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Last year, I made the leap from a ground-based to a cloud-based server. The reason? A $6 motherboard battery failed and led to problems that eventually required me to upgrade my network, which would have cost $9,000.

But, if I’d gone that route, I would’ve spent a fortune and had a system that would have been outdated. Instead, I embraced the cloud for my CRM and office administrative software.

I chose an online service, Podio, which runs from any computer with an Internet connection; I can even use my smartphone or tablet. I also looked at Salesforce and Insightly, but went with Podio for two main reasons.

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1 Podio cost less, and was less complicated to use.

2 Podio lets me create online workspaces that clients, co-workers or wholesalers can join. Within this secured network, the invited members can make comments, respond to email, and upload or download sensitive files—all in an archived space. This has the potential to replace those long, convoluted email chains that can evolve over an extended project.

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Setting up Podio

The biggest potential downside of Podio is how basic it is. While the system allows you to create a personalized client database, doing so also creates more work. It does have a few pre-built templates, but I was changing so many fields and datatypes that it was easier to start with a blank slate.

A new template allows you to drag in as many appropriate fields as you need, and create relationships between them. Once completed, this collection of fields becomes an app, and that’s where your data resides. For example, I created an app called “Clients” to store basic information about each individual client, borrowing from the structure of my past server-based database.

Once that information is entered or imported, you start grouping items: for example, you’d group all clients in a family or household.

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Additional apps

I created a scheduling app called “Activities,” which I then used to connect calls, meetings and administrative tasks to individual clients. There are date stamps and reminders on each activity.

We also created an app called “Service Record,” which allows us to track client service, administration, follow ups and issues separately from Activities. If we did a deposit for a client into his RRSP, my assistant would create a Service Record entry two weeks from today to ensure the deposit was invested correctly. This behind-the-scenes task is separated from client contact actions, like follow ups or birthday calls.

Another app I created archives my past database’s information. We exported the past database into Excel, and then imported that Excel document into Podio.

The number of historical items (117,000) made this a long process, but it was worth the effort because we could then duplicate the old software’s layout in the archiving app.

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App creation is easy. For example, the bulk of your info (client name, SIN, RRSP trustee, etc.) is added into a basic Text field; birthdays would be put into a Date field. You can also create a drop-down field for each client type (e.g., A-list, B-list; accredited investor, non-accredited investor). The Client app I created has 44 fields, and I can add more if necessary.

More customized Podio apps that you may want to consider include:

  • Net Worth;
  • Insurance;
  • Conversation, to invite individual clients or wholesalers;
  • Financial Plan, with a journal to record changes over time;
  • Individual Plan Goals, including percentage completed;
  • Staff Hours;
  • Fee Tracker for fee-only clients;
  • Administration Projects, for complicated administration issues.

The beauty of these apps is they link directly or indirectly back to the Clients app, creating an organized structure.

by Kevin Cork, CFP, president of TheAbsoluteGroup.com and a best-selling author

Originally published in Advisor's Edge

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