Bill Hortz's picture

[The key distinction between an invention and an innovation is that - while an invention may be interesting; addressing a need; is all bright, shiny and new - unless it is widely adopted, it is not an innovation. True innovation is disruptive by nature and function. It is geared to change things. It is built to change ways of doing things to a better level of experience, results or client engagement. FinTech companies, in particular, are geared to improve the way advisors approach and perform their current activities and the best examples take the greatest care in making implementation and adoption as easy as possible. The history of innovation uncovers that finding that spark between invention and innovation comes from your design process and making sure that you are building from your target customers. For many successful innovators, the process is evolutionary and iterative. This is where the rubber truly hits the road.

To best illustrate this truism about innovation, we sought out Institute member, Corey Westphal, CEO of Mobile Assistant, Inc., who has been determined to develop the needed tool or bridge in his advisor dictation technology to propel greater usage and adoption from financial advisors. We asked him to share his real-world experiences in building his FinTech company’s new enhancement, the Assistant, into a beneficially disruptive service for advisors. This experience sharing can also provide a good road map and thinking process for advisors that are looking to develop new products and services for their clients.]

Hortz: Tell us more about the disruption you saw that was needed and how the new enhancement you just launched, the Assistant, addresses that problem?

Westphal: When it comes to using dictation to help capture and document client meeting notes, the dictation process has been mostly unchanged over the years: meet with your client, get somewhere quiet afterwards, then call a dictation hotline or press the record button on a recording device and speak your notes. That was the process 20 years ago and the same process exists today. The challenge for many advisors, like it is for anyone who tries to incorporate dictation into a note taking process, is that the ability to organize thoughts and speak in a structured, coherent format doesn’t come naturally at all. That type of ability and preparedness is not only helpful, but is required from advisors if the goal is to receive a detailed note that accurately documents the client interaction and can be effectively used as a compliance and client relationship building tool.

A change is needed in the way advisors think about and implement dictation into the note taking process. Mobile Assistant believes a dictation disruption is needed. We are proud to announce an enhancement to our popular mobile app called the Assistant which is designed to help guide advisors through the dictation process with the use of pre-designed templates. The Assistant simplifies the process of capturing dictation and provides the structure that has been so lacking in voice-to-text solutions making the new process: Dictation, simplified.

Hortz: How exactly does your enhancement address the main problems you saw with the current dictation process?

Westphal: The new Assistant enhancement disrupts the traditional dictation procedure by changing the way advisors approach the process. The concept was born from an identified problem that until now has gone unsolved by either dictation companies or software solutions - how to remember all the important questions that need to be addressed after different types of client meetings? With the Assistant, Mobile Assistant now transforms the typical procedure of free-form dictation, with no guidance, into a conversational process, laying out stepping stones to navigate from a client meeting to a highly detailed, organized, accurately documented interaction.

Hortz: What was your thinking and design process that you used in building out this enhancement?

Westphal: When the idea for the Assistant was first discussed, there was an immediate focus on design simplicity.  If we created a built-in template guide Assistant as part of our mobile app, it needed to be easy and intuitive, or advisors would never use it. The Assistant needed to be a feature that could be accessed quickly, templates easily chosen, with the ability to customize questions to suit personal needs.

A very interesting direction for the design of our Assistant came at the early stages of prototype testing. This was the first time we partnered with an innovative, new technology company, Enok Collective, for the mobile app design. Their development process included a prototype feedback component in the early stages that had a very important role in the direction of our Assistant design. This prototype feedback and testing proved to be invaluable as it was accomplished with a group of advisors before any development work was started. I believe companies often make the mistake of designing products based on what they think customers need, instead of learning from them directly and developing based on their actual needs.

Our original design idea was for the Assistant to audibly read back the template questions to the advisor, with only one question on the screen at the time. What we found during prototype testing was that the most effective way to help guide advisors through the important questions was to display the questions on the mobile screen that could be scrolled through at their own pace, and leave the audio readback component out of the new enhancement. Our final Assistant design was the result of client engagement and listening to what our customers really needed, not what we thought they needed.

Hortz: This seems to have been an extremely iterative process with a great many feedback loops with your endpoint advisor clients. What exactly do you look for during those exchanges and how do you know when you are on the right development track?

Westphal: In order to create something truly innovative when it comes to dictation, you know you are on the right track by ensuring you have multiple channels and opportunities for feedback on our product or service design.  From initial prototype testing, to a closed beta release of approximately 100 customers, to an open beta with hundreds of users, we followed a development process that deeply engaged with our clients as we developed, not after. Our agile approach to the Assistant design, with probing questions leading to thorough understanding of client needs, has, in my opinion, resulted in a feature that truly changes the way advisors perceive the benefits of dictation. We can definitively say the Assistant was the product of input and direction from our advisor clients. In other words, the Assistant was really built for advisors, by advisors and their experiences.   

Hortz: What have you learned that you did not originally think out or plan for when you started the process?

Westphal: The process of designing and building a new mobile app for our clients took us down a path that evolved into a redesign of our entire dictation and transcription platform. Certain functionality and security of our new mobile app required the latest technology that could support the operational process in order to best position Mobile Assistant for the future. Operationally we realized that we had to be positioned to scale at the pace needed to support the financial industry and an increasing adoption of dictation as an industry standard.

So, for both scalability and security benefits, it became clear that migrating our system from an on premise datacenter to the AWS cloud environment was the right decision, and the right time. This migration project is a huge investment of time and money, but 12 months into the 24 month project, we are already realizing the benefits. Our system is faster, allowing our transcriptionists to work more efficiently, and it has given us the ability to include enhancements to our new mobile app such as audio playback in the notes section, and has made us even more secure with two factor authentication.

Hortz: Can you illustrate for us the new advisor experience your enhancement provides?

Westphal: For the first time in the dictation experience, the advisor has the ability to concurrently generate precise recordkeeping for compliance and regulatory protection and accurately capture and document all the important details and next steps from a client meeting. This is a substantial time savings.

But, more importantly, by creating templates designed specifically for certain types of meetings, there can be a strategic focus to each dictation and that leads to a more detailed collection of facts and insights and organizes the data in a way that very often reveals opportunities the advisor may not have not previously realized. Building in templates with pre-populated questions prompts advisors for the right information and takes away the burden of remembering those questions.  Advisors, who have struggled with note taking in the past, now have a guide to maximize their client interactions.

Hortz: What best advice can you give advisors that are trying to integrate new technology to their firms?

Westphal: With so many services and new technology available for advisors, my best advice is keep it simple. I’ve seen so many advisors over the years that invest in the newest tech with best intentions to help their practice only to result in an accumulation of systems that don’t talk to each other and are never adopted. Think about what you are trying to accomplish, and find tools that simplify that process, whether it’s note taking, contact management, or risk assessment. The most efficient offices utilize technology that simplifies processes and integrates those technologies, freeing up more time to focus on client relationships while streamlining communication within the office.

Another recommendation would be to follow online, industry leaders who are dedicated to researching and then communicating to advisors the best technology solutions. Michael Kitces, Joel Bruckenstein, Bob Veres, are just a few financial services leaders who I have relied on over the years because they report not only the latest financial technology trends, but they all have a finger on the pulse of advisors, understanding what is actually working in the industry. Twitter and LinkedIn are great resources to follow these types of individuals to help reduce the noise created from all the technology news, and focus on solutions that truly add value.


The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors - Pershing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines). For more information click here.


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