Since it was founded in 1990, Gitterman & Associates Wealth Management, LLC has grown from a five-person financial firm to a dually registered firm with 25 employees handling $225M assets under management (AUM) on its RIA side and over $400M AUM on its broker-dealer (BD) side. With this growth came the need to manage more client information and business records—and, now as a dually registered RIA/BD, to meet separate compliance standards for both FINRA and the SEC.
Since implementing Laserfiche Avante earlier this year, Gitterman & Associates is not only saving the staff and storage costs of working with paper, the firm is using Laserfiche to proactively manage its information to make compliance simpler, easier and more efficient. “Laserfiche is as user-friendly as it says it is, but it has the flexibility to separate our information to meet our compliance needs as both an RIA and a broker-dealer,” says Jeffrey Gitterman, Founder and CEO. “No other company or solution we looked at did that.”
Declaring Independence from Its BD – and Its Legacy ECM
Laserfiche was not the firm’s first enterprise content management (ECM) solution—but it was its first successful one. “Two years ago, our broker-dealer at the time came to us as one of two branch offices to beta test their document management system. I jumped on it, thinking this has got to be better than having a file clerk in a room all day,” recalls Marcy Gitterman, Director of IT & HR.
Trouble was, with no folder hierarchy and searching limited only to template fields, the legacy system was creating as many problems as it was meant to solve. “It was just a really cumbersome program to use,” she says. As the firm prepared to switch broker-dealers to Fidelity, only one of 19 staff members had actually scanned their paperwork into the system. Marcy was frustrated, but optimistic. “I knew there had to be something else out there that would work,” she says.
The firm’s principals, meanwhile, just wanted something people would actually use. “At one point, we were just talking about scanning everything to PDF ourselves and storing it on a hard drive, but I was really against that,” Gitterman says. “We needed something a lot more robust—the fact that PDFs can be altered wouldn’t help with security or compliance.”
Laserfiche, turns out, was one of the ECM providers on Fidelity’s short list of recommended solutions. Jeffrey Gitterman was aware of Laserfiche from local FPA chapter meetings, as well as from hearing about it from colleagues who used it. “It’s just a name we kept hearing a lot,” he says. When Zaheer Master, President of Laserfiche reseller Accelerated Information Systems, presented a Laserfiche solution tailored to the firm’s dual registry, Gitterman knew he was working with the right company—and that he’d actually use the software.
“I avoid technology like the plague, so ease of use was my number one priority. How easily can our new employees use it? How easy is it for me to use it?” Gitterman says. “Laserfiche could take our paper filing system—the one we’ve been using successfully since 1996—and transpose it to a Windows-type environment we were comfortable with.
“But what really impressed us about Laserfiche was the way our reseller presented it. The other solutions we looked at were totally reactionary—they just said, ‘This is how you get rid of paper.’ Our reseller presented Laserfiche in a way that said, ‘Okay, now that your information’s automated, here’s how you’ll need to set this up to get the most out of it and here’s how you do it,’” he adds.
Implementation took place over two months. Says Master, “We showed them how they needed to separate the RIA side of their business from the BD side for FINRA and SEC compliance. We also showed them how, using metadata, you could set up a template field search with a cut-off date or destruction date to easily enforce a retention policy. I think the important thing to realize with ECM is that just because it’s easy to keep everything, doesn’t mean you necessarily want to.”
The space saving alone, Marcy says, was a relief. “We look at the hundreds of square feet we’d been devoting to our file room—it just gets crazy. And half of those files you’ll never see, but you have to keep for compliance,” she says. “Now we get our space back and all we have to do is shoot something through the scanner so we don’t have to touch it again. It’s that simple.”
The flexibility to segregate information and customize user access to certain folders was not only effective, she says, it was easy. “In the old system, we would have to hire a support person to do that. Now we can set up permissions to assign access,” Marcy says. “We use Laserfiche for client files, HR files, benefits, payroll, you name it, so the ability to lock down some files versus other files is really helpful.”
She adds, “Laserfiche doesn’t just say it’s user friendly, it is.”
Automated Compliance – Even at 2 AM
While having more accessible information is a benefit, Gitterman & Associates has also realized that automated information is more useful information. “We do a lot of our compliance right in Laserfiche,” Marcy says. “Instead of our reps having to make copies of client correspondence, they scan them in and it’s automatically submitted to our Chief Compliance Officer in a folder only he has access to. Then we set up a stamping process so the CCO can tell the rep that it’s been approved.”
This automation has paid off in faster service for financial advisors. “One of the nice things is that if our CCO is on the road, it’s not like it has to wait a week if it’s something that needs to be pre-approved. He doesn’t have to look for a fax machine or find time to respond during business hours, he can just log into Laserfiche at 2:00 AM.”
For his part, Jeffrey agrees. “Laserfiche is a huge help from a compliance side.”
But Gitterman says it’s the little things that make using Laserfiche an effective part of everyday business. “The fact that I can redact a line in a memo, and then send it in a secure email—these are the kinds of things I like. I don’t have to ask someone how to do it, I can just do it.”
He sees the potential for Laserfiche to make audits more hassle-free. “I just went through six months of FINRA audits and I can tell you it was painful. They basically put me out of business for six months. If we had already had Laserfiche, it wouldn’t have been a tenth of the nightmare it was,” he says.
“Now that we have Laserfiche, even though an auditor can come and say he wants to see incoming correspondence from a certain date range, we can have everything for them in 30 seconds. That’s going to be huge for us.”
Marcy says now that the firm is enjoying its first taste of content management efficiency, she is eager to see what Laserfiche Workflow can do to automate business process management. “Right now our CRM integrates with our email system—I’d like to see it integrated with Laserfiche as well,” she says. “And our internal processing department will be able to automatically route documents to our principals to approve from anywhere, instead of having them wait in a folder on a desk—that’ll be nice.”
As nice, says Jeffrey, is that the firm has found an ECM system that’s finally living up to its potential—and uncovering new potential in the process. “Of all the new software we’ve gotten in the last few months, this is everyone’s favorite,” he says. “Laserfiche did what it promised to do. None of the other software did.”