|Clients:||Financial advisors, financial professionals|
|Value proposition:||CRM, document management, communication platform, email hosting/retention|
|The executive team:||Brian McLaughlin, Chief Executive Officer|
Redtail is a customer relationship management (CRM) system tailormade for financial professionals. It is a cloud-based platform that provides automated workflows for communicating, sharing information, and interacting with clients. In 2003, the company started out with just 25 advisor clients and has grown to over 27,000 affiliated firms and 100,000 users.
I couldn’t pass up the chance to travel to Sacramento to meet with Brian McLaughlin, CEO of Redtail. The company occupies a very laidback, sprawling office with approximately 90 employees and quite a few dogs. As I learned later, the company has a dog-friendly policy because Brian loves dogs (Redtail was named after his late retriever, Tucker).
Brian’s first job was working for ORBA Financial Management as a software developer. In this role, Brian took part in creating a custom-built CRM to handle specific challenges like log reporting, filing changes, and data synchronization. Brian soon realized that other companies could find it useful, too, and in 2003, Brian separated the CRM product from ORBA and became Redtail. Today, Brian focuses on building Redtail’s technology while retaining the culture he worked so hard to create.
The future of CRMs, the future of Redtail
The purpose of a CRM system is to be a hub, a source of truth. With all the client data in front of an advisor, it’s like having a detailed playback of the relationship from day one. This is what CRMs used to do. Today, these platforms get data from integrations and outside sources so they can automate data extrapolation. This is where the industry is headed, and Redtail is following this trend with their artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
“Now, CRMs know things like your probability score for a successful financial plan. They know that you have a document workflow going on in the custodian right now. By tying all those pieces together, advisors get a better view of what’s going on with their client[s] in real-time.”
Overcoming integration challenges
Redtail is oriented exclusively toward the financial services industry. The platform has almost 300 integrations with various players in the industry:
“We have integrations with nearly every financial planning tool, custodian, account opening tool, form filling software, risk management technology, etc. This is something that the other companies can’t quite provide, unless they’re working specifically in this space.”
Compared to Salesforce, Redtail has advantages for the FinTech sector. For example, if an advisor prefers Salesforce, and they use a specific custodian or financial planning tool, they have to use the Salesforce version (generally an app) or develop it themselves. Obviously, this falls outside of the scope of what an advisor should be doing, since they are not software companies.
“Additionally, if an advisor changes broker-dealers, they might run into a situation where the broker-dealer wants advisors to switch to their version of the platform. In this case, advisors will have to migrate, which [might] cause everything to fall apart.”
Every integration is different. Some companies have good documentation and code support, whereas others are not as self-sufficient and require some help. Brian is no stranger to integrations; Redtail is high on the list for most FinTech companies thinking about integrating a CRM.
Redtail’s unique corporate culture
Every company has their own culture. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “culture” as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” As soon as I stepped foot in the Redtail office, I immediately understood that their culture is more than just a couple paintings and slogans on the walls.
It starts at the top. Brian doesn’t have an office but instead chooses to sit at a desk near the most trafficked area. The company’s philosophy is flexibility and support, which extends to both clients and employees. Brian believes that his team should have the freedom to work how they want to work:
“We want to connect our employees to collaborate because then, they’re much more effective, and it just builds a better family and community.”
Another part of Redtail’s unique culture is they don’t have commission-based sales. In other words, everybody has a share of the profits, with bonuses and rewards going to teams that perform the best. Brian points out that each department has discretionary funds that they can use however they want (e.g., making challenges, competitions, giving out awards), and the company encourages this.
Redtail isn’t a sell-it-and-forget-it type of business. They continue to support their clients both online and offline. Redtail University was started nine years ago as a method of training clients. The events are held around the country, bootcamp-style, with eight-hour hands-on training sessions. Brian says that these events teach both advisors and staff how to use CRM and implement CRM strategies into their businesses. In addition, Redtail also offers in-office training for clients, two-hour intensive courses taught by the Redtail training team.
Product management approach: barking up the “right” tree
Redtail doesn’t have a formal board of advisors. Brian says that they prefer to learn what clients need in their specific business models, how they operate, and how Redtail can help them do better.
“I’m more interested in what the masses are looking for, trying to organize all the feedback from 100,000 people, and saying, ‘Hey, what’s really the crux here? What are the most important pieces that you’re talking about?’ Then we go and make that happen.”
Brian attends all of the Redtail University events to listen to real users. By acquiring feedback this way, the company is able to understand what’s most important for clients and make product decisions based on these data.
Redtail is an Agile company with releases every two weeks, but Brian notes that in recent years, they’ve become more process-driven. When we first started, we focused on getting releases out as quickly as possible: build it, ship it. Now, the planning stage is more detailed, and every feature is mapped out from start to finish.
Software development and engineering process
As previously mentioned, Redtail has two-week Agile sprints: ten days for development and four days for QA. Engineering teams are made up of two- to four-person groups and are broken up by product. Generally, engineers are not shifted around among these groups. Instead, Brian says, they deeply involve themselves in one project at a time. That said, no team operates within a vacuum; all teams are Sacramento-based, work in the same area of the office, have lunch together, and help each other with projects. Team leads coordinate among project groups when required.
Finding a balance: challenges for Redtail
CRMs are difficult tools to master. On the client side, the biggest challenge is training people how to use the platform. This is essential because without know-how and best practices in mind, clients can’t get the most out of their tools and as a result can’t manage their businesses as efficiently as possible.
Brian expresses that Redtail’s internal communication still needs to be improved. He recalls that two years ago, a vendor they were working with said Redtail had “too many cooks in the kitchen.” They pointed out that there were twelve people on the phone call. In other words, the firm implied that decision-making should be done by one or two people at the most.
Brian and his team don’t hold all-hands meetings very often, just once a year. Instead, they share what’s going on in the company transparently and in real time. I saw this firsthand; they have TVs and monitors in their office that display performance metrics.
Another challenge is protecting the corporate culture. Brian believes in breeding a culture of open communication. Every employee has the opportunity to voice their opinions, because at the end of the day, it isn’t about who’s right or wrong but what decisions and opinions make the company better.
“The number-one thing a business protects is their culture. We can’t screw that up. CEOs need [to] protect culture with their lives.”
WealthTech Club takeaways
Redtail has risen from the depths of the FinTech industry to take its place as one of the leaders among CRMs for financial advisors. Today, it has integrations with many FinTech companies we’ve covered in WealthTech Club. A tech guy at the helm of an innovative team, Brian believes in pursuing new technologies like AI and cloud-based solutions to propel Redtail furthermore.