When choosing technology, put clients first

By Hannah Pitstick

Evan Carroll has a mantra that he tries to instill in all his audiences: Let technology do what technology does best, so people can do what people do best.

Even a behemoth like Amazon, for instance, doesn’t have a mission to be the world’s best technology company, Carroll pointed out. Amazon’s stated mission is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” When you shift your focus completely to the end consumer or the client, he said, your entire approach to technology and what new tech to adopt will follow suit.

Carroll, an author and the founder of Evan Carroll and Associates in Raleigh, N.C., presented on Wednesday at AICPA ENGAGE 2019 in Las Vegas at the session “Humanizing Technology to Deepen Client Relationships.”

During his session he discussed how accountants, and CPA financial planners in particular, can realize the benefits of technology without the downsides. He stated that while technology has huge benefits for efficiency and growth, those gains shouldn’t come at a human cost.

Here is Carroll’s philosophy on how to choose technology that can help you deepen client relationships:

Let technology do what technology does best. Technology is great at keeping up with your book of business, Carroll said. It’s very good at following the instructions that you lay out against a well-defined strategy and automating the various transactions that you need to complete.

What technology is not good at is understanding the goals and desires of your clients and translating those into a financial strategy.

“To humanize technology, we have to take a best-of-both-worlds approach where we have technology doing the manual, tedious things it can be really good at, so that, as advisers, we can spend more time advising our clients one-on-one, face-to-face,” he said.

Carroll said that because technology is democratizing access to all of the tools to do the job, the first professionals to become obsolete will be the ones who view themselves as “the person who does the transactions because no one else knows how.”

A better stance, he said, is to view yourself as “a strategic partner who embraces technology to help them do their job better.”

Focus on how technology can benefit your clients. As you evaluate which technologies you want to adopt, think about how they can help your clients, not about what’s currently trending.

“By focusing on the benefits of a technology to the end consumer, you’re able to evaluate technology in terms of the results it can deliver for you, as opposed to getting caught up in the hype-cycle of wanting to have the latest, greatest thing,” he said. For instance, blockchain has generated plenty of buzz, but while the digital-ledger technology is fascinating and worth understanding, it doesn’t yet offer much in terms of customer-facing benefits, he said.

Look for the “win-win-win.” Carroll often circles back to the idea of a win-win-win, which is a solution that’s better for your client, better for your team, and better for your bottom line.

“I believe it’s possible to have all three, and if one has to suffer for the other two, then the solution you’re thinking of isn’t quite right,” he said.

To achieve a win-win-win, he suggests using a framework called the three R’s: relationship, responsiveness, and readiness.

“In any decision you make, ask yourself how it helps you deepen the relationship with your client, be more responsive to your client, and increase your organization’s readiness to do both of the above, in order to be more prepared and even proactive with your clients,” he said.

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA’s editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.

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