Ep. 240: Unlocking RIA Growth Opportunities Through a World Class Tech Stack with Erin Goss, Blue Chip Partners

Come on in, sit back and relax. You’re listening to Episode 240 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group Consulting. This podcast features interviews, news and analysis on the trends and best practices, all about wealth management technology.  

This episode is part of our series on RIA tech stack so we have an RIA called Blue Chip Partners and the COO, Erin Goss, from Blue Chip Partners is going to talk about the tech stack where they’ve gone some of their core functionality, how they got there, what they liked what they don’t like. And some new things that they’re looking at and why they’re looking at them.

But before we get started, let’s talk about tech stacks. At Ezra Group, we’ve seen tech stacks of hundreds of RIAs and let me tell you, most of them are loaded down with tech debt. So you shouldn’t feel too bad about yours. But let’s face it tech debt is like a giant anchor, holding back your business growth. If you want to free your firm for exponential growth, you should run, not walk to our website EzraGroup.com and fill out the Contact Us form. Our experienced team can evaluate your current tech ecosystem, deliver targeted recommendations, optimize your existing systems and operations or run an RFP and help you implement new software to take your firm to the next level. You can take advantage of our free consultation offer by going to EzraGroup.com.

Topics Mentioned

  • Helping Clients Get the Most out of Their Wealth
  • Google Ads and ROI: Tracking the Success of Digital Marketing Campaigns
  • Document Management and SharePoint: Keeping it Simple yet Effective
  • eMoney and Financial Planning: Offering Comprehensive Services to High-Net-Worth Clients

Episode Transcript

Craig: I know you’re going to be excited when you hear our next guest. It is Erin Goss, COO of Blue Chip Partners. Erin, welcome to the program.

Erin: Thank you for having me, Craig. Very excited to be here.

Craig: I’m glad you can make it. This was a long time in coming. We’ve been talking for a little while to get you on the program and we’re excited for you to be here.

Erin: Glad to be here.

Craig: First of all, tell us where you’re calling in from.

Erin: I am calling in from Farmington Hills, Michigan, which is about 20-25 minutes from Detroit. I think this would be the west side of Michigan.

Craig: It would be that’s a nice place. I’ve been there. My ex wife’s family is all from Farmington, where many were from that area. Farmington Hills. So I know it pretty well. quite a coincidence that that’s where you are, but you just moved.

Erin: I don’t live here. I actually live in Clarkston, which is about 45 minutes from the office. So I have a little bit of a commute but I’m super excited when I get here. Reading those audiobooks. That’s what I’m trying to do.

Craig: And podcasts and podcasts.

Erin: That’s right.

Helping Clients Get the Most out of Their Wealth

Craig: That’s right. So let’s let’s kick this off. Can you please give our audience a 30-second elevator pitch for Blue Chip Partners?

Erin: Happy to do so. Blue Chip Partners is an independent registered investment advisory firm based in Farmington Hills, Michigan. We were actually founded in 2004 by Robert Steinberg, which means that we are actually celebrating our 20th anniversary of being in business next month and we are throwing a very big party for all of our clients and friends.

Craig: Congratulations.

Erin: Thank you. Thank you. Today we have 30 employees that provide comprehensive Financial Planning and Investment Management services to over 800 households primarily comprised of high net worth individuals and families equating to approximately 1.3 billion in AUM. And we like to say our core purpose here at Blue Chip Partners is to help our clients get the most life out of their wealth.

Craig: I like that. That’s catchy, makes a lot of sense. 20th anniversary fantastic. That means you’ve got some tech that’s been around a while and I know you’re relatively new to Blue Chip, you’ve only been there for a short time. But what do you know about the tech stack from before you got there and or earlier tech stacks and what has been changed since then?

Erin: Yes, absolutely happy to give you some color. So I have I joined Blue Chip in September of ’21. And at that point, I believe we were around 14 employees. So we have significantly increased our employee count since I joined just a few short years ago here. And so a lot of what I’ll say is the kind of core technology that we have in place today being eMoney as our financial planning tool, we are in Tamarac shop, we use all three pieces of Tamarac, the portfolio management, the reporting and the the CRM. Those were in place when I got here and they are still in place.

Erin: There’s a couple of things that I would highlight from a theme perspective. When I joined, we are a Microsoft shop and Outlook, the basics but what we have been doing is leaning more into the Microsoft suite. So one of the first things that I helped drive when I joined was implementing things like teams for collaboration internally, the firm that I was with prior with the team shop and now no one can imagine living without Microsoft Teams have a daily basis. And similarly, our document management system World docs, which was in place when I joined, the the form of it that we were using went away and so we had to move all of our documents we chose SharePoint for that house. And so now our documents and data are available on cell phones and just much more accessible to our to our team.

Erin: And so with all of that data accessibility, we’ve also implemented some additional data security Microsoft Intune, which is aimed at providing additional protections when employees access our data. So those are all Microsoft driven things that we’ve done. We have also implemented a new compliant texting software called sell trust, we were using something else prior that wasn’t as great of a user experiences sell trust, that’s been certainly well received by advisors and clients. And then we’ve added some other things. holistic plan was one of our latest software adds late last year to provide more tax insight for our advisors to be able to share with their clients. We also implemented Broadridge Fi360 In response to the additional requirements related to the rollover rule. Trying to not only provide more value and insight to clients, but also eliminate friction or reduce friction for our advisors to be able to deliver the services that we need to deliver.

Google Ads and ROI: Tracking the Success of Digital Marketing Campaigns

Craig: Thank you that was a lot. So let’s roll it back. So the Tamarac portfolio management reporting CRM, the how does that integrate with the other application, using Microsoft Outlook for email? So you’ve got to integrate that into your CRM and your marketing would you want to integrate that the CRM so how’s all that working?

Erin: From a marketing perspective, CRM certainly helps on the marketing front, but we also do a lot in MailChimp, for example. We write a lot of original content that we distribute to our clients and prospects. I would say there’s definitely integration with our systems but some of these are specialty systems and do their own unique thing. You mentioned marketing, and I know we were going to talk about this so if I can go there for a second. This is probably one of the most exciting areas that we there’s just so much going on. I’ll highlight a few things. So we at Blue Chip Partners actually have a tremendous asset in that we have 187, five star Google reviews, and we can’t find any other investment advisory firm, anywhere that has close to that, which I just think is a testament to the quality of our team and you should read these reviews. There are sentences of commentary. It’s not just click the box five stars.

Erin: It is a testament to what we do here and the care that we take serving our clients now because of this because we are more visible on Google, in the past, I would say year and a half we are now spending pretty precipitously on Google ads, just to try to increase our footprint and our visibility of where people can find us that are looking for a financial advisor based on the clients that have come in the door over the past year and a half, it’s probably not even that long, a little shy of that. The ROI of this Google ad spend is incredibly high. So we’re trying to push into that Google presence that just came about within the past 12 to 18 months.

Erin: Also on latest developments we have recently hired January of this year, our very first Director of Marketing. This is not something that we had internally before we always hire different agencies to support us in our marketing efforts. So now, Madeline Dunn is here as our director of marketing and she’s bringing a very exciting vision to the digital marketing side of things. We have a podcast called Blue Chip Now she is looking to turn that into video and create different assets out of our podcasts that we can post to different places. Our advisors are pretty good at writing their own content. We’re going to continue to push that as well and push the push that out on our website and the different social channels.

Erin: Our founder, Robert Steinberg, is also writing his first book, which we will be able to recycle some of that content for additional purposes lures on our website. And we are actually about to launch in two weeks and affiliated company called Blue Chip estate planning. This is part of our strategic vision to add tax and estate planning to our core Financial Planning and Investment Management Services, which is going to create another avenue of content for us.

Erin: We post on LinkedIn social media, but it is not a huge piece of what we do, I think we we are very prevalent on LinkedIn. Because we’d like to share knowledge with different advisors and different things. But I can’t say that we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of clients from it, probably but we do it because we want to have a footprint there. But we do have a lot of content. We’re going to continue to push content and we’ve actually also talked about creating memberships that might provide access to our content. So the marketing front it’s very exciting. It’s constantly changing. I think we’re going to have hopefully some very exciting results here.

Craig: I like the idea of creating memberships access your content, of course, right? The idea of a podcast as well. That’s exciting. But you mentioned something, the ROI on your Google ads is high, how high is high? How do you measure the ROI on there?

Erin: So I don’t have specific numbers but what I can tell you is we certainly track every new lead that comes in and we tag a lead source to it, whether it’s client referral, in this case, it would be Google, just a call in. With Google, you know, we’ve we’ve we may have gotten a cold call to our office a couple of times a year now we’re getting probably two or three a week. And so we are ensuring that we’re tagging the source of our leads and then if those clients convert then we can forecast what their revenue potential would be and kind of aggregate all that and compare that to our Google spend. So I don’t have the exact numbers on how many we’ve converted, but I can tell you that it’s enough to continue to push the spin there.

Craig: That’s excellent. And do you focus mostly on geographically close clients and prospects or are you looking outside of the Detroit area?

Erin: Great question. So we up to this point have focused on the state of Michigan I think it was very much the surrounding zip codes to Farmington Hills, but then we’ve added Grand Rapids and Traverse City some of the northern areas of Michigan we may even have some places that are close in Ohio, Toledo. But we have actually started to talk about whether or not we push that and open this up across the country. One of the things that we enjoy is meeting our clients in person. We know many clients don’t need to meet in person. So we’re letting the clients lead. And if you’re okay, having your meetings with us from Florida and you’re happy with that, who are we to stand in your way?

Erin: But I would say a large percentage of our client meetings are still in our single office in Farmington Hills. So I think there is some sensitivity to you know, we want to make sure we retain those clients and we think meeting people in person having them in our office, we just expanded our office footprint. We have a great space here. We think there’s something to be able to show people that and so we wonder if we expand our geographic footprint, are those clients likely to stay? We hope so. But it’s a question in our minds, but I think there’s no reason we shouldn’t we shouldn’t try it. Because again, many clients don’t need to meet with us meet, we may want to meet with them, but they may not find as much value as we do in it. So I think we’re open to it for sure.

Document Management and SharePoint: Keep it Simple

Craig: Of course, I wanted to pivot to another part of your tech stack that you mentioned, document management. That’s not world docs went away. So you’re leaning into Microsoft and you move to SharePoint. You talk a little bit about that. Did you build any custom capabilities inside SharePoint is just a bunch of file folders? How are you running your document management internally on SharePoint?

Erin: Yes, I mean, I would say from a an infrastructure standpoint, it’s probably pretty simple we have company files, we have client files, and then there is a whole host of custom per access permissions that are driven are kind of baked into our SharePoint. So that is what I’ve, I would say we have spent a ton of time on. The other thing that we built out is a retention policy behind the scenes that you know, will auto delete documents that are of a certain age over six years, but in order to do that, we didn’t want to delete every document.

Erin: We have something called doc types. So we are each of our documents internally and we have as you can imagine, thousands and thousands of them have a doctype whether it’s an agreement it’s an IPS, it’s a Investment Management Agreement, whatever it is, some of those doc types, we had to teach the policy to say never delete those, but others if they’re not on this list that we want to keep forever, go ahead and auto delete those.

Erin: So we’re trying not to keep information that we don’t need that just cleaning the house but also we just don’t want information that we don’t need to keep. So there was a lot of building there was a lot of building kind of upon launch. We are continuing to tweak how information is maybe organized. I don’t think we built out anything super custom as far as SharePoint goes. Sure I’m always interested is fine. It serves our needs at this point.

Craig: I’m always interested to hear about SharePoint and how they’re using it. We have some clients that do the same. We do some custom SharePoint development. So I was always interested to hear so we built some, some clients are just like you were they just keep it very simple. Other clients have asked us to build out, for example, internal portals that sit on top of SharePoint so that you see it more like a web page internally for like an intranet and you can access certain documents and it’s through that through the portal or integrated into integrate their SharePoint into Salesforce or other CRMs. We do that as well. So yes, so there’s a wide range of things you can do with SharePoint.

Erin: You touched on the kind of the the homepage and making it easier to find things on SharePoint. I think that is something that is on our list to get to here in the future of things serving the group to understand the areas of SharePoint that they’re constantly going to and trying to make those just a little more easily accessible. That sounds nice.

Craig: Oh, definitely. We’ve been doing SharePoint for many, many years since about 2013. And it’s just quirky. So having a webpage of the front set that says, Okay, here’s your internal documents, here’s your external documents, here’s your workflows. Here’s how you can get different things. We find that just helps organize it a little better, it makes it easier to find stuff.

Erin: Makes sense. We have set up a few custom SharePoints for projects that we’re working on. For example, with an external vendor, that’s been faulty. If this external vendor doesn’t have a way to share information with us in a secure fashion, we can kind of set up a custom SharePoint for them to be able to exchange documents and we’ve done that a couple of times and that’s been nice. We don’t have to learn a new language. It looks and feels just like what we navigate daily. And so, I like it.

eMoney and Financial Planning: Offering Comprehensive Services to HNW Clients

Craig: It’s a good application to have, especially because it’s free. That’s right. In effect. You’re paying for Microsoft but you get it. So other parts of your tech stack. Let’s talk about eMoney. Do all of your clients get a financial plan and how is eMoney implemented through your through your advisors?

Erin: Absolutely. So certainly it is offered to every client. There is a little bit of work on their part. That we need in order to be able to populate an eMoney chassis. And so some may just not find much value in doing that if they are well into retirement. That is not something that they may find a whole lot of value in but we absolutely offer it to everyone. I would say the large majority of our clients at this point, have one.

Erin: So our advisors are all trained on using it and we actually an initiative that we rolled out earlier this year was subject matter experts for our major technology tools. So Imani would be one of them. Holistiplan would be the other. That’s a newer application for us. So we’re still working through the the acclamation phase internally. And then we are demoing a social social security tool, as well that we just wanted to be able to have a little more accountability around understanding training rolling out to the advisors.

Erin: So we have coverage on Tamarac that falls in our investment department. So all of our eMoney’s bound for for many, many years, and so most of our advisors are very familiar with it. But we at least now have two people that are responsible for staying up to date on the updates and enhancements and jumping on the annual conference calls or going to the conferences, these types of things. So clients find tremendous value in it. I think we prefer it because it’s a little more cashflow oriented, and so no complaints from our standpoint.

Craig: Makes perfect sense considering your high net worth client base. One thing I wanted to ask was how many advisors do you have?

Erin: We have 12.

Craig: Out of 30 employees 12 advisors and 18 executives and staff. Correct?

Erin: And 2 of the 12 would be our founder and CEO and then our Managing Partner. They are servicing less clients these days. than they used to but they still certainly have client relationships that they manage so they would be in the 12.

Craig: To keep their fingers on the pulse of the company 100% That is excellent. The or using any of the advanced features in eMoney on estate planning, insurance or trust, things like that?

Erin: Yes.

Craig: And how do you find those features? Are they working well for you? Are you because now you’re looking at social security tool? Are you looking at any other estate planning tools to support your new estate planning company launching?

Erin: Great question. So I am not an advisor. So I am not going to be able to speak or do justice to the eMoney features. So I’m going to table that one as far as additional estate planning tech. Yes. There is a firm called WealthCounsel which is a firm that has a lot of templates for estate planning that seems to be kind of a core vendor in estate planning firms. We’ve had calls with Vanilla, which is very interesting. I like that they bring a lot of unique visuals to the estate planning process and I know they are working on additional enhancements to maybe bring more AI features into their software stack or their their capabilities.

Erin: So that’s something if we want to take estate planning which is very, very document heavy. Clients get these done, they forget who they named. If they can see all that in a picture. We see a lot of value in that. So we’re in the intro phase with them. We haven’t onboard them yet but I would guess that we probably will. So that’s one I would certainly highlight.

Craig: We’ve looked at Vanilla. I’ve had Steve Lockshin on the program as well. Interesting product. Especially the the document scanning how it looks for errors and across all documents, which can be a real pain

Erin: Yeah, right. Now, it seems like that’s where the industry is going. We’ve talked to vendors like FP Alpha, that’s another one where you can scan in documents and it pulls out all these insights. I mean, it’s just if you’re into finding efficiencies, which I certainly am it’s pretty fascinating where the industry is going and it’s more of a matter of just finding which vendor meets your needs and which can take take a little bit.

Craig: Do you feel and this is something we’ve seen from other RIAs that are growing like yours and adding more point solutions, that it’s getting a little overwhelming with all the different point solutions because let’s say you went with Vanilla and you have Holistiplan. And you of course we’ve got eMoney and Tamarac so when are too many points solutions. And so security optimizer and an income optimizer and when is it too many?

Erin: That is a great question and one I am extremely sensitive to. Now on the estate planning side we are going to have an estate planning team that’s going to be working on that technology. So while I may touch that a little bit, that’s not going to have anything to do with our investment advisors. But to your point, there is definitely a good time to implement new technology. People have got to understand why they need it.

Erin: Oh no, I need to take the time to learn it and just accept this change. I thought everything was fine. And now you’re saying we need this new tool and so there’s definitely an art to this. I am very sensitive to adding one more sign on to people’s radars. I don’t like to do that. Unless it is a hey, our current tools cannot do this and the feedback has to be pretty loud. There are a lot of shiny objects in the tech world. There’s so much cool, so many cool possibilities out there.

Erin: But in my experience in wealth management firms for 20 plus years, there can be a good time and a bad time to implement something new and what you would hate to do is, implement that you know, subscribe to that shiny object and then have it sit for nine months because are you training on this? Are you learning it and oh, I have to do this in addition to my day job and so it is an arts and it doesn’t always go as well as you want. So because of that I am very sensitive to that additional log on why do we need this? Do we need this now? Those types of questions for sure. I’m asking.

Craig: We hear that all the time. So there’s always one more application you know, I work with Michael Kitces on the advisor tech map and we have 540 applications now in 46 categories or so 49 categories, and it’s just overwhelming sometimes that there’s more and more and then at some point your desktop looks like an iPhone, your iPhone screen right? The million a million icons and where do I go for this and where do I get that data and then like we’ve got to move this and then integration isn’t working and I’ve got to reenter the data. So it definitely becomes a challenge.

Erin: One of the things kind of to that point, one of the things that we have not adopted internally is a risk tolerance or assessment type of tool. This is one of those, it doesn’t just touch our advisors, but it also touches our clients. And so the general feedback internally about things like a risk assessment tool is clients may not interpret the questions correctly. If they’re kind of asked to fill these out by themselves.

Erin: Or maybe they’re going to answer based on recency bias. If the market is down and you’re asking me questions about how I feel about the markets, I’m not going to be feeling very good because you’re asking me at this point in time so we have just found it much better to identify the appropriate asset allocation with our clients just by sitting with them and talking to them and coaching them and showing them different data on different portfolios. And so that’s one that we just haven’t, because it’s I don’t think we need it. I think our advisors have been very unreceptive to it, and I don’t think it would enhance our client experience all that much.

Craig: Just a warning, you’re going to be getting a lot of calls if this podcast hits vendors.

Erin: Please, I love information. So I will definitely hear the pitch.

Craig: Asking for it. They’re gonna swamp you with here’s why you need risk, and here’s why we can do it better. And here’s why our questionnaire is the best and here’s why this.

Erin: I would love to hear the story. I would.

Craig: Thank you so much for sharing all this great information about your tech stack. Where can people who are listening find more information about Blue Chip Partners?

Erin: Sure, you can visit our website www.BlueChipPartners.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn and Facebook and YouTube. Check us out.

Craig: All the above every channel, thanks so much for being here. appreciate it.

Erin: Thanks a lot, Craig.

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The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at craig@ezragroupllc.com