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Behind the scenes of an RIA at the heart of technology

Sheila Epps, applications support analyst for Sage Rutty & Co. in Rochester, N.Y., is a tech person through and through.

Sheila Epps“I fell in love with tech and basketball at the same time,” Epps recalls. “My mom took us to a rec center in Elmira, N.Y., when I was 5 or 6 and I took a computer class where I fell in love with that big ‘ole IBM machine with the floppy discs. I saw that data can make life easier, and I still want to work with whatever data can do that.”

After attending high school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in the state’s Hudson Valley region, Epps graduated from DeVry University with a degree in business administration and information systems. She honed her organizational skills in her eight years as an executive administrative assistant at IBM Global Services. Epps also taught IBM employees how to use Excel, PowerPoint, Lotus 1-2-3 and other software applications.

“I was fortunate to have that experience at IBM,” Epps says. “I was able to both learn and teach.”

Epps further refined her tech skills as an operations administrator for VWR International, a commercial equipment and supply company in Suwanee, Georgia. She created reporting databases and did data analysis.

After her husband passed away, Epps moved to Rochester in 2009 to be closer to family. She signed on with a temp agency and was sent to Sage Rutty, a financial advisory firm with nearly century-old roots in the community. 

After telling the RIA how they could optimize their software, Epps’ part-time gig quickly turned into a full-time position.

Thirteen years later, the partnership is still going strong.

“I’m a tech person and not an advisor, but I’m in awe of how our advisors protect our clients,” Epps says. “I love the people and the commitment at Sage Rutty. It’s a genuine family. That’s why I have stayed for so long.”

At Sage Rutty, Epps has been, among other duties, the technology team lead, website manager, reporting coordinator and coordinator for the firm’s onboarding training and continuing education for employees. She is the CRM database administrator. In other words, Epps is an essential member of the team.

“I love how CRM technology has grown and evolved over the years,” Epps says. “I think we were one of the first firms to migrate to the cloud, and while it was a hard transition, it was worthwhile.”

“The tools we’re being given have a lot of intuitive changes, so we don’t need to train the team,” Epps says.

From her experience working with advisors and technology over the years, Epps has some key pieces of advice for any firm.

Managing integrations, she says, is key to the success of any advisor technology. When asked to weigh in on new technology plans at Sage, Epps always leans in on that point. 

“I always force it on them,” Epps says. “I tell them, ‘Let's look at the technology we already have, and let's look at what it integrates with and let's try those before we go outside.’”

“Being able to integrate your software creates a smooth process for clients and yourself,” she continues. “There are so many opportunities to utilize technologies to be more efficient, even small things like auto self-scheduling software that links to your calendar or a CRM that integrates with your clearing platform. You want the ability to create efficient processes.”

Advisors need to move beyond the tendency sometimes to resist technology, Epps says because the outcome is always better than the alternative. 

“When advisors fail to adjust to changing technology, it actually costs more money to hire people to help them than to use the technology.”

To that end, Epps says every firm needs a technology champion, whether that is an advisor or a technology specialist like herself. 

Before approaching advisors about a new technology, Epps says she takes the time to learn everything about it. Then she presents how it would be beneficial to their practice.

“Advisors are hesitant to try something new until they see someone else use it, and if they do take on new technology, they need to be guided and not just provided videos or paper documents to learn how to use the software,” she says.

By having someone at the firm dedicated to technology – the beating heart of it, she says – a firm understands how to select technology that will work best for its employees and its underlying tech stack.

It also gives the firm a resource to stay on top of its technology, Epps adds. “That's important because there's always something new. Maybe the software added a new feature. If no one is working with that company, how will you improve your processes using the new features?”

Epps says there are several new technologies her firm is examining as it examines where it can improve. As part of a new initiative looking to the near future, she says, technology has become a wider discussion at the firm.

“People need to understand technology always changes and learn to accept that,” Epps says. “That is the biggest hurdle in my job – every time there's a change, I have to come in and tell people it’s going to be OK.”

This blog is sponsored by AdvisorEngine Inc. The information, data and opinions in this commentary are as of the publication date, unless otherwise noted, and subject to change. This material is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered a recommendation to use AdvisorEngine or deemed to be a specific offer to sell or provide, or a specific invitation to apply for, any financial product, instrument or service that may be mentioned. Information does not constitute a recommendation of any investment strategy, is not intended as investment advice and does not take into account all the circumstances of each investor. Opinions and forecasts discussed are those of the author, do not necessarily reflect the views of AdvisorEngine and are subject to change without notice. AdvisorEngine makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made and will not be liable for any errors, omissions or representations. As a technology company, AdvisorEngine provides access to award-winning tools and will be compensated for providing such access. AdvisorEngine does not provide broker-dealer, custodian, investment advice or related investment services.