It's pretty much a given that when government agencies are mentioned, we think of bureaucracy, red tape, and waste. So when President Barack Obama recently challenged his cabinet secretaries to save $100 million by streamlining government operations, lo and behold, they did it.
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So take your cue from the elimination of government inefficiencies and look inside your firm. What simple things can be changed to unlock cost savings? Here are some thoughts from my experience in various roles as a financial service professional.
- Simplify scanning. Should advisors scan all their own paper documents? What would happen if all office scanning was consolidated to just a few individuals who subsequently filed scans into the firm's document management system? Afraid staff will miss-file documents? Perhaps a simple written note on the top of the first page can provide clear direction on where the scan should be filed. Adding bar codes and stamps are more sophisticated, but they're not as easy as a quick written note.
- Duplex (double-side) printing. Just as in the Wall Street Journal article, duplex printing has the potential to cut paper use up to 50%. Where possible, install duplex adapters in all office printers to enable double-side printing.
- Adopt multiple monitors. I've written before how the addition of another monitor to a workstation can improve productivity from 10% to 20% (see this other article from the Wall Street Journal by Michael Totty). Use one screen as the active workspace and a second screen as the reference area. Caution: Avoid the habit of leaving an email program active in either screen. New message notifications can be distracting to one's concentration. That leads me to...
- Use email judiciously. New incoming emails are a distraction and they interrupt one's thought process and productivity. Instead, keep the email program closed while focusing on important tasks. Develop a routine of checking email three to four prescribed times per day.
- Manual data gathering. It takes a lot of time to manually obtain price, transaction, and balance information for client's held away assets (e.g. not held by your custodian). Then when data is manually entered into a portfolio management system, mistakes and typos can easily be entered. Switch to an automated process where this data is obtained by an account aggregation service that is ready for immediate importing into portfolio software. No typing of data also leads to much fewer mistakes.
- Calculating fees. If you bill quarterly on assets under management, independent advisers might spend several days collecting final balance information from various accounts and holdings (especially if multiple custodians and captive accounts are involved). Again, account aggregation can greatly simplify this process. But what about running assets through your fee schedule and generating invoices to either 1) send to the custodian for account debits, or 2) send to the client for payment by check? Think about linking your portfolio management software to your bookkeeping/invoicing software to streamline the fee calculation and billing process. Also, if your custodian/money manager is automatically debiting fees, you can compare your calculations to the actual fees taken by the manager to determine if the correct amount was withdrawn. You may or may not be surprised, as the money managers make mistakes when debiting fees, too.
These simple tips scratch the surface of things advisors can do to increase productivity and unlock cost savings within a firm. When more tasks can be completed each day with minimal increases in costs, more clients can be served, adding more revenue and profit to the company's bottom line.