Advisors often rave about all the technology tools they use to run their businesses more efficiently. But the cost of software can add up.
Managing your investments via technology requires diligent research and an attention to detail. That’s especially true when purchasing subscription-based software services.
Some of these services come with automatic renewals each year. Miss the window to cancel and you can get stuck paying for something that you no longer want.
To avoid getting ensnared in such situations, you may prefer to opt out of auto renewal. Software providers will then invite you to renew in the months before your term expires.
For newly independent advisors, tracking their tech bills can pose a challenge if they’re accustomed to working at large financial services firms that handle purchasing and paying for such tools. Investigating your options — and understanding the various levels of service — can prove invaluable but deplete your time and energy.
“In your first year on your own, you can get roped into annual contracts,” said Charles Shipman, an advisor in Westport, Conn. “It’s important to know the terms. You need to read the renewal fine print and stay on top of it.”
For products that automatically renew, Shipman sets a reminder on his calendar one month before the one-year anniversary. That way he can assess whether he wants to lock in another year before it’s too late.
Pick Your Tier
Despite his best efforts to avoid overspending, Shipman has found that these platforms are occasionally more trouble than they’re worth. He cites an example of a monthly subscription for software that he canceled via email. A few months later, he noticed on his credit card statement that the software provider continued to bill him.
“They had confirmed receiving my email but kept charging me, so I contacted them and challenged it,” he recalled. “They demanded that I resend my email to prove that I didn’t want to renew. So make sure you archive all emails with fintech providers. Now, if any software has a subscription with an annual auto renewal, I tell them I’m not interested.”
As an added precaution, Shipman conducts an annual audit of all his tech tools. He assesses to what extent each service provides value, asking, “Is it doing what I wanted it to do?” and “Is the cost worth the benefit?”
He adds that some software is sold in tiers for beginners, intermediate and advanced users. As part of his audit, he analyzes whether to switch tiers — either to downgrade to save money or upgrade to address his changing needs.
“You may have paid more for an advanced tier with a particular client in mind,” he said. “But your client base changes all the time, and you may no longer need to pay more.”
Some advisors will put a new tech service to the test before committing to ongoing payments. After a trial period they’re better equipped to make a prudent buying decision.
“Some (software) companies offer a free or light version,” said Tricia Rosen, an advisor in Andover, Mass. “That lets you see how it integrates into your other technology, and if it works well you can get hooked on using it.”
Track Every Software Tool
Because tech platforms are constantly changing, advisors must monitor not only their evolving needs but also what enhancements the latest release offers. A purchase that made sense a year ago may prove outdated today.
“Some (software) companies are more aggressive about adding features that advisors are looking for,” Rosen said. “As they add features, there can be overlap with something you already purchased, so you have to reevaluate what you have.”
As your practice grows, your tech spending can grow as well. Maintaining a simple system to track your costs can help you stay one step ahead.
Kevin Mahoney, a certified financial planner in Washington, D.C., likes to ask other advisors for input before committing to a certain technology. They compare notes on different services, often after sampling the software for free.
Mahoney also keeps a whiteboard in his office that summarizes all the tech services he uses. This gives him a visual roadmap of what technology he has purchased and how he harnesses it.
“It helps me keep tabs fairly easily of what I’m paying for,” he said. “I’m very focused on where each piece of technology fits in the whole process. The goal of the whiteboard is to help me be aware of how I use each tool. Having it all written out keeps me organized and reduces the odds of duplication of tools.”
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