One of the revelations that I had while writing this month’s feature on technology was the confirmation that doing the difficult thing now pays off in multiples later.
The article focuses on three advisors who have made significant changes in their practices through technology. In fact, one was able to eliminate a permanent office and go virtual. Steve Plewes now lives and works from his acre-and-a-half perch on the Chesapeake Bay.
That seems miraculous, but technology itself is not magic. Plewes did what he did by making the right choices and bravely taking the next step. Plewes’ result surprised even a close friend of his, Brad Elman, who is also highlighted in the feature.
At the core of these advisors’ success is a database management system, usually known as a client management system or an agency management system. Everything else connects to the database.
But even bigger than that was the commitment and effort to go paperless. I first got involved in the insurance world with a property and casualty association 12 years ago when the big dream was going paperless. For many agents with 20 or 30 years in the business, you may as well have said they would someday strap on a jetpack and zoom over to meet a client. They just didn’t see it happening.
Now, of course, it’s not unusual for agents and advisors to be paperless. A successful transition has two parts: building a system and then getting the old files into the database. There are other parts, of course, such as storage and security. But every piece of this is one step at a time.
The most daunting step for many advisors is going through all those files, maybe many cabinets full of them, and getting them into the database. Ed Skelly, one of the advisors in the feature, is a bit of a techie and often speaks to colleagues about how to adopt technology. He said the transfer of files is often the biggest concern people ask about.
“I relay how I did it,” Skelly said. “I hired my niece, who was between her freshman and sophomore years in college. I flew her in, and she lived with us for the summer. I set up a systematic plan for her to go through every paper file. For example, we did all our security files first because they were the easiest to tackle.”
She organized the files and gave Skelly about 100 to review each day, deciding what to keep or discard.
“It took me about an hour a night to go through those,” Skelly said. “I went downstairs in my basement, had the TV on. I went through, flip, flip, flip, boom, boom, boom, done. And it’s an hour a day for five, six weeks, eight weeks, versus stuck in an old paradigm that is going to bury you in more paperwork the longer you’re in it.”
After two weeks, the security files were done; then the harder tasks of insurance and financial planning files came next. By the end of summer, the transfer was finished and Skelly had invested $5,000 in the pay and expenses for his niece.
Bit by bit, it was done. The key for Skelly was coming up with the system and letting it work, both in the transition and in maintaining the operation.
“If you design the process properly, then you’re inserted into the process only on the things that need your time and attention,” Skelly said. “You’ve already delegated everything else.”
The biggest objection from many agents and advisors is that they don’t see the return on investment. But that is not a math problem. If an agency owner sits down and figures the expenses are X and they can’t find the Y, the answer is not in the numbers. That’s the case with much of technology. The dividends from efficiency are difficult to predict.
This month’s feature shows how three advisors reaped benefits during each step along the way. Skelly said he did not look at the cost as an expense but as an investment in a change he had to make. He didn’t want his practice to drown in paper anymore.
In Plewes’ case, when he went paperless, he found he could be mobile by accessing files at any time and from any place. He put that together with all the other things he was doing online or with software and realized he was already untethered to a physical office. Then he cut the cord and moved his operation to a life on his terms.
He is living his dream life. Now that’s a Y that you can’t find in any number.