Stratos Wealth Partners engaged with Sikich to implement the Salesforce Financial Services Cloud and roll it out to its affiliated advisors across the country. Executives, business managers, and advisors benefit from increased transparency, decision-making ability, and efficiency in managing client relationships, sales, compliance, and operations
Free from the more restrictive conditions in many large brokerage firms and investment banks, advisors at Stratos Wealth Partners can offer their clients a wider range of financial products and strategies. Affiliated advisors rely on Stratos to receive support in many business-critical areas, including the technology to enable them to perform their work and access the information and resources they need.
Stratos’ technology foundation is critical in enabling advisors to reach their goals and makes it possible for the firm to grow and manage advisor relationships. Luis Camacho, President of Stratos Wealth Partners, says, “We are constantly investing and looking to innovate in technology, processes, and workflows to make advisors’ lives easier. They can use our platform for as much or as little as they would like. The biggest marketplace differentiator for Stratos is the flexibility of that platform.”
Stratos decided to modernize its business software to make it easier for company teams and independent advisors to collaborate and help advisors manage their accounts. Chris Radzinski, Director of Project Management at Stratos Wealth Partners, explains, “We wanted to first implement back-office functions, then enable a community for our employees and advisors to interact with each other and back-office functions, and, thirdly, support advisors’ financial services with a cloud-based front end.”
The company decided to acquire a customer relationship management (CRM) system. It identified a promising solution and a partner to implement it. However, the effort presented challenges that eventually prompted Stratos to change directions. “We had not fully thought through the strategy, discipline, and executive buy-in we needed to deploy and build out an enterprise-wide CRM system,” says Camacho. “Our partner had great development skills, but was less effective in delivering the system with processes configured to meet our guidelines.
Instead of the initially chosen solution, Stratos decided to move forward with Salesforce and find a new implementation partner. The project team met with two technology consultancies. Radzinski says, “When you’re examining an implementation partner, you really want to make sure the team is sound and that their plan makes sense. How did they meet us? What was the rapport? Did they seem like they were organized? If I asked the right questions, were they going to build something in a manner that fits the way we work? We got a lot of those questions answered far better by the Sikich team than the competitors we also reviewed.” Camacho adds, “After sitting down with the team at Sikich we felt a great deal of confidence that these were the right folks to guide us through the process.”
It made a strong impression on Stratos that Sikich offered seasoned, competent project leadership. “A key asset Sikich had was the strong project lead,” says Radzinski. “She knew how she was going to manage the implementation and what she needed from us to make it happen. The Sikich approach was more structured and organized than what we had seen from our previous partner. That was a big factor in our decision to go with Sikich.”
Working with Sikich, Stratos prepared an implementation of Salesforce Financial Services Cloud (FSC) that had universal buy-in from executives and business groups. Following a launch meeting, Sikich efficiently managed weekly calls with the business groups in such a way that only those people who needed to provide or learn information were asked to join. Summarizing his company’s Salesforce implementation experience, Camacho says, “Sikich was an incredible partner for us and continues to be so as the platform evolves. They helped us identify potential problem areas and accomplish the necessary buy-in from various stakeholders when we began to roll the platform out.”
In under seven months, Sikich implemented Salesforce FSC, together with the Sikich Financial Services Cloud Accelerator, which extends the Salesforce functionality without adding license fees. Increasing both the security and the convenience of Salesforce FSC, Sikich added two-factor authentication together with single sign-on.
Project owners at Stratos noticed how expertise gained in many comparable efforts benefited their own deployment. This happened, for example, when the Stratos team presented Sikich with something they wanted to deliver in the solution, but were not entirely certain how to realize it. By collaborating with Sikich, Stratos tailored Salesforce FSC closely to the business models and requirements of affiliated advisors, who were going to receive the solution as soon as it had been adopted in the company’s offices. “We’ve achieved almost all the metrics we defined for this implementation,” Radzinski says. “Sikich was very responsive and also helped us define how we should deliver what kinds of capabilities to which advisors.”
Along with performing the actual Salesforce FSC implementation, Sikich helped Stratos understand the licensing and license cost implications of solution-related decisions and avoid costly errors. “Sikich was incredibly helpful in helping us think through the licensing issues,” Camacho notes.
Radzinski says, “My colleagues have stated that they get a lot of really great things from Salesforce, optimized for their departments.” For Radzinski himself, it’s critical to be able to finetune the CRM environment. “Sikich built a base for us,” he says. “It’s a major advantage that I can quickly make changes to processes in Salesforce.”
Across the company, Salesforce FSC has greatly increased visibility and eliminated many manual activities of information retrieval and collation. For instance, the finance team can easily assess the pricing structures and production levels of various advisors and manage their payout structures. After initial caution, the Stratos sales team is enthusiastic about Salesforce FSC and the increased ease and control in managing leads and prospects.
Maintaining and documenting compliance with regulatory mandates for financial disclosure and information management have become easier and more efficient, bolstering the company’s confidence in its compliance measures. The compliance team can track data histories, approvals, and other events centrally in Salesforce instead of researching and documenting them in a variety of sources and unstructured communications. Stratos now manages compliance concerns as cases in a self-service portal, which brings greater efficiency and transparency to issue resolution and any corrective actions or remedial trainings that can result from this. Camacho says, “Our compliance team members are probably the most active users of Salesforce. They no longer need to have lengthy email exchanges between individuals in the company and their group.”
Stratos leadership benefits from a complete view of advisor activities. “The data analytics we’re pulling out of Salesforce right now tell us in real time what’s going on in the field,” says Camacho. “Where are we successful? Our advisors using the platform—which resources do they use and why, and who are they communicating with? That level of information and the impact that it has for each functional area within the firm is invaluable when you look to scale your operations.”
When Stratos envisioned its future and the technology to support it, key considerations were the need to prepare for growth and provide departments with better ways to share information and communicate. Because of those requirements, Salesforce FSC functionality is available to Stratos advisors and employees both in a community portal built by the Sikich team and in a mobile app. The self-service portal is a centralized hub for communications and information exchanges between advisors and Stratos office teams. Workflows for attestations and other frequent activities have become speedy and efficient. Radzinski notes, “Through the portal created by Sikich, our back-office employees have access to live data, whereas previously they would have had to approach multiple individuals and access a variety of resources in the firm to get it.”
The transparency that becomes possible with Salesforce FSC has reached another level through the portal and app. Camacho describes, “Advisors love the idea of being able to pull up the CRM app as they’re walking into or leaving a client meeting, and entering notes on the fly. I can look at production across the firm and see what advisors are exposed to various positions, which advisors are growing with us and which are not, and what’s going on in the sales pipeline. These are steps forward in efficiency that really transformed the way our advisors interact with us and their clients. This is also a major differentiator between us and our competitors.”
The Stratos and Sikich engagement continues as the two companies collaborate on expanding the Salesforce FSC platform. One by one, Sikich helps affiliated advisor teams around the country transition to the Salesforce FSC platform. Many advisors only used limited, basic functionality in Redtail financial CRM or other software tools, so they stand to realize significant gains in their ability to manage their accounts and activities by moving to Salesforce. In addition, Sikich is integrating Salesforce FSC with Orion, a widely-used financial portfolio reporting tool. Advisors will be able to see all their Orion client data, together with notes, in the CRM system.
An important part of the continuing effort is readying the Salesforce environment to accommodate companies acquired by Stratos and provide leadership with the visibility and business analytics to oversee these entities. The Sikich team has already created a dashboard for advisors in the firms that Stratos acquires.
Outside of such major enhancements, Stratos expects to work with Sikich to introduce incremental changes that can augment the value of Salesforce FSC. Radzinski says, “A next step will probably be to measure the ROI on our processes and our relationships with individual advisors.”
Having shared a strategically critical and productive CRM journey with Sikich, Stratos feels strongly that it’s important to talk to an experienced technology partner early in the process to avoid unproductive, expensive detours and errors. Camacho and Radzinski also emphasize that it’s important to define and share a clear value proposition for each area of a business before beginning an implementation project.
Radzinski says, “If you want a good implementation, find the right partner, deliver on your value proposition, and make sure you’re accounting for all the functionality that needs to be available. That’s what we did with Sikich. I’ve already had discussions with Sikich for things we might want to add in the future—there might be some big projects where we will want to bring them in.”