Express Onboarding

A new software program has done what advisors have long and often asked the custodians to do: automate and automatically error-check their client forms and paperwork.

If advisors make the jump from TD Ameritrade Institutional or Schwab Advisor Services to another platform (and we know that some will), then they might face the hassle of repapering all their clients with the dreaded new account applications.

Is there any way to make this process easier?  To, for example, pull client data directly from your CRM, prepopulate all the right forms automatically, automatically indicate where client signatures are required, set up the process to handle all of this online though a variety of e-signature verification systems, and automatically check the forms to make sure they’re consistent, correct and in good order.

Recently, I was given a demo of a brand new software program called Agreement Express (https://agreementexpress.com/).  The firm behind it, Wealth Networks, has been around for 18 years, primarily on the payment side of the business, primarily for larger institutions.  “About three years ago,” says Matt Mancini, Vice President of Wealth Networks, “we started engaging with custodians to talk about how we could take what we were doing on the payment side—which is really onboarding merchants—and incorporate some of those workflows into onboarding clients for wealth management firms.”

The program maintains a library of forms and account opening documents for each custodian (TDAI, BNY Mellon/Pershing, Schwab and Fidelity), and also allows advisory firms to insert their own documents—the client agreement being one of the most prominent.  The software is told which fields require which type of information, so prepopulating is a matter of selecting the client or household from your CRM, importing the data and watching it find where it belongs.  (Current integrations include Salesforce Financial Cloud, Redtail and Junxure.  Others are on the way.)  The first and last names, address, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, phone numbers, age, email and whether the client is a U.S. Citizen all find their way to the appropriate lines.  If there is a co-owner of the account, that information can be pulled in simply by selecting that record in the CRM.

With the account opening agreement, you also have to select whether this is an individual or custodial account; other options include joint tenants with right of survivorship, tenants in common, community property, guardianship or conservatorship.

But now, before you send the forms to your clients, you have to figure out all the places where the clients have to put their electronic initials or e-signatures.  Does Agreement Express help out with that?

The program automatically inserts a little blue ball with an arrow, that hovers over the document and points out the direction the clients have to scroll for the next signature, and then, when it’s visible on the page, points to the line where the e-signature should be affixed.  Then the ball insists on taking the client to the next signature line, and will not let the files be completed until every signature has been attached. 

“We call it NIGO-proofing,” says Mancini.  “All the required fields need to be completed before the software will let the document be submitted.”

The signature itself is set up for dual-factor authentication, using two different providers, depending on the custodian’s preference. 

The signed documents are eventually released back to the advisory firm.  If there’s an error that the software didn’t catch, or the wrong forms were filed, then the software has a “rewind” feature that lets you go back to the previous step (rather than start over) and change what needs to be changed.  Once completed, the form passes into the custodian’s APIs and is stored electronically.

In addition to the new account paperwork and client service agreement, Agreement Express allows for a variety of distribution forms, client options agreements and transfer of assets forms—which can be bundled into the new account package—or not.  There are forms for IRAs, trusts, Roths, business and Coverdell accounts.

Are there any forms which are NOT e-signature eligible?  “Usually they involve check writing, or anything with a debit card,” says Mancini.  “For those, the custodians require a wet signature.”

What does the interface look like?  Advisors can look at the documents from the client’s view, and many will sit with the client and go through the forms on a computer in the office.  Advisors can also log into Agreement Express and see all the paperwork that is in process and which clients they impact, and which have been completed and sent to the custodian.  You can quickly see what has to be done next.

Meanwhile, of all the custodians, TDAI is the furthest along in its integration, but Fidelity and Schwab integrations are coming as early as January.  Once the documents are received, an account generator API gives each client account a valid account number, assigned to the advisory firm’s unique company code.

Every time paperwork has been completed and filed, the software automatically generates a “completion report,” which can be used by the compliance and operations people for their files.  The report shows what security checks the document went through, when it was sent, when it was returned.  “The custodians always want to see that as well,” says Mancini.

And the program also graphs the “not-in-good-order” returns compared with the total number of documents, so you can see if the firm is improving (or not) over time.  You can break this down by account type (IRA, trust, etc.). 

Agreement Express is still in its early stages, so pricing will be determined when the last of the key integrations are finalized—right about when you read this.  But advisory firms that open fewer than 100 accounts a year are tentatively priced at $7,500 a year.

Agreement Express may not (yet) make sense for firms that are lucky if they onboard 10 new clients a year.  But if anybody decides to shift custodians and repaper their entire client basis, it could prove to be a remarkable time-saver.