Mobile Assistant may be your best—and lowest-tech—productivity option on the market.
When we think of leveraging our daily efforts and finding ways to convert labor hours into ultra-productive minutes, the mind usually goes to high-tech integrations and automated robo solutions. But sometimes the biggest improvement in personal efficiency comes from less fancy gadgetry.
For example, consider the chore of typing up your summary of client meetings and all those stray phone calls into your CRM. You memorialize your meeting, making sure you remember what you talked about for the next one and that you have a compliance trail for in case you have to face arbitration proceedings. Then you have to manually assign tasks to your team so that, for example, the client will have enough money in the cash account to pay for the down payment on a vacation home at the August closing, or a shift from one ETF to another to account for the client’s only-now-discovered SRI preferences. If you’ve discussed an IRA rollover, you need to have a record of what you discussed and the client’s response, or risk running afoul of the DOL fiduciary rules.
Is there any way to turn three or four daily 30-45-minute chores into something you can do in seconds?
Meet Corey Westphal, founder and CEO of a service called Mobile Assistant (https://mobileassistant.us/), a dictation service that is relatively low-tech. Why? It turns out that professional transcriptions, in fields where there may be a lot of industry jargon, are best handled by actual human typists who know the jargon.
“We sell ourselves as the human/CRM-integrated dictation solution,” says Westphal. “There are a lot of voice-to-text options out there now, and we have all of those technologies,” he adds. “But the most important technology we have in place is to connect advisors to the human beings that are going to do the work for them, and integrate the transcriptions back into their software suite.”
Doctors and planners
Westphal actually started his career in the medical transcription business—a field which, some years back, went through a similar transition that financial planners are experiencing now: the professional’s time suddenly started to become more valuable, and the professionals were required to document more of what they talked about with patients.
“We have been in the transcription industry for almost 20 years now,” says Westphal. “Then I looked around at other professions, and saw that financial advisors were spending too much time typing their notes, or they were not typing them at all and they were losing that information from their client meetings.”
Five years ago, Westphal sold the medical transcription business and focused full-time on financial planners and wealth managers.
He says that doctors and planners have more in common than either profession probably realizes. “Both professions live and breathe a certain technical lexicon,” says Westphal. “You have to have people who know something about the lingo in order to transcribe accurately. In the medical transcription industry, it was really important that we segment our staff so that we had specific transcriptionists that did just surgical notes, and some just physical therapy notes, because they speak totally different languages in those different parts of the medical industry. In the financial sector,” he adds, citing Mobile Assistant’s largest client, “we have specific transcriptionists that just do TIAA’s work, because their terms are very different from a mainstream advisor’s.”
Westphal has seen transcription companies try to leverage low-cost typists from India or other lower-wage environments, but the results—like the Dragon NaturallySpeaking computerized voice-to-text programs—don’t meet the quality standards that advisors demand.
Apps and integrations
So how does it work? The interface with advisors and their software suite is where a higher level of technology comes into play.
Mobile Assistant users have two choices when they walk out of a client meeting. They can call Mobile Assistant directly (usually with a speed dial number on their phone) and dictate their meeting notes, noting the time, date, and name(s) of client(s).
Or they can call up an iPhone (or Android) app that Mobile Assistant created, and dictate into the app. “The app brings them right to the ‘record’ screen,” says Westphal. “They hit the ‘record’ button, it is going to show that it is recording, they can do the dictation, and when they’re done, they hit the ‘submit’ button, which is going to send it to us. And it is going to tell them at the top that it was submitted successfully, so they can feel secure that what they just dictated actually got delivered to Mobile Assistant.”
If they use the app, advisors have the option of reviewing the transcription on their phone. Either way, the transcription is emailed to them within 24 hours.
A fancier piece of tech integration links the transcription to an advisor’s CRM—and Westphal says that Redtail is, right now, the most efficient integration in his suite. The message will be sent directly into the “notes” section of the firm’s CRM, and if you prefer, it will go directly into the client’s record as well.
“Most advisors like to look it over before they forward it into the client record,” says Westphal. Once it is ported over, there’s a time and date stamp on the note in the CRM record, which makes the notes more credible if there are ever legal proceedings or a DOL investigation.
Power users of Mobile Assistant can go into the app and see every dictation they’ve ever done, which means they can refresh their memory before a client meeting. They can also leverage the dictation by using customized templates, some of which are built into Mobile Assistant, some are created by advisors for their own internal processes.
This allows them to not only capture meeting notes, but also assign tasks during the dictation process. “They might want to dictate the next steps or the activities they want to make sure they act upon,” says Westphal. “We made it possible for them to dictate an activity by just saying: make this an activity for—and they say the client’s name. And spell the client’s name. That note will be delivered to the dashboard in Redtail as a ‘to-do’ under ‘activities’.”
The template is there to remind them of all the various things they want to capture and accomplish with the dictation. “They put this form together, they send it to us, we put it on file for them,” says Westphal. “so that when they dictate, they start the dictation by saying: please use my new client template, or please call up my prospect meeting template, and the transcriptionist pulls it up and she will fill out the template based on what is spoken. We’ll deliver it back as a Word document attachment that is in that format.”
A new dictation wizard is about to be launched, which will allow advisors to create questions that will pop up on the screen as they’re dictating: client name, location of meeting, time of meeting, people attending, etc.
“You can edit the wizard and template, so that you don’t ever miss anything that you would have wanted to record about the meeting,” Westphal explains. “I think that will help a lot of advisors that are a little nervous about dictating, because they aren’t sure what they should be dictating and what they shouldn’t.”
Several enterprising advisors have discovered that they can leverage Mobile Assistant in ways beyond client notes and tasks. “These days, advisors are being asked to create more and more content,” says Westphal. “Whether that’s a newsletter or a blog, they’re having to sit down and be able to crank out a three-page article, which is really difficult for some people.”
Westphal says that some of his power users have created popular financial blogs, where they will dictate the first draft for 10-15 minutes, and either edit that draft or have a professional writer turn the notes into a polished blog.”
Jeff Rose, of Alliance Wealth Management in Carbondale, IL, publishes the Good Financial Cents blog using dictation. “At first, I used Mobile Assistant for client meetings, and I still do, and so does my team,” he says. “Any time a younger advisor has a client meeting and dictates his notes, I can glance over it really quickly and see if there’s anything to add or be aware of.”
Then, after a while, Rose started using Mobile Assistant to send client emails. “Whenever I have to send out a longer email, it’s easier to talk it out and then copy and paste the final message, and edit it on the screen,” he says. “It saves a lot of time and effort.”
That led to management activities. “I began dictating to-do lists for my office manager,” says Rose. “With the turnaround time with Mobile Assistant, I can call it in in the late afternoon, and by the next morning, she would get my to-do list in her e-mailbox.”
Meanwhile, he dictates 100% of the material for his Good Financial Cents blog. “Before dictating, I’ll jot down my main bullet points,” says Rose. “Once I have the main core points, then it is 100% dictating. I cannot even fathom writing from scratch. My brain doesn’t work that way any more.”
Using this method, Rose is able to publish between one and two posts a week. “I also contribute to other sites. like Inc. and Forbes,” he says, “and with those sites, typically I’ll call in a bunch of notes and thoughts, and an outside writer will take that and make it sound better than I can write or talk. I wish I could calculate how many hours Mobile Assistant has saved me,” he adds, “but it is probably untrackable. It adds efficiency in so many different ways.”
Dax Stadjuhar, who manages the Financial Services Network in the San Francisco Bay Area, may be one of Mobile Assistant’s heaviest users. “We have 29 full-time employees here, and we are the compliance operations for almost 300 advisors,” he says. “We also do business consulting. I have a virtual administrative team that allows advisors to lease our employees. We run portfolios and trade portfolios for advisors. I have a technology consulting team that does hardware and software consultation.”
Stadjuhar estimates that he spends 50% of his time on the phone with advisors affiliated with Financial Services Network, and the other half managing a team that is consulting with other advisory offices on how to grow their business, how to be more efficient, and how to manage acquisitions. “At the end of a conversation, the other team members take over the projects after I dial them up—not unlike a financial planner who has a paraplanner and other people in the office,” says Stadjuhar. “I get off the phone and immediately dictate everything, and also then dictate the activities that need to happen.” An assistant sees the activities and hands them off to the appropriate members of the team.
“I may come out of a business consulting session and say, hey, this advisor needs help from our virtual admin. team because they just lost an administrative assistant and they need to contract with us so that they don’t lose capacity,” Stadjuhar explains. “My VP of operations calls and sets up a meeting and contracts with them for virtual administrative work. They may need portfolio work, or they’re acquiring a business and need to integrate all those portfolios into their models. It could be they need a technology consultation. Think of me just like a financial planner, walking out of a meeting trying to coordinate all the aspects of a client’s financial life, and document the meeting and the things we need to get done, and divvy it out to their team. That’s how I’m using Mobile Assistant.”
Stadjuhar says the app makes a big difference in usability. “In the past, when I had Copytalk, where I would have to dial a number, I just never used it,” he says. “It wasn’t efficient enough. Now I can be driving in the car, finishing up a conversation, and just open the app, hit the little microphone button and record my whole conversation and it goes right into Redtail and then Nora sees it and takes it from there.”
Stadjuhar estimates that his typical dictation lasts between one and two minutes, which means he now spends about eight to twenty minutes a day with the Mobile Assistant app, vs. what might otherwise be hours walking down the hall and debriefing his staff, typing in tasks and typing meeting notes. Typically, he says, the transcript will arrive back in the system in a couple of hours, eight hours at most.
The office, meanwhile, has made Mobile Assistant its communication hub. “There are select members of our team who are on the phone constantly,” says Stadjuhar. “So all of our conversations and activities on behalf of advisors are tracked and there’s a paper trail that any of us can review.”
Tony Perrone, of Estate & Business Planning Group in Altamonte Springs, FL, manages a much smaller operation: three advisors, six staff members and $500 million under management. But his small firm is currently working with 1,500 clients, which requires an unusual degree of office efficiency.
In many respects, Perrone is a more typical user of Mobile Assistant than Stadjuhar or Rose. “After a meeting, as soon as the client leaves, we will immediately dictate what the meeting was about, pick up any topics that we wanted to touch on, and if something has happened, a special event, we will make sure we record that,” he says. “My staff gets the email back from Mobile Assistant anywhere from an hour to three hours, normally,” Perrone adds. “With that process, my staff knows everything that happened in my meetings without me having to debrief them, so if somebody is in withdrawal, or somebody’s dog is hurt, or somebody’s mother is sick, we have all those ducks in a row in advance.”
Each advisor in the office will do the same—and, interestingly, they don’t use the Mobile Assistant app. “I just dial in by speed dial; I hit number 2 on my phone and it goes there,” Perrone explains. Nor does he use the feature that automatically sends the dictation to the client record. “The messages go directly into Redtail, and I get an email so I can see what I said, and whether I need to clarify anything,” says Perrone. “Then my staff will plug it in to the client’s record, and then they’ll set up the different tasks that have to happen.”
Perrone has created his own personal system for assigning tasks, which works like the templates. “If the client needs to take out so much money, and withhold so much in tax, I’ll say the word: task, and then dictate what needs to be done,” he says. “Then I’ll say: Task two, I need to call the client back on March 29 because he is having surgery the next day. That goes into my CRM, and my staff will handle it.”
Perrone says that the little details are important, and often hard to recapture an hour or two after a meeting has ended. “When they happen to say they’re taking a trip to Africa, we’ll send them a guide to vacationing there, little random acts of kindness,” he explains. “Nobody is used to that kind of service any more. With Mobile Assistant, we’re bringing back the personal touch.”
Perrone has never been through a client litigation or arbitration, but he has talked with advisors who have, and he believes that his dictation habit helps him sleep at night. “We can go back and produce notes on every conversation we’ve had with the client,” he says. “It gets us past the he-said-she-said, because we have a record of what we spoke about and on what date.” And, he believes, the efficient follow-through actually prevents litigation. “Clients get really upset when you’ve promised something and you didn’t do it,” Perrone adds. “Mobile Assistant is a great product, they offer great service, and as a result, we use it and abuse it. We do everything with it.”
Cost? You “subscribe” to Mobile Assistant, but the cost can be incurred month-to-month: $54 a month or an annual cost of $600. That buys you 1,000 lines of dictation a month, which is roughly 100 minutes of talk time. “That flat fee covers 90% of our users,” says Westphal.
What about power users like Rose? “After the first 1,000 lines, there is a per-line fee until it resets at the end of the month,” says Westphal.
Currently, 3,500 advisory firms are using Mobile Assistant, including 1,100 at TIAA. One guesses that most of them have very fancy software suites, and that their most advanced technology is not saving them as much time, or allowing them better business leverage, than the relatively low-tech productivity solutions provided by Mobile Assistant.