Over the last 20 years, technology has progressed at breakneck speed. The investment industry, meanwhile, “has grudgingly been dragged along, kicking and screaming.” So says Eric Mennell, senior vice president and associate portfolio manager, Mennell Wealth Strategies Group, within Macquarie Private Wealth Inc.
One explanation for the resistance, he believes, is it’s difficult to balance the compliance and regulatory requirements with the desire to implement communications technology. For instance, a lot of advisors use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but don’t realize they may be breaking rules by posting to the sites without first getting approval from compliance.
Another reason is every advisor runs a unique practice. So even though a number of tools exist to make the advisor’s life easier—CRMs, for example—there’s no buy-in on a company-wide level. There’s also a question of propriety. “Who owns the data?” Mennell says advisors commonly ask. “What’s the data being used for?”
Despite the industry’s suspicious tendencies, Mennell, a 25-year veteran, has always used technology in his practice. “I was probably one of the first customers of WinFax in the late 1980s,” he reveals. Since then, he’s added significantly to his tech toolbox.
“There are a lot of components to what I do that rest completely on technology,” he says. “I use Salesforce.com. I use a BlackBerry. I have an iPad, [so in a meeting] I’ve got my quote and accounting systems, and maybe a PDF [onscreen] and I can move back and forth and show clients what I’m thinking and why it affects them. I use a headset so I can toggle between the phone and voice-dictation software. [And] I use Skype, which is integrated into my CRM from my cottage.”
The CRM is something Mennell makes particularly extensive use of.
“The benefits of the CRM are remarkable. You can provide more efficient communication [and] legacy. It makes every conversation easier. If I’m sending you an e-mail or a corporate presentation, I can see that you only looked at it for two seconds or if you had it open for six hours.”
The ability to track a client’s viewing habits makes the CRM an extremely useful tool. It allows Mennell to focus on clients who actually read the supporting materials he sends out, and omit from a follow-up those who aren’t interested. “The point of having a meeting is to look at your materials in advance. Because that’s how you’re going to formulate some questions,” he says.
Mennell admits technology has in some ways made the advisor’s job more difficult. Some clients, he says, don’t understand why he can provide information about investments over the phone, but can’t put anything in writing without it first being vetted by compliance and marketing.
Client information overload can also be something of an issue.
“Clients have more questions,” says Mennell. “My job has become more complicated, in that I spend more time reading and learning.”
But keeping up with the information flow and helping clients make sense of it all is also what he loves most about the business.
“Clients don’t know what’s important. You have to continually look under the rocks and figure out what they’re working with, where they’re going. And you ultimately give them solutions—to their questions, to their stress, to their lives.
“This is a personal, passionate business. And if you can really get into people’s lives and understand the psychological component, the economic component, the social and family dynamics … it’s extremely satisfying.”