Many firms are looking to improve their bottom line, and one of the ways this can be done is by updating your software. But where to begin? How do you know if it will work for your firm? What will the implementation look like? What about hidden costs? In this week’s episode of our Oyster Stew podcast our experts offer some tips and tricks on what to look for when you are considering new software.
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Transcription provided by Temi transcription services
Oyster: Welcome to this week’s serving of Oyster Stew, a mix of financial services, commentary and insights. Each week we’ll discuss what is happening in the industry based on what we see as we work with regulators and clients, we hope you come away with the knowledge and tools to help you make the best decisions for your firm’s future.
Libby Hall: Hi everyone. I’m Libby Hall and I’m your host for today’s podcast on software selection. With me is Polly Cordle, Managing Director of Oyster Solutions software, our compliance software that we offer, and she’s going to help us with some tips and tricks on what to look for when you’re considering selecting some software for your firm. Polly, you’ve done a lot of software implementations and selection. What are some things that folks should be aware of when they’re first starting to explore the idea? Which kind of things should they be looking for?
Polly Cordle: Well, I think in today’s world especially, folks are really looking at how to make the most of their business continuity plans. They just got disaster recovery plans, whatever they choose to call it, and are really looking at in this world where, we’re not sure if we’re all going to be in one place or all over the place. How’s the best way for me to make the technology work for me? And as I’ve kind of in the past looked at technology choices, there were questions I asked, and now I think there are new questions I would ask as I look to make a technology decision.
The first is, I would always look at the marketing. I definitely think it’s important that you look at the marketing of a couple of different firms. And one of the things I’m always struck by is how many firms don’t actually show their technology in their marketing, and I think that’s odd. I don’t know if they think they’re giving away a secret or they just feel it’s not flashy enough for marketing. I’m not sure what’s going on there, but so I do think looking at the marketing and then asking for a demo. Make sure that you actually see the system in action. Don’t just see what they want you to see, make them do something in that software so that you can see it actually work. I’ve worked with lots of clients who have said, you know, “We implemented this technology and then it didn’t work. It didn’t work the way they said it would.” And I think that comes from not really in the demonstration of the software, pushing to see what you want to see, not just what they want to show you. So asking lots of questions during the demonstration, actually seeing it play out, I think those are, are really important. And then always, always trying to get a list of current users that you can talk to, some people you can reach out to, just like if you were hiring someone. This is a big decision that you’re making. Go out and talk to some people who are actually using the software and see what they’re saying about it. I think that’s important.
Another thing I think you have to ask yourself when you’re looking at implementing software is, what issues will this software resolve for me? What issues do I have on my plate that I want taken off my plate and can this software or technology resolve that issue? And be open to change. I think we see a lot of folks who have a hard time letting go of an existing technology because that’s what they’re used to, but be open to change. If you can replace four systems with one system, why not? I mean, it’s one contract. You’re probably going to save money. Yeah, you’re going to have a little bit of a learning curve, but in the end, I think that’s worth the economic savings, the efficiencies that you’ll get from having one place to go and look for stuff. I think those are all really important questions.
Libby Hall: How important is customization when you’re looking at new software customization?
Polly Cordle: To me personally, I think it’s huge. So, within our firm, we have our Oyster Solutions software. And what I tell clients is, we don’t want to prescribe your compliance program. We want to make your compliance program the best it can be, and that means we need to customize it to your firm. I’m not trying to sell you an “off the shelf” product that can drop in place.
And that’s the way it is. I want you to have flexibility and customization, and I think that’s important across the board. That’s another challenge I’ve heard from folks who’ve implemented software. “I’m waiting on them to build me these custom things that I need, and I can’t get what I thought I could get out of it.” Those kinds of things. This is another thing I would consider – What is the hidden costs in the technology that you’re purchasing? So a lot of technology firms will sell you version 1.4 and then they’ll come back next year and say, “Hey, don’t you want to upgrade to 2.2? We’ve made all these enhancements and look at this list of enhancements and isn’t that great?” We don’t really sell our software. We subscribe – we sell subscriptions to our software.
So the enhancements come with that subscription, and I think it’s a really important question to ask when you’re looking at any technology platform. If you make improvements to your platform, am I going to get those improvements or am I going to have to pay for those improvements? Because that’s a really big deal to me that that if a software can be better, it should be better without me having to pay for it to be better, if that makes sense. And then I really think it’s important that you look to the training you’re going to get on the software and the ongoing support you’re going to get on the software. So, just like we don’t believe that we should prescribe your compliance program, we also don’t prescribe your training. We do it however the firm wants it done. And I think that’s your friend better than anybody else.
So if you know that your folks are not going to take the time to watch a 20-minute video, don’t send them a 20minute video. They’re not going to watch it, and then they’re not going to know how to use the software. If you know that your folks do better with checklists, give them checklists for the software. And then pay attention to what your ongoing support is going to look like. Some software will launch, they launch, you’re on your own, and there’s an 800 number you can call and ask general questions. We tend to stay with our clients. We believe a compliance calendar runs basically on a quarterly schedule, so almost everything is going to happen at least quarterly. Some is going to be monthly, some weekly, some daily, so we stay with them. And for that first quarter, we have regular meetings and we are launching workflows with them, watching processes happen with them, so that what they conceptualized as they were designing the software actually plays out the way they meant it to.
And I think that is important – that whatever technology firm you choose to go with offers ongoing support that adds value to your compliance program, your Ops program. We constantly refer to Solutions as a compliance program, but it could do any process. And I always, always tell folks during an implementation, “Look, this is limited by your imagination, so you come up with what you’ve wanted to do, and I’ll see if I can make it do it.” I think that kind of flexibility, that kind of customization is really, really important. You can get locked into these long-term contracts. Some of these firms will have three-, five-year contracts and you’re signing on, you’re paying a huge implementation cost up front, and you’re stuck in that contract for three to five years with software you may not be able to use the way you thought you were going to be able to use it.
So look for the flexibility in that contract. What happens if I’m not happy? How do I get out of it? How do I get my data back? How am I going to be able to access that data going forward? Am I going to be paying a penalty if I drop out of this contract? All of those are really important questions to ask as you’re looking at any sort of technology.
Libby Hall: So Polly, what are your thoughts about change management when it comes to software implementation?
Polly Cordle: You could do 16 blogs and 15 podcasts about change management, no doubt. When it comes to technology change management, you’re not going to make everybody happy. There are going to be people who want the old software. You have to look to the bigger picture, in my opinion. and that is, what kind of efficiencies from a cost perspective and from a process perspective am I putting in place with this software platform?
What kind of, in a Compliance world, kind of risk mitigation do I get out of the software? In an Ops world, then it’s more all about efficiency of process and really, you have to look at impact in each of your areas. So your users, your typical branch users, what’s going to be their impact? How destructive is this going to be on their day? Then look at your technology folks, how Tech is going to have to be involved in the implementation. And then look at your Compliance folks or your Ops folks, depending on what kind of system you’re looking at, and what is the impact to them during the implementation, and is that impact ultimately worth what you’re going to get out of the technology?
Libby Hall: So we’ve talked about the operations and the implementations a little bit. What does a Solutions implementation look like from your perspective?
Polly Cordle: So I can’t speak to how other technology, in particularly compliance technology firms, handle this because we have a consulting arm. We end up giving a lot of consulting during an implementation. So we start with the policies and procedures of firm, and we really pick those apart – and I mean, we pick those apart. If you say you’re going to staple two pieces of paper together, we put it on the list and say, “you’re going to staple two pieces of paper together,” and we’re going to put a workflow in to make sure you do. We really pick that apart, and we ask a lot of questions about inconsistencies and things that you may not have thought of.
What’s your Reg BI policy going to be? What’s your senior investor policy? You still say you sign off on a paper trade blotter. Is that true? I don’t know whether other compliance technology firms get into that level, but because of our consulting experience, and someone gave me this quote from a comedian that said, “I have the right to remain silent, but not the ability,” so, because I I’m a consultant too, I am not going to be able to keep my mouth shut. If I see something weird, you end up getting a lot of consulting in our process, and then we make a lot of recommendations for efficiencies, how you could do these things differently, what’s really required by the regulation.
We see a lot of advisory firms that used to be broker-dealer firms, and so they carry over a lot of FINRA requirements, not realizing that they’re FINRA requirements. So we point out, “Hey, look, you know you don’t have to do that anymore. There’s no reg that says you have to do it this way. You could do it this other way. It would be much more efficient, much more effective.” So we do a lot of recommending efficiencies, and then when we get to the end of our implementations, we feel like we’re so in the weeds with their program, that we also offer them their Annual Review for the year. So that’s kind of a unique aspect of what we do as well.
I think it really just comes down to a lot of technology is built by a technology firm, and then they go and find a consultant to weigh in on it. We kind of flipped that script. We had a consulting firm that was encountering challenges with its clients, and we wanted to solve those challenges, so we built our technology. We designed our technology to solve the challenges we were experiencing with our clients. And so bringing that experience to the software, I think, changes that picture a little bit for us.
Libby Hall: That’s a good point. So is finding out what the motivation for the development of any technology or software that you want to explore is a great question to ask in the demo? Or even when you’re just poking around on the website, ask why did they do it?
Polly Cordle: Absolutely. We actually talk to why we developed our software and what challenges we’re trying to solve with our software, and we believe we’ve solved those challenges. But you’ll see a lot of technology is built by a technology firm. I think that’s an important question to ask: Who’s helping me ultimately, in this implementation?” Because if it’s a tech person who’s just going to build me what I tell them to build me, okay, that’s fine, as long as I understand that going in. But if I need more help than that, then I have to find a technology firm that also offers me that help and that consulting piece to that implementation.
Libby Hall: Well, Polly that is a lot for people to think about. I think those are all good things that they need to consider. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to share with everybody before we go?
Polly Cordle: Yeah, sure. We actually just launched a new site for our Solutions software. If you go to www.oysterllc.com and click on the software link there, you’ll see a lot of information we posted – some frequently asked questions. And I think those frequently asked questions, whether you’re talking to us or you’re talking to someone else, I think that’s a great list of questions to look at and get the answers from the technology firm that you’re using. So even if you don’t ask us for a demo, go out to that website, check out the frequently asked questions and use those as kind of a jumping off place to talk to any technology firm. I think there are some really good questions in there that deserve being answered as you’re making what really ends up being a major decision for your firm. So that would be my best advice to anyone, is to get your list of questions in place and use that site to jump off and cheat off our work, steel our list of questions. We don’t mind.
Libby Hall: Thanks, Polly, for taking the time today. I really appreciate it. And thanks everyone else for listening. Have a great day.
Oyster: Thanks again for listening to the Oyster Stew podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe so we can continue to bring you resources to help you make the best decisions for your firm. If you’re struggling with a topic and you’d like us to do a podcast on it, or you’d like a free consultation, feel free to reach out to us at (804) 965-5400 or by visiting our website at www.oysterllc.com.