YOUR PRACTICE-Successful financial advisers use software, plan well

Fri May 23, 2014 8:30am EDT

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

By Robyn Post

CHICAGO May 23 (Reuters) - Many folks hired to be financial planners may not be planning their time well, a number of studies show. But those who do are more successful and tend to grow their firms with fewer drawbacks, such as stress and exhaustion.

Successful firms stand apart from their peers in three key areas: They have a clear target client; they have efficient systems, such as for scheduling and delegation; and they reserve time for planning.

Sunit Bhalla, who spoke at a recent National Association of Personal Financial Advisors conference about better business planning, says advisers simply need to spend time on the right activities.

A Fort Collins, Colorado-based adviser to engineers and technology professionals, Bhalla said good planning allows him time for family and volunteering, and more revenue and profit than he ever imagined.

He said he focused on infrastructure first, putting revenue and profit aside to invest in technology. He chose software programs, for example, that integrated well and eliminated most manual data entry that takes up an adviser's time.

"I never type a client's name or Social Security number even once," he says.

TECH TIME-SAVERS

Instead he has clients use an online questionnaire to enter their personal information. That data is then used to fill out investment, insurance and advisory forms, as well as his financial planning software. His account and data aggregation tools, ByAllAccounts and NetX360, feed the data into his performance reporting software, Black Diamond.

"Every morning, I find up-to-date balances in my clients' accounts, ready for a meeting," he says.

Richmond, Virginia-based adviser Dave O'Brien calculated that technology frees up 30 percent of his time. While Bhalla uses his free time for family, O'Brien uses it to take on more clients, generating more revenue.

"It also establishes trust when clients see how efficiently I handle my own business," O'Brien says.

O'Brien and Bhalla's approach underscores a 2014 study by the Financial Planning Association showing that the 13 percent of advisers who report being in control of their time average 50 more client meetings per year.

Debbie Whitlock, a Seattle, Washington-based adviser who recently sold her firm and now mentors advisers, found that taking time to plan has been key. In her practice, work stopped 30 minutes early so everyone could plan out the next day.

"Where we fall apart is waking up and flying by the seat of our pants," she says.

Odenton, Maryland-based adviser Jim Ludwick, continually implements new systems for productivity, which is how he produces annual revenue in excess of $300,000 without selling products or managing money, he says.

He also eliminated free consultations because they weren't converting into business. He now charges $100 for them, and he said nine of 10 prospects become clients.

He also shaved time off meetings by using Google Drive, an online storage tool, so he and his staff can review projects and prospects together weekly in real time.

Because of his systems, he'll soon be able to work remotely from Italy part of the year.

"My life is satisfying," he says. (Editing by Tim McLaughlin and Linda Stern)

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