Three ideas for accelerating technology adoption within your RIA firm

Three ideas for accelerating technology adoption within your RIA firm

Olivia Tromm | February 10, 2016

Three ideas for accelerating technology adoption within your RIA firm

Over the past few months, I’ve been consulting with a large RIA firm that transitioned to a new customer relationship management (CRM) system. I’ll equate the scenario to “transitioning” from owning and driving a 1997 Honda Civic to a 2015 BMW.

Leadership was ecstatic about all of the efficiencies and process improvements they felt the modern system could bring to their organization. However, they had a big problem. On a recent catch-up call, they told me, “Olivia, we were really excited about the new CRM and it truly has everything we need, we know it does. But, no one wants to use it. My colleague and I are literally going to people’s desks one by one to get them out of their chairs to come to the scheduled technology trainings. What are we doing wrong?” The bottom line: No one wanted to drive the new BMW.

I wish I could say I was shocked. According to the 2015 InvestmentNews Adviser Technology Study, a majority (55%) of advisors say that fully utilizing the firm’s current technology will be critical to achieving annual growth goals.1 It’s an important stated initiative for most, yet, I don’t even want to hazard a guess at the percent of advisors who would be able to say they are fully utilizing their technology at the end of the year. I also didn’t choose the car models arbitrarily. A few years back, I traded in my 1997 Honda civic for a newer BMW and it took me a good six months before I really wanted to get into the driver’s seat. Yes, six months. Why? I wasn’t used to it. I was afraid of crashing or embarrassing myself by taking up two spaces when I parked the car. I had heated leather seats with power lumbar and I missed the comfort that the hole-laden fabric seats gave me in my 1997 Civic. I imagined the RIA’s employees felt the same way about their new CRM system.

What can leadership do, regardless of the type of technology, to get more of their employees comfortably situated in the driver’s seat and headed straight for annual growth?

To get at some answers, I had conversations with RIAs, interviewed technology vendors at the recent FPA conference in Boston, and poured over research on technology transformation and change management. I solicited a number of ideas, and three rose to the top.

1. Craft your technology transformation story. Be able to articulate the how, what, and why in five minutes or less. When leadership tries to generate excitement around using, let’s say, a portfolio management system, they often find themselves rehashing all the benefits they were sold on during the sales process. “Carol, you won’t believe the clean new reports, sleek client portal, level of customization, and navigational ease that our new portfolio management system brings to the table. You’ve got to get in there and play around.” But, what does this all mean to Carol, her assistant, and the overall client experience?
  Research conducted by Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review found that employees’ ability to conceptualize and articulate a technology’s potential to transform the business is an important part of driving employee adoption2, yet is lacking in many organizations. They suggest storytelling as a means of getting employees to buy in, starting first with those employees or “change champions” who are most likely to positively influence others to use the technology. Employees need to understand the answers to these three questions before becoming champions of the new technology: 1.) What is changing? 2.) Why is it changing? 3.) How will they benefit from the change? Ideally, you would also bring your change champions in on the purchasing decision to further solicit their buy-in.
  The change story needs to be crafted through the leader’s lens. Businesses that Deloitte coins technologically mature are twice as likely as other organizations to have a designated person or group leading the technology change initiative.2 They are also more likely to have people confident in their leader’s “digital fluency.”2 We might think of digital fluency as technological mastery, but not for Deloitte. In this case, digital fluency reflects the ability to translate the value that the technology brings to the company’s future.
2. Consider holding “Friday Morning Grand Rounds” Grand rounds are a commonplace in the medical field. Doctors, residents, and medical students come together to present symptoms and suggested treatment of a particular patient. The patient does not attend the round—it is an opportunity for the medical community to share new research or to talk through a specific case and gather perspectives.
  A former advisor said his firm used to hold grand-round-like meetings once a week where a designated advisor would present their suggested approach for an upcoming financial planning meeting. Oftentimes the conversations would be centered on the needs of complex clients or out of the box situations. The advisor would walk the group through the client’s financial plan and approach for the meeting, emphasizing how he or she incorporated the firm’s financial planning technology. The advisor would reference which reports were used, call out specific report page numbers that were interesting, and highlight technology components the rest of the group may not be using.
  These grand rounds provide a low-risk way for leaders to stretch their next-generation talent bench. Often, these individuals are the most-well-versed on your systems. In what innovative ways would they use the firm’s technology to approach some of the firm’s more complex client cases?
3. Formalize goals that define successful technology adoption and reward employees who exceed these goals in a meaningful way Take the time to think about how your team, in an ideal state, would be interfacing with the firm’s technology. Then, try to quantify what this means. Is it a certain number of financial plans being generated by the financial planning system over the course of a quarter? The percent of an advisor’s clients actively logging into your new client portal? Number of documents scanned and uploaded in the document management system? Workflows completed and documented in the CRM system? This will allow you to measure and manage to these stated goals and metrics. Chances are your new technology hosts many new and exciting capabilities. Learning how to use all of these new functions can be overwhelming to your staff. Get specific and narrow in on the technology’s capabilities that you think will yield the most meaningful results within your firm and center your metrics on these capabilities. These metrics can change over time as the team becomes more acquainted with the technology.
  Rewarding employees for interfacing with the technology based on the metrics you’ve defined does not have to be in the form of compensation. Consider how you may be able to incorporate employee recognition or even a company-wide competition as a fun way to get your team engaged and motivated to utilize the technology.
  According to a study by Capgemini and Sloan Management Review, 63% of leaders embarking on a digital transformation felt that the pace of technology change in their organization was too slow.3 What was the biggest obstacle impeding the pace of technology transformation in their opinion? Lack of urgency among their employees.3 You’ll notice that all three of the ideas above have more to do with creating a company culture conducive to embracing change and less to do with the actual technology itself.
  Igniting the level of urgency starts with you, the firm’s leadership. Have a clear vision for why employees should make their way into the driver’s seat. Incent them to embrace change and take the right risks while creating a culture that makes them feel comfortable doing so. Then, stand back as you watch your technology adoption efforts kick into high gear.
1. Investment News. "2015 InvestmentNews Adviser Technology Study."
2. MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte. "The 2015 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project." 2015.
3. MIT Sloan Management Review and Accenture. "The 2013 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project." 2015.