This article first appeared in Professional Adviser.

All businesses wrestle with the productivity conundrum, but for financial advice firms, the problem is particularly acute.

Within many IFA practices, priorities are still created by individual advisers, buried in their own spreadsheets and inboxes. As a result, advisers must devote considerable headspace to administration and diary management, rather than the business of planning and client service. This siloed approach creates a danger of important tasks being missed and team members being less productive than they should be.

Using a proprietary dedicated system – to re-engineer the back office can help resolve these problems and super-charge efficiency throughout an IFA business. If your firm has such a system in place, or is considering implementing one, then there are five questions to ask yourself to ensure you’re getting maximum value from it.

  1. Are my processes as streamlined as they could be?

Manual workflows are often hidden, with each adviser reliant on their own spreadsheets and diaries.

Creating a series of virtual work streams – such as client reviews, protection, new business etc. – each underpinned by a series of tasks and reminders for different members of the team provides a much more granular view of the status of every client and adviser.

Having this visibility on each case makes it far easier for the management team to achieve a high level business perspective and drive consistency across operations. Meanwhile, not being reliant on advisers telling them what needs to be done minimises the chances of deliverables being missed.

  1. Are we helping advisers keep on top of their work?

With clear workflows in place, advisers can see all their work in progress. Any good management information system will allow you to create regular notifications for your team to help them set priorities.

When being smart with workflows, it becomes nearly impossible for an adviser to miss outstanding tasks. You also help them in their dealings with clients. If a client contacts an adviser to request an update for example, the adviser has a full audit trail at their fingertips, rather than scrabbling through notes and spreadsheets, or firing off frantic emails to the administration team.

Workflows and notifications can be particularly beneficial when it comes to annual reviews. When set up correctly, advisers can receive reminders of reviews a month (for instance) before they are due, along with any actions that need to be fulfilled for that client – do they need to arrange a valuation report or a meeting venue for example?

This allows advisers to look effortlessly efficient in front of their clients, with all their details and status at the touch of a button.

  1. Am I in control of adviser pipelines?

With most management information systems, you are able to see the status of each work stream – be that pre-report, at report, processing and so on. This means it is possible to see how much money has been paid, how much is due and how much on its way, split by adviser and by work stream. You also have the ability to see the percentage of revenues coming out of reviews, new business or ad hoc requests for existing clients.

In essence, management can obtain a comprehensive sales report at the click of a finger, without the need for a sales manager.

  1. Am I aware of potential sticking points?

By automating routine tasks and removing the administrative burden, there is potential to create a significant boost in productivity.

The knock on impact of this is that you vastly increase your team’s capability and are able to allocate resources more effectively. It also helps highlight potential problem areas. If you use timesheets for instance, you might find that senior advisers are spending time on tasks that it would make more sense to be completed by more junior members of the team.

Being aware of potential sticking points means that team-wide meetings instantly become more productive, focussed on real problems and how these can be improved or ironed out.

Of course, some might criticise management information systems as being too prescriptive, but in reality, no-one is telling the advisers what to do minute by minute. When used smartly, the upside is significant: advisers can take holiday or sick leave without worrying endlessly about the status of their clients. They have clear measures for productivity and are relieved of some of the more tedious aspects of their job.

Putting processes in place to gather and analyse management information helps to create a better, more productive business. This creates benefits for advisers and clients alike.