How Advisors Can Vault into Document Exchange

Jan 31, 2017

Vault

MarkNahlovskyHeadshot_2015Last month, Mark Nahlovsky, Head of Technology Consulting at ActiFi, and I looked at document management systems. Today, we look at a close cousin – the technology used to pass documents to and fro between advisors and their clients. For the purposes of this post, we will call a place where documents are exchanged a vault.

One part of a broader solution

Before choosing a vault solution, Mark insisted on the following warning:

YOU DO NOT WANT TO ROLL OUT A VAULT SOLUTION ON ITS OWN, WITHOUT ANY THOUGHT TO YOUR BROADER CLIENT PORTAL STRATEGY!

Apologies for the ALL CAPS warning, but re-training your clients is time consuming and expensive and we want you to do this right the first time. We advise that you view the gradations of the client portal solution as follows:

Illustration 1At its core, the client portal is software that your clients use to retrieve documents and see the assets that they have – both with you and at other institutions.

But it’s also your way to interact with your clients on all things financial, as well as an investor’s self-driven area – where investors can review their net worth and make financial decisions on their own.

If we look toward the future, one can easily see the portal being a place where advisor-facilitated client communities could exist. An example could be a community of recent retirees or business owners.

For today, I will restrain Mark and we will delve into the single topic of the vault.

Why is a vault necessary?

This all depends on your practice. Do you keep your clients updated with PDF versions of their financial plans? Do you provide snapshots of performance results? Do you work on projects with your clients, passing documents back and forth? Do you keep documents from centers of influence, such as wills from attorneys or tax returns from accountants, in one place for your clients? If the answer to any of these is yes, then you need a very safe place where you can store documents.

Compliance

Yahoo recently revealed that one billion (yes with a B) accounts were hacked back in 2013. It’s a high-profile example of a data security breach that was front page news. To help prevent breaches, the two security watchdogs for advisors – FINRA for Broker-dealer (BD) affiliated advisors and SEC for RIAs – are becoming more aggressive in their oversight. For FINRA-regulated advisors, each BD has reviewed different vault solutions to ensure they meet compliance guidelines. A BD-affiliated advisor should therefore only use a vault solution that its BD has approved. On the SEC side, there is the SEC Regulation S-P, Privacy of Consumer Financial Information. In general, an RIA should create client information policies and procedures that follow this regulation in their vault implementation.

Choosing a vault

Let’s assume that your vault solution aligns to your client portal strategy. You may find that your advisory firm fits into one of these personas:

1. Our clients log onto our custodian’s websites to get balances. We only need to share documents with them.

This is the easy situation; you can either look at an extension to a document management solution or choose a non-industry specific, stand-alone solution such as ShareFile, Box.com, or DropBox. Interested in an industry-specific vault solution? There are solutions such as Everplans, which not only provides vault technology, but is also a digital asset management system.

2. We want to share documents (among other things) in a client portal, but we don’t have the time (or money) to build one.

If you find yourself in this situation, you need to work with your financial planning or portfolio management vendor to determine if they offer a built-in or add-on portal with vault capabilities. The leaders in these spaces (MoneyGuidePro, eMoney, Orion or Black Diamond) have invested in this capability and would be more than happy to show you.

3. We don’t have any portal solution, but we’re willing to put the time and money into creating one.

If you need to get started with a vault solution, but aren’t sure about what the end state is, you need to focus on solutions that can integrate in the future. The leaders in this space are Box.com and DropBox. Please (and we mean PLEASE) note that integration is not as easy as flipping a switch and will require investment and technical expertise.

Think it through

A vault is only one part of an advisor’s client engagement solution and it does require you to put a little thought into where you want to be in the future. The good news is that the leaders in FinTech are listening and developing integrated solutions that will delight your clients with a new level of service.

With the above personas in mind, which one are you? Do you want to keep things simple (in terms of cost and support) and just pass documents back and forth? If so, you should be able to begin your search immediately. Are you interested in a more comprehensive approach to a client portal? If so, hold tight as we will be providing more insight on this topic in a future blog post.

SEI is not affiliated with Actifi, ShareFile, Box.com, Dropbox, Everplans, MoneyGuidePro, eMoney, Orion or Black Diamond.

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Raef Lee

Raef Lee

Raef Lee is the technology contributor for Practically Speaking and also serves as a managing director for the SEI Advisor Network.

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