Janice Fioravante, Wealth Manager

Going paperless is a top goal of wealth managers this year, says Ken Hyman, president and CEO of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Partnervest Financial Group. Paperless account opening systems are in the offing, involving e-signatures—from Pershing Advisor Solutions, for one, launching in this first quarter—and by major financial institutions as well. “The industry is trending toward this,” says Hyman. “Big banks have offerings ready. There’s a general belief that regulations allowing electronic signatures are still debatable.” But according to virtual-office consultant Joel Bruckenstein: “It depends on who your custodian is. If they don’t need paper signatures, you don’t have to print out forms.”

Records retention and storage is another step in the paperless flow. “Everyone’s interested in this because of what you can save—tremendous time savings tracking down files,” says Hyman. You can make your own office more efficient in finding and accessing records and files and in sharing work with others. “Why have whole rooms stacked to the ceiling with file cabinets,” Bruckenstein asks rhetorically. “Think of how expensive real estate is!”

To those who remain squeamish about the safety and security of electronically storing 20 years worth of confidential client data, Bruckenstein argues that there are plenty of safety and security issues with paper, as well. “What if a floor above has a fire or a pipe bursts. Digitally you’ve got two or three sets of backup. Where’s your backup with paper?”

Laserfiche, a leading paperless solutions company, has been a longtime proponent of going paperless. Says Tim Welsh, president of Nexus Strategy LLC and a consultant to Laserfiche: “I do lots of presentations to financial advisors, and when I mention that going paperless will increase their ability to grow—which is a big factor when businesses are being valued on a multiple basis—I see people sit up straighter in their chairs and really listen.” A white paper available on the Laserfiche Web site states that advisors stand to increase their profits from 40 percent to 55 percent as well as the overall value of their firms by investing in electronic document management technology.

Paperless systems enable more efficient compliance with audits, adds Brian LaPointe, Laserfiche director of strategic solutions. “Our recent informal survey of advisors at a major industry event found that 75 percent plan to implement electronic document management in the next year to increase front-office and back-office efficiencies, streamline regulatory compliance tasks and reduce rent costs.” Laserfiche, he says, is capable of supporting compliance mandates.

And what of the other side of your flow—working with clients? “Data needed when you’re away from the desk can be made accessible wirelessly,” says Christopher P. Willis, EVP of marketing/strategic alliances at Pyxis Mobile. Handhelds provide access to trade blotters, compliance, market data and reports.

And there’s more than one way to view a document once it’s electronic. “We’ll improve upon what Windows gives you,” says Jeffrey Sigarra, senior product manager of Paperport, adding that its users can browse documents visually rather than by name, “making it more like your desktop—where you see a contract or W2 form rather than look for a file name.”

Digitizing communications with clients is also on the mind of Bill Spalding, president of Bill Spalding Financial Services in Atlanta. Not only has his firm just made the transition to paperless, but he also wants to extend his good fortune to his clients. “We’re integrated with our main custodian and can interface with multiple custodians, banks and credit card companies,” he says.

Spalding adds that having forms online means no more printing out, no more stuffing envelopes and sending paper. Instead, the work is done via emails or faxes—“any way the client wants it.” Still another route to help clients become part of the paperless continuum is to let them in on software that advisors may want to try themselves—like OrganizeMY Electronic Filing Cabinet for Dummies. “We see ourselves as a tool to organize and file electronically,” says Michael Schweizer, the software’s developer and a veteran of financial service firms in Canada.

The bottom line to going paperless is the efficiency advisors crave. Notes Robert Jackson, president of Jackson Financial Advisors Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz., “We are going through a conversion now because we believe it’s essential for most businesses—and in particular financial advisors—to go paperless. Regulators are behind the curve.”