In this podcast, Founder and CEO of Deviate Consulting, Erin Hulse, in a conversation with Mark Wickersham of AgilLink, shares insights into the software selection and implementation process, discusses potential pitfalls, and relates the value a consultant can bring. Deviate Consulting is a leader in helping companies who are considering technology upgrades. Deviate provides expert guidance on everything from software selection to implementation.
Deviate provides exceptional support for investment management professionals and single and multi-family offices. Their methodology includes assessment of needs, software selection, vendor qualification, and software contract negotiation.
Erin Hulse is the founder of Deviate Consulting, LLC, which focuses on software selection, implementation, and accounting services for single and multi-family offices. Erin has been managing Deviate Consulting since August 2015, and is based in Indianapolis, IN. She earned Bachelor of Science degrees in Accounting and Finance from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Her extensive career experience includes working for accounting firms, banks and family offices.
Mark Wickersham is VP of Strategy, Marketing, and Business Development at AgilLink.
This synopsis is of a podcast conversation between Mark Wickersham and Erin Hulse.
Note that the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
WHAT VALUE CAN A CONSULTANT PROVIDE FOR TECHNOLOGY DEPLOYMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION?
Hulse offers this insight: “My experience is that a company considering a technology upgrade goes through phases. They start out thinking, ’It's already super expensive. We're spending a lot on the platform, and a lot on the implementation; we've got to hire more full-time people because we're going to try it on our own. We may not need a consultant, because that will just add to the expense.’"
She continues, “Many times, I will talk with someone and they’ll say, "We'll call you maybe if we need you." Nine times out of 10, they call me because although you're spending more money up front with a consultant, in the end, it's going to save you money because you don’t have to redo an implementation and get into a situation where you don't know what you don't know.
You've got to have somebody that's dedicated to it, especially if you're thinking about doing it yourself. You've got to have a project manager that is realistic about time and commitments. If you're thinking about designating someone internally, calculate if they actually have time, because that's one of the things that's always underestimated. People have full schedules, and asking for another 15 hours per week is unrealistic, plus their other duties tend to have priority.
Software selection is something that is foreign to most people. So you have to have somebody that can really focus on it, who can follow up with people, and pretty much run the whole selection process. If you don't have someone who can devote the time and energy to the project, then you have to either hire somebody or find a consultant who can devote that time to it, or you're not going to get anywhere.”
HOW DO YOU SELECT A PLATFORM VENDOR?
Mark teed this question up with: “Many times, a family office will ask for advice from their peers, and while I think there's good information to be learned, the fact is that their peers could have a widely different operational footprint, so the advice that they're getting and the vendors being recommended may not be a good fit for them.”
Hulse agrees, and expands on this further: “You have to start as early as you can, because it takes time. Half the battle is finding time on people's schedules. Then, I like to interview everybody on the project team, as well as anybody involved in the use of the current platform. I talk to everybody, and develop a list of requirements for the new platform based on the firm's needs, from a variety of perspectives.”
WHAT ABOUT IMPLEMENTATION?
Hulse stated: “A lot of energy is expended on the selection of the platform, and then the team is tired from the search, and then they realize that they really haven't given much thought to the implementation. When I’m involved in the search process, I'm prepping the team for what's needed for implementation. There is a lot of preparation and foundational work to prepare the new system for use. Companies are typically going to underestimate the time that it's going to take to implement and operate the system. It's a formula for disaster if you underestimate staffing and hours, and overestimate how many hours the team can commit to the implementation. This creates a gap of not having the right people and the right time commitments.”
Mark Wickersham adds, “This is especially true with accounting, as the calendar comes into play in the implementation. Do you want to clean the fiscal year or calendar year? A lot of time can be eaten up in the search and selection process, and then events are scheduled, and it messes up the timeline.”
TELL US ABOUT CHANGES YOU SEE IN THE FAMILY OFFICE MARKET?
Hulse comments, ”I think that technology and software vendors are finally talking to each other, sharing information so integrations are a little easier. There are a lot of vendors out there that are doing similar things, and there's more competition in the space. For example, there are new vendors that are doing OCR and reading documents, and they can integrate with other accounting and performance systems that are out there. The market is opening up and enabling integrations using APIs across technology and vendors, and I think that's helpful for the clients because you don't have to try and do everything yourself.”
WHAT ABOUT LETTERS OF AUTHORITY?
With a shudder, Hulse dives in, saying, “The LOA process is something very specific that hasn't changed over the years, and needs to. At the beginning of an implementation, one of the things that you have to do is sign agreements with banks and brokers that involve data integration using these systems, and you've got to go through the LOA process.
It's a painful process, but there are some firms out there that are making it easier, especially if you're trying to do a direct integration. That piece is still messy because you can't contact the right person, because everybody has different relationship managers. I find that it's still really cumbersome, and so I tell people during the implementation, "Start reaching out to your relationship managers now. Figure out who the right person is, because you've got to get these LOAs signed." And that piece, for me, has not changed. It's a challenge.”
WHAT ABOUT BEST-OF-BREED VS. ALL-IN-ONE SYSTEMS?
Hulse says, “Some people prefer the all-in-one, just because their data is in one spot, and then they're not having to open multiple platforms, but they have to realize that these systems have strengths and weaknesses and may not give them what they need in every area they operate in.
With best-of-breed, the vendor is focusing on what they do very well, and they’re going to make that particular platform the best that it can be. So then, it becomes the issue of linking the best-of-breed systems together. You have to make sure that the systems work well together and there are no security risks. I don't know that one approach is better than the other, it's whatever the client prefers.
Wickersham adds, “I think it's a good point that the all-in-ones have designated focus areas, such as partnership accounting, but CRM or document management may be weak, because they can't be good at everything. So the client needs to know up front what the strong and weak points are. With best-of-breed, that's where you get a chance to say, ‘These aspects are really important to my operation and my footprint as a firm, and I can match that to the vendors that are best at that.’"
Hulse goes further, saying, “Setting expectations is the biggest thing, because these platforms are expensive, and clients expect that they should be able to do everything really well, and they are frustrated to learn that’s not necessarily the case. The reality is, that there are pros and cons to each approach."
IN EVALUATING PLATFORMS, WHAT SHOULD FIRMS CONSIDER BEYOND SOFTWARE AND FUNCTIONALITY?
Erin answers, “That's a good question, because you have to understand that size matters. If you're going to go with a larger firm, you're going to have an established system, and you're going to have less bugs. They're going to have their processes down, but it's probably more expensive, and if you want customization, you’ll get it, but you’ll have to pay for it.
With a smaller firm, you may be able to influence the features and development of the system. Conversely, you're going to have to deal with bugs and imperfections, and you’ll have to evaluate your tolerance for that type of pain. Ensuring that clients are aware of these issues is a big part of my job as their consultant and advocate, because the consequences down the line are impactful.
You also have to consider the personality of the firm. If it's a more mature firm, what does the product roadmap look like? What is their focus? Are they leading edge or technological followers? You have to find the right fit for your client.”
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE FIRMS CONSIDERING ADDING BILL PAYMENT AS A SERVICE?
Hulse says, “A lot of clients ask for it, but my advice is that if you're going to do it, you want to use advanced technology to do it, because you want to do it in the most streamlined way possible. Especially with bill payment, the technology is so important because it has to be really efficient, and the security of the bill payment and the workflow process needs to be really robust.
You can't make the process too cumbersome, otherwise nobody will like it. Think through the bill pay process realistically and logically, and understand the sense of urgency in your firm. Think practically, as to what is going to work. Don’t accept what sounds good and assume that you only need three approvals. Consider if what is being proposed is going to work for your office now and in the future. Remember, it's going to have to scale as you grow!”
ABOUT DEVIATE CONSULTING
Based out of Indianapolis, Deviate was launched in 2015 by Erin Hulse, after witnessing how much support family offices need when considering technology upgrades. Technology upgrades are expensive and time-consuming, and all the right pieces need to be in place. Hulse and her 17-person team offer consulting and support across the country, for everything from selecting the right system to support after the implementation. They are focused on providing single or multi-family offices expert guidance and support around software selection, implementation, and back office services.
This article is for general information and education only. It is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of AgilLink. AgilLink does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates or projections given are those of the authors or persons quoted as of the date of the article with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change. This article may not be reproduced, distributed or further published by any person without the written consent of AgilLink. Please cite source when quoting.
This podcast is for general information and education only and is provided as a courtesy to the clients and friends of AgilLink. It is compiled from data and sources believed to be reliable, however AgilLink does not warrant that it is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed and estimates given are those of the speaker as of the date of the podcast with no obligation to update or notify of inaccuracy or change.
City National Bank is a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada. Deposit products and services are provided by City National Bank.
Deviate Consulting is an independent company and is not associated with AgilLink, City National Bank, or Royal Bank of Canada.