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Messaging Productivity

Date: July 16, 2022

From  Bob Veres' Inside Information Newsletter V32, N1 JAN 2022

Synopsis: Instead of writing all your client communications from scratch, try using Pulse360’s template system.

Takeaways: Every message you send to clients can become a template that can be customized in future correspondences. Batch processes your meeting preparation and automatically triggers workflows in your CRM.

In my 2020 Fee Survey, I found that, based on their responses, advisors were spending an average of three hours of staff time on each of their typical annual/quarterly client meetings. That could be roughly broken down into one hour of preparation (including creating the agenda and asking clients for information and feedback on other things they might want to discuss), the actual one-hour meeting, and then an hour of follow-up activities (which includes writing up meeting notes, delegating various tasks to team members in the office and composing the summary to be sent to the client).

Early in his planning career, Anand Sheth, founder of the Pulse360 software, discovered the hard way why these pre- and post-meeting tasks were taking so much staff time. “In 2012, I was working late on my anniversary night,” he says. “I had to skip dinner with my wife because I needed to write up follow-up summaries for several client meetings. My wife,” he adds, “was not exactly happy.”

At the time, Sheth was supporting a senior advisor who was primarily managing the client relationships. After he presented his summary follow-up messages to the advisor, the advisor spend more than an hour rewriting them. “I recognized, at that moment, that each advisor is going to have an individualized way of saying things, of using language, of communicating with their clients,” he says. “I was a senior person, I was very experienced, I knew what needed to be said,” he adds. “I just wasn’t writing the summaries in the same way that the advisor would have.” 

Pulse360 is designed to fit into a blank space in     the advisor softwareEcosystem: documentation and communications software.

Hoping to streamline the process (and possibly avoid more conflict with his wife), Sheth came up with a proposal. “I said to the advisor, I’m going to take your words, put them in note templates, and when I do the summaries, I’m going to copy and paste and customize the templates with your words into the emails,” he says. “And then I coded, in Excel, a version of that template library, and that was the beginning of Pulse.”

Filling the gap:

Sheth believes that there has been a missing software category in the advisor’s toolbox. You have the CRM, and planning software, investment management programs and various document management programs. The missing link is what he calls the documentation and communication software, which might also be called simply client communication tools that streamline the process of organizing and simplifying repetitive client messaging. “Somehow, our industry has skipped that part of the software,” he says. “It’s not in the CRM or the planning software, the capability to collect template messages that you would use over and over again.”

Pulse360 is designed to fit into that blank space in the advisor software ecosystem. “Our ultimate goal is to give the advisor some of their valuable time back,” says Sheth, “so they are not having to recreate a new message every time they want to communicate the same thing they’ve sent out many times before.” He estimates that a power user of his software can shave off at least half of the preparation and follow-up time for client meetings, turning a three hour process into two hours, and making room for senior advisors to spend more of their time on marketing, client service and staff mentoring.

The time savings estimate is predicated on the idea that 80% of client messages are advisors writing similar things to different clients. “How many different ways can you tell a client that they should do a Roth conversion?”Sheth asks. “How many different ways can you tell a client thatyou’re proposing to invest them in a model with an aggressive growth tilt, because that is more likely to meet their goals than the other models?”

If your answer is that these messages are actually going to be pretty similar—that, in fact, almost all of the wording is going to be the same, but with different particulars dropped in that customize them for individual clients—hen you’ve made a great use case for an automated template library.

Pulse 360 software actually comes with 70 note templates built-in, which can function as sample agendas for client meetings and bullet-pointed follow-up messages that advisors can customize. It also integrates with Redtail and Salesforce, to automatically create tasks (for clients and advisors) and workflows built out of these tasks.

Organized messages:

Pulse360’s interface for streamlining client messaging comes with an intuitive interface whose features can be accessed in a number of ways. Typically, an advisor would call up a screen with a tab to select what category of message, he or she wants to use. One of them might be investment recommendations. Another might be meeting notes. There’s an ‘opportunity’ tab for all of an advisor’s prospect messages, which calls up all of the prospects that have contacted the firm, and all the messages they’ve received, and the other message templates the firm can send out in a sequence. A task tab would interface with the CRM, which allows an advisor to assign tasks and trigger workflows that are built into the CRM software.

To see the history of these messages, the advisor can scan a list of ‘contacts’—clients and prospects, and see every message that each has received through Pulse360, individually organized as (advisors can create their own categories) meeting notes and summaries, tax messages, financial planning messages etc. “Let’s say I have a client meeting coming up,” Sheth proposes, “and I want to see everything that I have tagged for the next meeting. Eight notes come up,” he says. “Some advisors have created a tax impact tag,” he adds, “so whenever they plan to recommend something that will have a tax impact, or have recommended something, they put this tag on it. At the end of the year, they can summarize everything they have done for that client in that area, and also send that to the CPA as summary data.”

Mass agenda production:

But what about reducing that time spent preparing a client agenda? The advisor can go into the note template library, and pull up a template agenda that has all the different things that might be discussed in a client meeting. Not all of those will be relevant to the client whose meeting is coming up, so the advisor would click to exclude different bullet points, like the request for the client’s most recent tax return or, since this client is under age 72, the bullet point that mentions this year’s RMDs from the client’s IRA accounts. Any customized agenda items can be dropped into the template, and it becomes a client message that can be saved as a PDF file and sent out as an email. Each template agenda serves double duty as a checklist for the things that the advisor wants to remember to at least consider covering in each client meeting.

Pulse360 will also allow the advisor to view all of the clients who are scheduled for meetings in the next 15 days, and also, on the same screen, the past 15 days of meetings, with listed dates.

One column shows whether the agendas for future meetings have been created (this task is often delegated to the staff) and whether the agendas have been sent to clients. It also shows, for the most recently completed client meetings, whether the summary notes have been input and follow-up messages have been sent out.

Advisors who are doing surge client meetings can pull up template agendas for 20 clients, customize them on the fly and automatically generate preparation workflows--all at once.

Sheth says that this upcoming-and-followup dashboard is popular with a growing number of advisors who are shifting to surge meetings—bunching all their client meetings one after another during a few weeks a year. “I can select all the client meetings that are coming in the future, apply what we call a collection,” he explains. “Here is a template client review agenda. It has the items that I always want to address with these clients. I can literally go and say: add all, and it will add 18 notes to six clients.

I can now jump into them and customize what I need to customize for each one,” he adds, “and with a click it is going to trigger off six workflows in my CRM. If I want, I can keep selecting clients, and add 25 notes to all clients, and then go in individually and delete whatever doesn’t apply to that client.” Call it mass-production of client agendas.

Despite the fact that the program comes with a pretty large template library, Sheth says that most Pulse360 users will be significantly modifying or creating their own templates—because, as he learned early-on, every advisor has their own style of communication. But the process flows from the communications that an advisor would normally be sending out; you create a meeting agenda in your own words, send it to the client and also save it as a template. You send a followup explanation to a client detailing your reasons for recommending a Roth conversion, and save that as a template. The next time they want to send a similar message or create a client agenda, you pull up the saved message as a template—and avoid reinventing the wheel.

And, since every template and note is editable, each time you re-use the saved template, you can improve the wording or add in new agenda items. The messaging evolves, becoming clearer andmore efficient over time.

“The point is that this relieves advisors from sitting in front of a blank canvas every time, writing similar things that they’ve written in the past,” says Sheth. “You can literally hand this task off to a junior staff person, and tell them to prepare it for your review.”

Pulse 360 also creates an organized record of every message sent to each client, which can be viewed by the date it was sent, by the client, or both. This makes it easy to add those customized agenda items, while you’re looking through the followup message from the last meeting, or see at a glance what you’ve recommended to each client.

This feature also makes it easier to demonstrate your value to clients. “Let’s say I’ve done all of my followups in Pulse360,” Sheth proposes. “I can now, at the end of the year, pull up summary, and in less than 20 seconds I can send it out to the client and say, Dear Tom and Mary, thanks for your trust. As the year has gone by, this is a summary of the work we’ve done for you. This is next to impossible today for advisors to do without spending hours upon hours doing this,” Sheth adds.

Some advisors are storing their clients’ goals in the messaging tags, which accomplish a few additional service conveniences. Sheth says that some Pulse 360 users are sending messages around this time of year, saying: Happy new year! Just wanted to let you know that this year we are working and focusing on these things for you. You wanted to go to Alaska, and take another cruise, you want to buy another home, you want to fund Nathan’s education, we are aware of your goals and that’s what we’re working toward this year and onwards.”

Other advisors have created “achieved” tags for client bucket list items, so they can pull up every client milestone that has been achieved, and send out milestone congratulations and summaries to clients.

Multiple roles, multiple templates:

Maggie Beach, of NexJenn Financial Services in Naperville, IL, has created what some might describe as a complicated business life. After years of providing financial planning services to a CPA firm’s tax clients, she inherited the tax practice to go along with her planning business. And she also owns a property management company, which is convenient because her niche is clients who have real estate investments and need reliable management of the properties. “I provide holistic services,” she says: “the tax piece, the financial planning piece, and the property management piece.”

The challenge, of course, is that there is always a flurry of messages to send out during tax season, which involves gathering data and then, upon completion, sending back the returns with various instructions. She sends out updates on the properties she manages—and this is in addition to the routine pre- and post-meeting communications with her planning clients.

“When I inherited the tax business, I realized that I needed better organization,” Beach says. “I had to find a way to track all the messages that I was communicating to various parties through the three companies.”

Beach found Pulse360 as she was navigating the early stages of the Covid pandemic. “I actually contacted Anand,” she says, “and we worked together to come up with templates, checklists and templated letters that I use in Pulse360. It allowed me to pull up one of the templates, drop in information and send it off to my clients, and I would have a record of it.”

It says that the organization of messages has been as important, to her, as the time saved in message composition. “The program puts everything in chronological order,” she says. “It gave me organization about how I was progressing through my workflows, and where I was with each client. You can see what you’ve done, what communications have gone back and forth with each client or COI, and since everything is digital, during tax season, I don’t send out tax returns via paper. I’m able to drop links to secure portals into these templates and, by customizing the fields, I can tell them what their refunds are, or their tax due, and personalize each message without writing them from scratch. It’s saved me hours of time,” she adds. “I’ve been able to streamline my tax season and make everything consistent.”

The consistency feature was surprisingly important when Beach was communicating while wearing different hats. “After every planning meeting, I pull up a template, pop in the summary, and send it off,” says Beach. “And every message has the same look as all of my other correspondence, so for my client,s each message felt like the same experience between tax and financial planning.”

Beach says that Pulse360's organization of client messages has been as important to heras the time saved in message composition.

What do the templates look like? “The one I use most,” says Beach, “is after the tax return is prepared for the client. It says: Dear client, your tax return has been completed, you owe such and such, and there is a field in the template where I can fill in that amount, or what the refund was,” she adds. “And then, if they owe, I can drop in a link to a voucher. The next line would be: click here for your signature documents, and I drop in a direct link to their signature documents. And third part would be: here is a secure link to your tax return.”

Beach will typically add a task which tells her to follow up with the client if she hasn’t received the signed signature pages back. Scheduling client planning meetings involves a template with a link to Beach’s Calendly account. Before Pulse360, Beach says that client preparation could become chaotic. “I would look at old emails, pull up files, but it was not all in one place and it was hard to get it well-organized,” she says.

The system today makes it easier to send out summary messages, which, in turn, organizes what Beach needs to know for the next meeting. “I have a little template that I can use after each meeting,” she says. “What was discussed? What are the pain points with the clients? What are the goals that we’re going to work toward? What are my to-dos, and theirs?”

She can drop these into the template as bullet points, and they create a record that allows her to prepare for the next meeting. For compliance purposes, she can show the state regulators what she discussed with each client. “And,” says Beach “for all the client tasks, they can drop into my calendar, so I can make sure they’ve been done. Pulse 360 has completely changed the way I'm interacting with clients, and the way I keep client information.”

Workflow integration:

David Littlejohn, of Littlejohn Financial Services in Roseburg, OR, is getting an emergency lesson in creating staff efficiency. “It took me from 2010 to 2014 to get up to $7 million in AUM,” he says, recounting a business history that includes knocking on traitor park doors to sell insurance policies, running a private broker dealer for physicians and being the financial planner for various banking offices before starting his own business. “Since 2014,” he continues, “we have moved to $130 million, and we’re bringing in $2-3 million a month.”

When a younger advisor finally gets his designation, the firm will have four staff people. Leverage and efficiency went from unnecessary to urgent. Littlejohn prioritized better organization of client communications, and he logically turned to the software that houses all of his other personalized client data. “You say to yourself, shouldn’t the CRM be doing these things?” he says. “You would think it does, but it actually doesn’t.”

The CRM integration ensures that client tasks will be completed. The meeting summary to a client will trigger workflows in the CRM-- and a reminder to make sure they're addressed.

Then Littlejohn found Pulse360, which offered the organization he was looking for—and the time savings from templated messages was icing on the cake. He and his team are still in the process of building out templates, which he says happens organically; you compose a message, send it to a client and also save it as a template to be used later. “You have to change your mind when you compose these messages,” says Littlejohn. “Every message, you have to think, I want to be able to use this again, so how can I think in terminology where I can make the message not so specific that I can only say it to that client. I want to create different customizable parts of the message where I can drop in the specific things that relate to each client, and have the rest of it communicate the things I say regularly in messages like that one.

The residual benefit is ongoing,” he adds. “The longer you work with it, the better it gets.” Littlejohn’s firm has made efficient use of another feature of Pulse360: the integration with his CRM to automatically trigger workflows. “One of our workflows is preparation for the annual reviews,” he says. “We have a standardized note sheet template. If it is a very basic client, there may be a few things in the agenda, while for one of our top- tier clients, we may include more items.” Littlejohn has gotten to the point where he assign the agenda preparation process, through an integration with Redtail, to a staff member, who would know which clients tend to get which agenda items. “They send it back to me and say, did we miss anything? I say: looks good, and away we go.”

The followup is similarly streamlined. “We’ve gotten to the place where we can take meeting notes in Pulse,” he says, using a tablet. “You summarize the notes in Pulse, create a followup summary saying, here’s everything we discussed, and here are the things we need to do and you need to do—and if any of this is inaccurate or needs to be clarified, please contact us.” The add-on is for compliance purposes. “If there is ever a he-said, she-said situation,” says Littlejohn, “then we have that backup.”

The CRM integration ensures that tasks are completed. “If the meeting summary says we need to change a risk profile for a client, or move them to a different investment model, or we need to send them a cash distribution, we have tasks built into our templates that automatically push it into Redtail and start the workflows,” says Littlejohn. “Each task is associated with a person and a time frame, and one workflow can trigger a whole series of steps for that client. With Pulse360and Redtail working together,” he adds, “we don’t have nearly as much chance of human error, dropping the tasks or failing to follow through.”

The risk profile change workflow has become surprisingly common during the pandemic. “A client comes in nervous about the markets,” says Littlejohn, “and we say, okay, well, your risk tolerance number in Riskalyze is currently at 75. Do you want retake the risk quiz? They’ll say, no, just move me down to a 60. So then we’ll say, okay, that means there is a different portfolio that’s appropriate for a 60 risk tolerance; basically plus this, minus that. If they agree,” says Littlejohn, “then I’ll load in a template that says: discussed with the client reducing risk at this time, discussed moving the model portfolio from this one to that one, and it will create a note to the client saying, our team will adjust your model to your new risk tolerance.” 

That, in itself, saves time. But the message also communicates with Redtail, creating a task for one person to update the client’s Riskalyze score and and a related task for another team member to change the portfolio and execute the trades. 

“It will also alert our administrative person to follow up and make sure everything happened,” says Littlejohn, “and, once the shift has been made, to send a note to the client that the tasks were completed.” That note is also a template.

The organizational aspect of it works like a double-entry bookkeeping system.

“Client messages are associated both with the client and an event,” Littlejohn explains. “Whether it’s a phone call, a meeting, or an email, you are associating activity both with the client and the triggering event,” he adds. “When I schedule a client meeting, I can bring up the template, with all the options for the agenda. I may use four of them, click on each to build the template I want, and it populates the items for me—a checklist and workflow trigger at the same time.

“I see Pulse360,” he adds, “as an operating system for my practice.”

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