After Joining Stableview Asset management, an independent firm, managing director Colin Fisher started shopping for a new customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

Topping his list: a secure system, which if housed in the U.S. could prevent U.S. enforcement officials waving Patriot Act court orders from peeking into client information. He also wants features that automate daily workflow, store a wide range of client documents, and let his team connect regularly with customers.

Fisher doesn’t want StableView to worry about owning the servers, installing upgrades or dealing with tech guys. He’s still in the process of vetting software.

CRM brands like Sage ACT, Maximizer and Goldmine are well used. But with regulators demanding better compliance, and wealth management firms wanting to better leverage client data, new solutions have emerged.

Salesforce, the $2.5-billion-a-year CRM giant, has spurred much of the upheaval. Its cloud-based applications and plug-ins, while expensive, promise an all-in-one system.

Mark Farris, director and wealth advisor for Richardson GMP, says an efficiency push caused his team to shift from ACT to Salesforce last year. Farris and his colleagues increasingly use mobile devices, making the program’s web features a must. He adds a CRM is no longer just about remembering client birthdays. In fact, not tapping the technology means leaving money on the table.

A business essential

Craig, an Ontario advisor who prefers not to be identified, works for a large institution with a creaking CRM system it keeps pledging to improve. He’s been using it to track customers since the 1990s.

But to schedule meetings and send emails, he uses Microsoft Outlook. And to access portfolios and get information about client RRSPs and dividend payments, he relies on Vantage. To execute trades, he has to use yet another platform.

“I have a lot of pieces running at the same time,” Craig says. But since this patchwork does the job, there’s little motivation to fix it.

Tage Cawley, Canaccord’s Edmonton branch manager and senior vice president, says his firm recently moved to Salesforce to look for fresh ways to mine client data. Why? Advisors have to be able to capture and quickly verify all conversations with clients to avoid complaints or lawsuits. “[I tell] the guys this is about self-preservation.”

And there are some good features. Planning and tracking attendance at client appreciation events is more streamlined. Suddenly, events that would have been held twice yearly can happen monthly, with the corresponding increase in leads.

For Farris, the most important benefit is the ability to manage and integrate initial contacts, portfolio reviews, presentations and follow-ups. He uses Process Composer, a Salesforce app, to distribute those tasks among team members.

Yet not all advisors are sold on the newest generation of CRMs. Cawley understands the reluctance. “If you don’t put money up yourself, you probably won’t use the system. But when they start to see new clients coming in, there’s more buy-in.”

Speeding up sales

CRMs that speed execution of sales events can also be used to cross-sell multiple products, adds Cawley. His team recently presented with a trust and estate planner. The CRM sent 100 electronic invitations to both teams’ databases, and almost 40 people attended. “This would have taken weeks of effort, and now it can be done in a couple of hours.”

Data should also provide advisors with opportunities to pitch adjacent services to clients who may have active investments, but lack life insurance or estate plans.

All CRMs have search functions, but Mike Ankers, a vice president at National Bank, says the most important step for leveraging data is to configure the CRM so it can include information like a client’s investment objectives, preferred types of investments and whether she has a will. This way advisors can see which financial services their clients don’t have.

Before annual reviews, advisors should search the CRM for discussion points, says Ankers, whose advisors use either Maximizer or Croesus, a system that includes CRM, order tracking and portfolio performance functions. “The blanks are the opportunities,” he says, to determine what services are needed to ensure the client’s financial plan is complete.

Toronto-based PriceMetrix found households with one or more retirement accounts generate almost $1,000 more in annual brokerage revenue than households with no retirement accounts, on the same basis of assets. And each account increases expected annual production by $510.

More on the iPad!

Learn about U.S. efforts at cross-selling.

The message, according to John Vervoort, director of client analytics at PriceMetrix, is advisors should encourage clients to take advantage of registered accounts. By consolidating registered and non-registered accounts, advisors are also able to make fairer pricing decisions.

“Clients with one or more RRSPs have deeper, more productive relationships with their advisors,” he says.

The payoff? Vervoort says his firm has found cross-selling can boost an advisor’s productivity by up to 30%.

Another PriceMetrix study shows that an advisor’s top-line numbers don’t give a full account of potential future growth. Instead, those with more production from fee accounts (as opposed to transactional and trailer revenue) are expected to be bigger future producers.

So, all other things being equal, someone with below-average fee revenue ($100,000) will produce 12% less than average five years later, while someone with above-average fee revenue ($300,000) will produce 13% more than average. And, for every household with at least $250,000 in investable assets, future annual revenue is expected to increase by $1,650. For households below that, revenue falls by $270 per household, per year.

John Lorinc is a Toronto-based financial writer.