Web-based applications offer a customizable alternative
Customer relationship management (CRM) company Salesforce.com’s software-as-a-service model went a long way (with marketing through mortgage marketing flyers) toward showing major Wall Street firms that Web-based applications can be useful and reliable. Now a number of vendors are joining the San Francisco-based company in putting their applications online and creating tools that are customizable, scalable, more manageable, and less expensive than traditional software.
Private investment bank Boston Corporate Finance, for example, used to keep track of contacts using Microsoft Corp.’s Office applications. That “is typical of boutique banking firms and not very efficient,” says the company’s senior associate for investment banking, Thomas LeSaffre. Today, the firm uses Capital IQ, a New York-based company that provides an online database with built-in best mortgage crm functionality.
“Capital IQ maintains the central database of companies and corresponding professionals, so addresses, contact info and career changes are captured and updated in the system for us,” says LeSaffre. “We use it to track and record our contacting effort in the M&A processes we run, both on the buy side and the sell side.”
He continues: “As a technology-focused investment banking firm, we see plenty of overlap among potential buyers and sellers in the tech space. Capital IQ allows us to keep track of the companies to which we have marketed opportunities, the personal relationships and points of contact we have with that company, and the feedback they have provided to us.”
Capital IQ, which counts more than 2,000 firms as customers, including investment banks, hedge funds and private equity firms, “offers an integrated data and software solution that is designed specifically for financial professionals who are heavy consumers of information,” says Bill Okun, EVP of Capital IQ. The company offers conventional CRM toolsfor contact management and activity tracking, Okun says, but also provides “market-intelligence-driven tools such as relationship paths and relationship trees that help users improve relationship coordination and decisionmaking.”
Financial professionals use several approaches to managing customer data, says Brad Adams, managing director of Westwood, Mass.-based Boston Corporate Finance. Many use desktop-based systems that have been around for ages, such as Microsoft Excel and FrontRange Solutions’ GoldMine, he notes. Larger firms use server-based products from Onyx Software and Oracle Corp.’s Siebel. More recently, on-demand Web-based applications such as Salesforce.com’s have begun making inroads at large and small enterprises alike.
“The growing acceptance of on-demand applications like Salesforce.com is the biggest change we have seen in the CRM market,” says Adams. “Larger enterprises have realized that these multi-tenant applications do in fact work, can keep their highly sensitive customer data secure and provide their respective workforces with access to a hosted system from anywhere in the world.”
Since the software resides in a Web application hosted by the vendor, upgrade cycles are continuous and invisible–and painless–to the user.
“The new on-demand applications have been much more successful in providing end users with the functionality they need whenever they need it, encouraging higher rates of adoption,” says Adams.
Web-based applications don’t have the space restrictions of desktop-based software, which allows vendors to constantly roll out features. To ensure that users aren’t overwhelmed, many vendors are allowing them to customize their interfaces, an approach that has found favor at consumer-oriented Web sites such as Yahoo and Google, where users can configure start-up pages to include only their most-frequently used tools and functions.
“The trend is for securities firms to be able to provide an affordable, customizable application to the end user,” says Jason Bishara, CEO of SLM Holdings, a provider of Internet-based CRM software. “End users want to customize and personalize their work environments. They’re going toward independent platforms so that they can run their business any way they want.”
New York-based SLM, which provides both Web- and desktop-based sales solutions, says it has installed its proprietary CRM software on over 15,000 desktops.
The vendor’s suite of software and services for financial professionals includes an online prospect management tool, the Broker’s e-Vantage System, and a client communication monitoring tool, ACT for Financial Professionals (AFFP), which records financial transactions and tracks personal client information.
“I never used the desktop-based system,” says Jeffrey Kiesnoski, SVP of investments and wealth management at New York-based GunnAllen Financial, a SLM client for several years. The Web-based system “is better for me because of the Internet communication via e-mail flash presentations, stock-recommendation company information, prospect investor questionnaire response system” and voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) single-click dialing.
Kiesnoski says he uses SLM to prospect for new business relationships and manage his current client database. “Once a lead is generated, you can send out a personalized flash biography on my company and me,” he says. “You can also send out investment information campaigns in e-mail format for companies that I am recommending to new clients.”
With the VoIP functionality “you can rapidly prospect new potential investors without wasting time having to pick up and put down the phone,” says Kiesnoski, noting that a feature he’d like to see added is the ability to save recordings of the conversations directly to his hard drive.
Many customers are happy to let vendors manage their data and applications, but some see this as an obstacle. Vendors such as SLM and Capital IQ allow clients to run the software themselves. “We give the broker extensive flexibility, while still giving corporate and business IT managers reasonable control in terms of security,” says SLM chief operating officer Jon Finkelstein.
“We have a server purchased from SLM, so it doesn’t bog down individual workstations,” says Rupa Jack, a SVP and wealth adviser at Morgan Stanley, whose team is using SLM AFFP.
However, her staff still benefits from the customization features offered by the platform, notes Jack, adding that the product reminds people when to contact clients, and what to contact them about, and produces checklists of what’s been discussed. “Everyone can be online at the same time and know, via AFFP, what the calendar is and what clients are coming in,” she explains.
SLM’s Bishara says the company regularly asks end users which features they do or do not want, and then adds or updates accordingly. “Broker’s e-Vantage has been customized through the years” in response to user feedback, continues Bishara. “As we received more input, we added optional features, such as auto-dialer features and fields.”
Web-based applications are not without drawbacks, however. According to Morgan Stanley’s Jack, the speed is not optimal, especially when interfacing with more than one person. “Also, the product needs to be made more compatible with other systems,” she says. “At the push of a button, we should be able to update contact info in Outlook.” Outlook synchronization is a feature, she notes, but it requires some manual deletions after the update.
On the positive side, online applications can more readily bring in third-party data, says Ileana Van Der Linde, a principal in the wealth management practice at Capgemini Group, a Paris-based consulting, technology and outsourcing services provider. “They enable brokers to easily access information from different places to help further client discussions beyond the traditional assets-under-management approach,” she adds.