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August 17, 2010

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Glance Reviewed as Highly Effective Sales Tool for Financial Advisors, in "Technology Tools for Today"

Recently, a great review of Glance appeared in the Technology Tools For Today newsletter, which bills itself as a "the ONLY Practice/Management newsletter for Financial Advisors". Ted Rich, of Vinoy Capital, in Orlando, a long-time Glance customer, raves about using Glance to:

  1. Expand his prospect base geographically, without extra travel time and expense;
  2. Create more positive customer experiences; and
  3. Team sell with colleagues around the country.

Here's the text of Ted's article...

Virtual Meetings — Tools for Making Them Effective and Efficient

One of the unspoken truths of the RIA (Registered Investment Advisors) business is this – the majority of RIA firms focus their efforts on obtaining the largest number of qualified clients possible within one Glance.net reviewed in Technology Tools for Today hour’s driving distance from their local office. It is just plain fact that if you are going to meet with a prospect in person at least one to three times before being hired, and then meet with them at least quarterly forever, then having all of your clients within a short drive from the office would be the best case scenario for most RIA firms. It is also fact that many opportunities can and will arise for firms outside of their one hour circle, and then the decision must be made on whether the client will be large enough or important enough to justify the extra time and expense that will be incurred each year meeting with them in person using a similar frequency as with local clients. Thankfully, the astounding speed of progress in communication technology has provided at least one potential solution to these issues – the virtual meeting.

Let’s briefly define the virtual meeting for purposes of this discussion, and then review some tools for maximizing its value. Virtual meetings are simply an Internet-based version of a dedicated client or prospect meeting, with only the handshake, eye-contact, and body language missing. Those three things are no doubt important and should be accomplished at certain points in the relationship, but for most clients they are not necessary during every contact if expectations are properly set up from the beginning. One of the things we ask all prospective clients about is their comfort with technology, and it is a major factor in our determination of whether they will be a good fit for our firm.

The best thing about virtual meetings (not counting the dramatic time and expense savings) is that they only require a few simple technology tools, and those tools are amazingly easy and cost-effective to use. Since our firm rarely uses paper even during in-person client meetings, this allows us to conduct effectively the same meeting virtually.  In this article we will review how our firm has combined several of these tools to maximize the results of our virtual meetings, keeping in mind that the most important objective is that the client has a positive experience on their end, reinforcing the idea that this type of communication will be acceptable to them going forward.

The most important technology piece by far is the screen sharing software, and while there are many solid choices available in the marketplace, our firm has for several years been using successfully a program named Glance. The two things that are most important to us in this type of software are also the key highlights of Glancespeed and simplicity. One of the challenges of online meetings is that very often the client or prospect does not spend as much time with computers as most RIAs do. So if we are going to propose this type of meeting, the software has to be very easy to use. The last thing we want is for the client to spend ten frustrating minutes on the beginning of our call trying to get the screen sharing to work. Glance provides a very simple entry link that we embed into our firm website, and to get started it only asks the client to enter a four digit code and click one button (maybe an extra two clicks the first time they use it).

The other key feature that Glance makes so easy, is allowing different people from different locations the ability to control the screen at any time. This is very important to us since my partner, Michael Tracy, lives and works from Boulder, CO while I live and work from Orlando, FL. Almost always when we are in a virtual meeting together, there are parts of the meeting that Michael will present from Colorado and parts that I will present from Florida.  Glance makes this very easy, and it also happens to be very impressive to the client or prospect since this technology is still rather new to most of the world. Once we are connected, we simply show and discuss the same items with the client or prospect as we would be doing in a normal face-to-face meeting.

As a side note, one of the huge benefits of easy two-way screen sharing is that it drastically improved our ability to assist clients with technology questions regarding using our website, viewing their custodial statements online, viewing our online performance system, and many other items. Now, instead of trying to talk them through an issue over the phone, we can simply open a screen sharing session and control their computer screen so we can see exactly what they are seeing and walk them through the solution right on their own computer. This feature alone has been a huge time and headache saver for us and once again is very impressive to clients.

Many screen sharing programs also include an integrated audio component for a comprehensive virtual meeting solution, but we choose to use a separate service for audio. As mentioned above, often our audience is not as familiar with online meetings as we are, so asking them to receive video and audio through their computer is often too much at once. However, connecting to simple screen sharing and making a normal telephone call usually works very well, as once the screens are connected then all they have to do is talk on the phone and watch what we are doing. It also allows us to still connect with them on audio in case anyone’s Internet connection is acting up at this very inopportune time. For a one-on-one virtual meeting we just make a normal telephone call (using our hosted VoIP system), but since most of our virtual meetings are multi-party, we use www.freeconferencecall.com (FCC) as our provider of choice. FCC provides a Web-based application that provides a conference call line for our firm to use on demand. Our firm has a static phone number and access code that allows us to host conference calls at any time for a large number of participants (96), even though we rarely have more than five different parties calling in to our virtual meetings. Anybody connecting to our meeting simply dials the conference line at the appropriate time, enters the participant code, and we are all instantly connected. Our firm lines use a different host code so we can control features such as recording the call, muting the participants, etc.

The best thing about this system by far is that we are not responsible for getting everyone connected to the call. Every participant, internal or external, simply dials the phone number and enters the code at the designated date and time. Gone for us are the days of putting callers on hold while we try to use an internal conferencing system to connect multiple parties.

The two tools mentioned so far are all that is really needed for an effective virtual meeting, but a third tool we often use is the basic Web camera. We have found this a great way to connect with our prospects and clients regardless of whether we have ever met in person or not. In fact, our experience has been that it does not even matter if the client has a camera on their end, as video conferencing is even less familiar to most people than screen sharing. My partner and I use the cameras and Skype to videoconference together at least weekly, but for the virtual meetings we just use the cameras to show our smiling faces to our attendees. Almost any Web camera will work, but we usually prefer cameras from Logitech. That topic leads to a brief discussion of what a typical virtual meeting looks like and costs, so let’s expand on that here.

A typical virtual meeting starts with someone from our staff emailing detailed instructions to the attendees. These include exactly how to connect to the audio call, how to be ready to accept the code for connecting to the screen sharing, and even how to test their computer ahead of time to make sure they can use the screen sharing program. The email is very thorough and includes screen shots of places where the attendees need to click or input something to be ready to go. Once we are all connected on the audio call, the attendees are given the code for activating the screen sharing, and within a few seconds we are all connected there as well. Often this is the spot where we will use the Web camera to move the video picture of ourselves into the screen sharing box so that clients can see us live as we are making introductions and having small talk at the beginning of the meeting. Then as we move into the meat of the meeting, we simply slide the camera window out of sight so that we can focus on the PowerPoint, Excel spreadsheet, website or whatever else we are using as visuals for the call. If my partner and I are both on the call, the control of the mouse is easily shared back and forth even though we are usually several states apart. As the meeting is concluding, we often slide the camera window back into view so that clients can see us again as we sign off, giving it a very personal touch at the end.

So what is the cost for communicating with all of this advanced technology? About $40 per month for the Glance subscription, about $100 for Logitech’s best webcam, and nothing for the conference call service (every caller just pays their own long distance charges). We are still amazed at the low cost of providing high quality virtual meetings that we could only have dreamed of just a few years ago. In fact, last year we were referred to a prospective client living on the other side of the globe, and after just a single, two-hour virtual meeting, he was asking us to email him the documents so he could sign up as a client. It is highly unlikely we would have secured this client so quickly, or maybe even at all, if we were not already adept at hosting virtual meetings.

This communication method is available now and becoming more accepted (and even preferred) by clients and prospects, and the technology is ridiculously inexpensive. It has benefited our practice tremendously, and has extended our geographic reach so that our firm’s one-hour drive circle has grown to include any location on Earth with a high-speed Internet connection. Now that is quite a database of prospective clients.

-- Ted S. Rich, Vinoy Capital

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VINOY CAPITAL, LLC is an independent, fee-only, registered investment advisory firm headquartered in Orlando, Florida with an additional location in Boulder, Colorado. Vinoy provides discretionary money management and selective, strategic financial advice to individuals, families and institutions. Contact related to this column should be directed to Ted Rich at 407-599-1104.

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