By James True
If you're thinking about going paperless-foregoing reams of paper and rows of filing cabinets for an electronic document management solution-keep in mind that electronic document management is more than just eliminating paper. It can boost accessibility, streamline internal processes and minimize practice risks.
Perhaps most critical is how electronic document management can sync up with your existing business applications.
Integrating business applications and processes with a paperless solution can help financial planning firms achieve greater productivity and efficiency. This integration allows planners to improve their competitive positioning by automating key business processes and becoming more proactive and customer-focused.
Here are five key components financial planners should look for in an integrated electronic document management system. All the pieces should work together to improve firm-wide processes and support regulatory compliance. And, the system should easily integrate with leading third-party business applications.
Automated electronic workflows are the engine for straight-through processing (STP) and streamlining internal processes; this makes filing, locating and sharing documents simple, seamless and consistent. Automation also improves filing accuracy, routes files to specified users and allows for easy access to files from multiple offices, including remote locations. Automating document retention firm-wide on a consistent basis enables financial planning firms to adhere to document compliance and privacy regulations.
Financial planners need a document management system able to reduce document risks with complete rights management, rules-based document retention and built-in audit capabilities. Data protection should be guaranteed with granular rights assignment (meaning you can give different people in your firm different levels of access to documents based on their roles) and tracking history with trace capabilities, in addition to document versioning. These capabilities also help your firm meet compliance requirements.
Central Document Repository
The central repository is an electronic storage device that eliminates the costs and risks of storing and needing to back-up information on multiple PC and laptop hard drives. When all files and related documentation are stored in a central location, information can readily and safely be shared. Office space is freed up for more productive uses. File costs are reduced and you minimize the risk of lost and misplaced files. Typical documents such as application forms, research data, standard forms, e-mails, faxes and contracts are stored in each client's electronic file.
Designed For the Small Enterprise
Most financial planning firms are small enterprises. A small enterprise is a small- to medium-size business needing productivity tools typically found in a large enterprise. In order for electronic document management to help financial planning firms, it must feature out-of-the-box functionality and offer compelling value in a single package (including multi-user workflows, advanced data protection, an intuitive user interface and the ability to integrate with most third-party applications).
When selecting an electronic document management solution, financial planners should look for one that easily integrates with current financial and business software applications to provide seamless business processes. The goal is to integrate document management with those applications you already use (such as specialized financial planning or contact relationship management software). Integrating a document management system will save time switching between applications, ensure all data is up to date and encourage firm-wide efficiency and productivity.
Other criteria to consider when looking for an integrated document management system include ease of use, cost, references and scalability.
James True is vice president of business development of Cabinet NG Inc. (www.cabinetng.com).
Case Study: Linscomb & Williams
Houston-based Linscomb & Williams, a full-service investment management and financial advisory firm, implemented an electronic document management system to help reduce the amount of physical space needed to store documents.
In the three years since going paperless, the firm eliminated 16 file cabinets, freeing up storage space for more productive uses, and employees have differing access rights to folders stored in a central document repository.
"It was easy to set up granular access rights so our planners and investment advisers could access different files and folders than customer service representatives," says Glynda Bilicek, vice president of administration at Linscomb & Williams. "This way, we can satisfy privacy directives, as well as reduce the risks to important documents."
Linscomb & Williams' customer service agents can immediately open customer files and see all relevant paperwork, handling client requests in a timely manner. The new system boosted intra-firm productivity as well, with improved collaboration and more efficient workflows.
"Our integrated electronic document management helps us organize all documents in order to make the audit process really easy," says Bilicek, who adds that other benefits to her firm include safe and easy remote access to files, as well as peace of mind knowing client data is protected in the event of a disaster.