With a background as an industrial engineer, CFP® Rick Epple says he realized in December 2008 that he needed to radically shift the way he managed his practice. “After the market crash in October 2008, I thought to myself that I could not do this anymore,” says the founder of Epple Financial in Wayzata, Minn. “With all the time it took to reassure clients, the fact that my technology systems did not talk to each other made it difficult to quickly get information and communicate.”
“I took a step back and asked myself what my vision was for my practice, and it was clear that I had to automate more,” Epple says, “I needed a system where I did not have to spend as much time accessing client data, where information would be at my fingertips and my clients’ fingertips.”
In early 2009, Epple decided to make the Client Portal from Advisor Products his platform for secure client communication. He made the decision because of Client Portal’s interface with Redtail CRM. After further research, Epple selected AssetBook as his firm’s portfolio management accounting application, largely because of its integration with the Advisor Products Client Portal. He chose MoneyGuide Pro as his financial planning solution because it, too, was integrated with the Client Portal from Advisor Products.
“Changing everything was not an easy process,” says Epple. “You don’t have to be an industrial engineer to do it, but you need to make the time and financial commitment to transfer to new systems. You must be able to handle change and follow through on your plans.”
By July 2010, Epple says all of his practice management systems were running smoothly and he was ready to start marketing and scaling up. “The benefit were not evident until early 2011,” he says. That year, Epple says his fee-only firm’s assets under management rose more than 40% from $26 million to $37 million. By the end of the first quarter of 2012, Epple Financial Advisors was at $42 million in AUM.
“It took me from working in the business to working on the business,” says Epple, who added 13 new clients and is now focused more on working with dentists and business owners in the Lake Minnetonka area near Minneapolis, Minn.
According to Epple, once AssetBook, MoneyGuide Pro, and Redtail were set up to feed client data into each client’s portal, the benefits of the automation kicks in. “The difficult part of the shift is not the Client Portal,” says Epple, “It’s switching over client data and then learning use new tools for performance reporting, financial planning and client relationship management.”
Epple says a virtual assistant sets up a portal and vault for each new client. The portal automatically generates email notifications to clients and forces them to create “strong” passwords. “It’s a user-friendly system and it does not take a lot of work to implement,” Epple says.
Some clients log into their portals daily to check their performance of their portfolios, which Epple says “does make me a bit nervous.” However, he says they are also looking at the same time at performance of their financial plan’s performance, which puts portfolio performance in perspective. On average, Epple says his 37 clients check their portal once a month.
A feature in the client portal that Epple is using extensively allows him to assign to-dos to clients. Epple creates a to-do in Redtail’s CRM and checks a box to automatically push it into a client’s portal. Clients receive an email telling them to log into their portals whenever they are assigned a to-do.
“I love the fact that my notes ion my CRM regarding a to-do for a client is exactly the same as what the client sees,” Epple says. “I don’t have copy and paste and it’s really easy.”
Epple says he meets with three times in the first four months of every new client-relationship. In that period, a series of “standard” to-dos are assigned to clients, such as getting their latest tax returns from their accountants. Other to-dos are more personalized. “Right now I am looking at whether a client should refinance the mortgage on a vacation home and communicating the personal information involved using the client portal and vault,” he says.
Epple says clients must have a “comfort level with technology” to use the portal. “But I have clients who are retirees and barely know how to use a computer but love the client portal and think it’s cool,” Epple says.