
Thus far, we haven’t done any marketing. I’ve never made an outbound cold call and all new business comes from referrals. We’ve been focused on taking care of our clients and building a solid infrastructure. We will be ready to engage in marketing and business development soon. Technology will enable us to have more free time to do this.
For more information about AdvisorVault, please call 516 333 0066 x224.
For wealth managers who believe the most prudent path to investment success is broad diversification, periodic rebalancing, and choosing low-expense investments — while relying on the precepts of Modern Portfolio Theory — some good news: a scorecard from an authoritative, independent source documents the failed record of Wall Street’s top ranked strategists at picking the best and worst industry sectors.
Fritz Meyer, whose economic research is distributed by Advisor Products and Advisors4Advisors, has methodically tracked Barron’s annual interviews with Wall Street’s top strategists for over a decade. An article with details about Meyer’s findings will be published tomorrow on websites of advisory firms that license Advisor Products content for clients.
The table below compiled by Meyer, an independent economist, shows the picks and pans of 10 senior strategists from Wall Street largest firms in a Barron’s article from December 19, 2011. It tells a story of failed forecasts.
The telecommunications sector, for example, was favored by just two of the 10 strategists in the weekly magazine’s 2012 investment outlook. One strategist suggested avoiding the sector while seven — a majority — voiced no opinion on telecom.
As of mid-August 2012, telecom was the No. 1 performing sector, with a 19% return. “That’s a big miss,” says Meyer.
“If you think that even the smartest strategists on Wall Street can successfully and systematically pick the right asset classes, you’d be mistaken,” says Meyer, an independent economist with 30 years of experience in the investment world, including a stint as a strategist at one of the nation’s largest mutual fund companies.
Advisor Products provides content about wealth management for clients of investment fiduciaries. Its content platform can be added to any website and includes a social media dashboard enabling advisors to distribute content targeted to high-net-worth individuals to their social networks in less than five minutes a day. AdvisorVault, its secure online file-sharing system, is licensed by more than 400 RIAs and the company provides web development, brochures and creative services to independent advisors.
Advisor Products creates great financial articles for advisor clients and prospects. Should you copy and paste some of those articles and use them as blog posts? Here are some issues advisors need to know about when using other people’s content.
Content posted to many websites does you no good with search engines. To benefit from search engines, you need unique content. To be clear, Advisor Products articles about wealth management are posted on hundreds of advisor websites. They’re not unique. So they do not help you with search engine optimization. Nor do they hurt you. The point is, if you buy articles from a vendor and post them on your website and other advisors also post the same exact articles to their websites, the articles may be great reading but they do not help you with search engines.
Making Articles Written By Others Your Own. The way to use articles by written by other people to gain search engine benefits is to make them your own. That does not mean changing a couple of words. It means using the article written by someone else as the basis for your own story — pulling a few key facts but rewriting it to your specific audience.
For example, we recently posted an article for advisors to use on their websites about Section 179 deductions. Yesterday I was speaking with an advisor who specializes in working with veterinarians and suggested he rewrite that article and make it pertain specifically to vets. Write about the equipment they typically might be using a 179 deduction for. Write about a local vendor who sells that equipment and how it helps to document the purchases. Localizing the story will also help you with search engines.
Don’t game the search engines because they could penalize you for that. If you just change a few words in an article and try to outsmart the search engine robots that crawl your site, you put yourself at risk of being penalized. From my research, it seems there is no exact formula about how much an article can be duplicated without the search engines ignoring it. But Google and the other search engines are getting used and being relied upon on the Web because they provide authentically good information. So my personal take on this is to be honest and credible and rewrite an article written by others to really make it your own.
Ethical And Regulatory Considerations. Apart from the search engine considerations, using an article written by someone else on your website raises ethical and could raise regulatory issues. About 15 years ago, Bob Plaze, the outgoing Deputy Director of the Investment Management Division of the SEC, told me that RIAs should not take credit for writing articles that other people write. Ever since then, Advisor Products policy has been to post a disclosure on websites and newsletters we create for advisors saying that articles we provide are written by someone other than the advisor. For me, it was as much an ethical issue as a regulatory one.
Not all vendors serving advisors do this, however. Some vendors appear not to know about the regulatory risk that could be involved when an advisor posts an article written by someone else as it were written by him, and other seem oblivious to the ethical issues.
Advisor Products makes no compromises on ethical and regulatory issues. We tell advisors when we feel like they may be doing something that could land them in trouble. We also submit all articles made available on websites and in newsletters to FINRA for review — even though so many of our users are RIAs that do not need FINRA review of content — because it’s the prudent thing to do. FINRA’s advertising rules aimed at protecting consumers are similar in most ways to the SEC rules regulating RIAs, so it is good practice for RIAs to use FINRA-reviewed content. Since the SEC does not review content, the only way you’ll know when you’ve published advertising without necessary disclosures is when you’re being cited by the agency or a state regulator for a deficiency.
Taking positions like this has sometimes opened Advisor Products to criticism and we’ve probably lost some business because of it, but we don’t cut corners when it comes to ethics and compliance.
In 1997, when Advisor Products first started providing advisor websites (as AdvisorSites), there were no open-source content management software (CMS) systems. WordPress and Joomla were not founded until 2005. While Drupal was founded in 2001, it gained little traction until 2004.
Over the last few years, however, open-source CMS has flourished. WordPress, the most popular, is used by 16.7% of all websites, Drupal on 2.1%, and Joomla on 2.8%, according to W3Schools. Among the World Wide Web’s most visited one million sites, Drupal is the CMS reportedly used by 9.1%, Joomla by 11.1% and WordPress by 63.2%.
Open source CMS is popular because it’s free. Yes, free. These CMS apps are operated by not-for-profit organizations. The free software movement is an amazing phenomenon and books have been written about it. But the main thing most advisors probably care about is that, because they are free, Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress have spawned large communities of developers.
Tens of thousands of programmers around the world have built apps that extend WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. Like add-ons for Firefox, apps in the Apple iOS App Store, and Play for Google’s Android operating system (formerly called Market), these extensions make it easy to make improvements to a website.
Say you want to add a rotating banner to your website, one that changes a graphic and text displayed in a big rectangular box across the top of your home page. In minutes, you can find a free or inexpensive extension on a CMS app store that does it for you. Web development is suddenly easier and you can come to market with the latest widgets and apps much more quickly by relying on open-source CMS.
Advisor Products chose Joomla because it is extremely versatile. While WordPress is simpler, it’s really a blog platform and is not as powerful as Drupal or Joomla. Drupal, while also more powerful than WordPress, is more complex and unwieldy than Joomla. Joomla is a happy medium.
Advisor Products has built a new “BackOffice” application that gives advisors control over their websites using Joomla’s powerful features. We’ve created components to add Advisor Products’ content to your Joomla-powered website. You can change text and graphics on any page, add new pages, and easily keep your site fresh with new content and tools. Because the system is so easy to use and renders beautifully designed Web pages with rich social, video and textual content, you are more likely to use the CMS system to keep your site fresh.
Many small independent Web developers use Joomla to develop websites for advisors, but they lack the support staff, content and industry knowledge necessary to create a successful financial advisor website. Often these developers will not give you access to edit the site yourself.
We’ve come across one advisor who paid $27,000 for a Joomla site and branding that we charge $3000 for, and he was given now way to change his website himself. And just yesterday I spoke with an advisor who paid $14,000 for a WordPress site and had little choice but pay $100 an hour for his web developer to make simple changes to the site. We don’t behave that way here.
We’re now able to add the most modern widgets and graphics to advisor websites and all of it is integrated with AdvisorVault, client portals, and our wealth management content.
Initially, the new CMS platform is available to RIAs only. It has not been integrated with our compliance tool for broker-dealer pre-approval of content. But that’s coming. We’ll keep you updated.
Please call us at 516 333-0066 if you would like to know how you can use this cutting-edge technology to improve your website marketing and client communications.
Do you see things from your ideal client’s perspective? To succeed in using search engine optimization to market your firm, that mindset is required.
After last week’s Advisor Products webinar about marketing, I spoke with one of the attendees about his search engine optimization and content marketing strategy.
While this advisor is a licensed professional, he’s not an SEO expert, and he was having trouble with the notion that using social media to engage a very specific type of investor could be more rewarding than marketing to the broad masses. So I explained that writing a blog about financial problems of doctors in LA would indeed bring him a smaller readership than writing a blog for all small business owners in LA, but that the doctors who found his blog about their specific financial problems would be more likely to appreciate his specialized knowledge, he got that.
But what would be his best niches? Is it plastic surgeons in LA, Amgen senior managers, beauty salon owners? He would give that more thought, he said. But the exercise we went through was helpful.
By definition, until you understand that marketing to a specific group is more effective than marketing to everyone, you won’t be able see things from your ideal clients’ perspective, and, therefore, you won’t be able to identify the key words your ideal clients will use to search for you on the Web. You will fail at SEO.
However, once you commit to specializing in a specific client-type — lobstermen in Maine, chiropractors in Kansas City, or airplane pilots in Atlanta — you can speak to them directly over the Web.
I do it. That’s why you’re reading this! I’ve defined my niche and I am speaking to you because you are a professional financial advisor. You are probably credentialed and hungry for growth. I provide you information you value. So you might click on my tweets, read my blog and follow me on social networks.
You can do it, too. You can host webinars for dentists in Denver, and share financial ideas addressing their issues, and they will find you via search engines. You can post tweets for professors in Pittsburgh, Slidecasts for senior executives at a local tech company, and videos for owners of diners in Long Island. If you post content that diner owners in Long Island need to know, they will find and follow you.
For instance, say you tweet, blog, and make videos targeted to owners of owners of McDonald’s franchises about the new 3.8% federal surtax. A year from now, when an owner sells his franchise, he’ll want to shield his children’s passive gain on the sale, and he’ll think of you because you’ve been sending him ideas on this very topic to him.
If you can define your niches, then think like hem and imagine how they will find you. What would wealth management problems might cause an Amgen employee to go on the Web and search for help? If you know senior managers at GM have a deadline to decide on what to do about their pensions, what search terms will they use to find help with making the decision? If you use those search terms in your blogs, tweets, and other content on your website, they will find you and follow you. Over a year or two, these people who are searching for a needle in a haystack will call you and become clients because you specialize in solving their financial problems.
Content marketing is utilized on the Internet by businesses, but few financial advisors implement an SEO program because it costs money or time. Doing it right requires knowledge of SEO and wealth management as well as the ability to write words people will want to read. It’s not easy and success depends on doing it right. But if you do it right, it works. The fact that you’re reading this proves it.
I was on the phone with an advisor today who asked me why he should not choose a less expensive advisor website vendor or hosting service.
I showed him AdvisorVault and how he could easily and securely provide clients information about their portfolios, financial plans, and estate plans — information about their future and the future of their families.
Then, I showed him an article that we posted to advisor websites and social content stream a day ago or two entitled, “Is Media Biased Toward Bad Financial News.” Here’s a snippet:
Headlines about the economy in July sounded dire. “IMF Says Doubt Weighs On Economy,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “Economy Looks Weaker As Retail Sales Slump,” said The Boston Globe. “Fiscal Cliff Could Trigger U.S. Recession: IMF Economist,” according to a CNBC story.
“While the U.S. economy indeed was not growing briskly this summer, it was growing, and gloomy headlines belied reasons for optimism. Here are counterpoints to bad news and recession-mongering, reasons to expect that a slow-growth recovery will continue.”
The article, like all the stories we provide on advisor websites and for use on social media by advisors, reflects the perspective of an advisor. When you link to articles in the press, they don’t have your perspective. They want to sell papers and get eyeballs.
In addition, the article was submitted for expedited FINRA review, a process we go through every month so that we can post timely news for use on advisor websites and newsletters. Even if you’re an RIA with no BD, FINRA’s review helps ensure nothing promissory, unsubstantiated, or outlandish goes to clients.
The article, which provides details on seven pieces of good economic news, is based on authoritative sources, in this case, ideas from economist Fritz Meyer. The story presents a well-reasoned analysis based on data.
The Web has created an information explosion so loud that rising above the din is extremely difficult. The only way you can hope to get through is by providing real knowledge and valuable ideas. Imparting valuable information about your clients’ wealth is the kind of marketing to which advisors should aspire, and that’s what makes Advisor Products different.
RIAs can now batch process invoices and other documents using a new feature in AdvisorVault. The “batch upload” feature lets you process documents created in just about any application and deliver them securely to each individual client’s vault.
RIAs usually produce some documents and reports en masse for all clients. Billing statements, tax analysis, and portfolio reports are often produced in a batch of 50, 100 or 500, for example. Being able to securely deliver such documents in a single upload streamlines your operations, saves time, and increases communication with clients about their personal financial data.
The new batch upload feature in AdvisorVault allows you to upload for all your clients in a single upload, and yet each document is automatically be posted to each client’s vault. In addition, AdvisorVault can automatically notify each client about the upload in a personalized email from you that also also sent en masse.
The batch upload feature works with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and other documents, including Adobe PDFs,and it also works with any professional software you use for performance reporting, financial planning, billing or other internal tasks.
The batch upload feature parses client files based on a unique identification number. AdvisorVault uses that unique identification number to drop each document into the corresponding client’s vault. After a batch upload is set up one time, you can upload use the batch process for that file again anytime. An AdvisorVault technician helps you set up your upload the first time.
You can batch upload to any folder in AdvisorVault that you designate and can set a deletion date for each batch. For example, you can set invoices posted in batch today to be deleted on January 1, 2014.
While the batch upload feature allows an advisor to batch process reports from any application, this is not the same as using AdvisorVault’s XML batch process. AdvisorVault’s integration with Advent Axys, AssetBook, and PortfolioCenter batch processes client performance reports to create dynamic HTML reports, which provide a more interactive user experience in your performance reports.
With some RIAs telling us their state regulator is now requiring them to show proof that their clients have viewed their quarterly invoices, the batch uploading to AdvisorVault could become more important. Please let us know if you would like us to develop a report allowing your firm to see which clients did not view their quarterly invoices. If there is heavy demand for this report, we’ll accelerate development of this feature.
AdvsorVault’s batch upload software costs $1,000 a year and setting up each batch process costs $300. Call us at 516-333-0066 ext. 224 for a demonstration.
Charles D. Jones Capital Management, an RIA in Waco, Texas, says Social Media Content Stream For Advisors from Advisor Products is doubling unique visitors to its website.
“The data is pretty compelling,” Jones said in an email to me last week. “It explains itself better than I can.” Jones sent data from his Google Analytics account showing that unique visitors to his website doubles on days when he uses the wealth management content stream provided by Advisor Products.
Advisor Products released Social Media Content Stream For Advisors to beta testers eight weeks ago. It automatically posts status updates (also called “tweets”) to an advisor’s social networks. The 140-character updates link to wealth management articles and videos created by Advisor Products and posted to an advisor’s website. When your social connections see a status update in which they’re interested, they can click on a link embedded in the status update and it takes them to your website to read the full article.
Social Media Content Stream For Advisors is administered using a social media dashboard. The dashboard lets you schedule your tweets. So you can long in once a week or once a month and schedule all your tweets to be posted once a day. You can also rewrite the tweets and target them to your local market or niches, which will help with search engine optimization. Alternatively, you can your dashboard settings can automatically post your status updates and run on “autopilot.”
If you are an Advisor Products Platinum client, Social Media Content Stream For Advisors is free. Please email us to turn on your social media dashboard. You can add archiving of all your social media content for $348 annually by taking advantage of our partnership with Erado.
Advisor Products has nearly five years of experience in developing client portals and provides secure portals to more than 45,000 clients of RIAs.
The key to success, we’ve learned, is in making it easy on clients.
By automatically notifying a client whenever their advisor uploads a document, AdvisorVault puts an unprecedented amount of personal financial information at your clients’ fingertips.
You’re not sending clients “canned” information. It’s about their accounts, their wealth. Clients care about that.
Your clients are not morons. They know AdvisorVault notifications provide important and personal financial information. Some clients check data daily, but most check it once a month or less.
Knowing the information is there is what’s important to clients.
Telling clients the information will always be there is good marketing for advisors.
To notify clients when new personal information becomes available, AdvisorVault’s email communication module makes it easy to create “template emails.”
Template emails generated in AdvisorVault include your logo and come from your personal email address. They are captured by your email archive system.
The body of the text of template emails in AdvisorVault is personalized. John Smith gets a “Dear John Smith” email with a personalized URL to log into his personal portal.
The screenshot above shows 16 template emails included with AdvisorVault, covering the most common activities of advisors using client vaults. For example, when an advisor uploads a document, the email at the top of the list, “Advisor Document Upload,” can be sent automatically.
Setting up an automatic email notification is easy for an advisor. In the screenshot above, each of the email templates checked off will be sent automatically. Whenever you add a new client vault or reset a client’s password, for example, a template email can be sent automatically.
Template emails can be sent in batch or one at a time. If you change all of your clients’ passwords or upload a document for all of your clients, for instance, all of them can be sent an email notification.
Also you can create your own template emails. If you batch upload clients’ brokerage statements, for example, you can write an email and that will be automatically sent. The email is short but personal.
While unbridled transparency may not fit your style currently, those who practice this way are likely to find the transparency a marketing advantage. Plus it’s the right thing to do.
This is where the world is headed. Full-disclosure is your friend. It’s what fiduciaries do.
You can be the guy who makes information available to clients over the Web. Or not.
If not, those who do embrace transparency this way will be happy to compete against you.
Client portals offered by advisors are not consumer apps. They’re made for advisor clients. Email templates is just one feature of many enabled by AdvisorVault that advisors won’t get from consumer apps like Dropbox and FileShare, which are being promoted by some consultants who don’t have our experience.
Data from portfolio management, CRM, and professional applications can’t be found in consumers apps. With 50 million users, integration with your PMS system is not a high priority to DropBox. It is a high priority in AdvisorVault.
Batch Process Any File
AdvisorVault recently launched an app that lets you batch process any file you get in a batch. If you get 1099s, brokerage statements, tax returns, or any other documents in batch, you can batch upload them to AdvisorVault.
For Methodical Advisors Only
AdvisorVault is not for everyone. Advisors who do not want to share information with clients won’t like it. Advisors who won’t follow through with setting up clients with vaults and using template emails are also not well suited for it. It’s only for advisors with an attention span long enough to facilitate following through with a plan.
AdvisorVault is continuously evolving. New features we’re planning to deliver in the next 12 months will allow you to deliver clients your Form ADV, provide “star” reports on mutual funds, and enable clients to sign account documents digitally. In addition, we plan to be enable delivery of personalized news in a client’s vault so you can address behavioral finance issues in times of volatility. We also plan to integrate with consumer vault systems like AdvisorVault so advisors can easily move documents from the most popular consumer apps to AdvisorVault’s app for professionals.
How An RIA With $1.6 Billion AUM And Serving As A Multi-Family Office Uses Advisor Products Client Vault
After 25 years as a hand surgeon, Dr. Bob Tucker left his position as medical director of a large orthopedic group in St. Louis in 2006 to become a financial advisor. Tucker joined Plancorp, an RIA in St. Louis with $1.6 billion AUM founded by Jeff Buckner. Buckner, a co-founder of Zero Alpha Group, a network of nine RIAs managing about $9 billion, gave Tucker oversight of operations, drawing on his experience in running a medical practice.
In October 2010, Plancorp selected AdvisorVault as its client portal platform. Plancorp, which uses Schwab PortfolioCenter for portfolio management and reporting, uploads client data daily to AdvisorVault.
“There were some technology issues initially, but they’ve been resolved, says Tucker. “Our clients do like it and we like it.”
Tucker says it takes about 15 minutes a day for staffer to upload the portfolio data. “Every client’s vault is branded to Plancorp, and we like that,” says Tucker. “We also like the fact that we are presenting clients with HTML reports and not just PDFs.”
AdvisorVault, like many client portfolio reporting solutions, allows RIAs to prepare PDF reports. The HTML reports use the Web medium better, allowing an RIA to present links to securities with Podcasts, news and other data. In addition, HTML reports are interactive allowing clients to export tables to Excel, reorder a report by clicking on a column heading, drill down into links to individual tax lots, and more.
Plancorp inserts a disclosure that all its clients must view before accessing reports in AdvisorVault.
Tucker says the firm recently added AdvisorVault’s integration with TD Ameritrade Institutional, which is free with AdvisorVault. TD Ameritrade Institutional integration with AdvisorVault allows RIAs to provide their clients with access to TDAI account data daily from the RIA’s website instead of directing clients to the TDAI Veo advisor-client website.
RIAs can see reports on which clients are logging into AdvisorVault to check account values and which documents are viewed. In addition, RIAs can post content that all clients will see before accessing account statements, enabling advisors to address behavioral finance issues in times of volatility.
While an operations staffer is charged with uploads of daily performance data, Tucker says financial planning associates are responsible for uploading other wealth management documents for clients. As a service to clients, Plancorp offers to post estate documents, tax returns, health care proxies, passports and more. Tucker says that although not all clients “recognize the value of having those documents available from any internet connection, a number have posted their own documents.”
Tucker says use of the vault by client is not correlated with age. “It’s more highly correlated with how obsessive the client is and whether they see the value in having documents in a place where they are safe and accessible. I don’t know that they’re interested in technology as much as the benefit.”
Attorneys, accountants, and other allied professionals are provided vault access, Tucker says. “We have created vaults for key professionals with whom we share a lot of data.” Tucker says Plancorp has relationships with several accounting firms with mutual clients, and professionals at those firms are given access to their clients’ documents.
“Another situation is a family office, where we give the outside professionals access to certain parts of the vault,” he says. “Plancorp provides the family office, but if the family has attorneys and accountants, we’ve structured vault access so that those professionals can get access to some documents.”
Tucker cited the case of a family matriarch who gets access to everything in her family vault, but her children get access that is “somewhat limited.” “Anything we can do to strengthen the relationship with next generation is done” using AdvisorVault, says Tucker.
Advisor Products is proud to have Plancorp using its secure client portal systems.