A history of firsts that come from listening to customers.
Success comes from listening.
We started with a simple idea: make it easy for financial professionals to help average Americans make educated decisions about important financial matters. How do I send my kids to college? How do I save for retirement? How do I protect my family if I die or become disabled?
Like many businesses, our story begins with a man who had an idea and a drive to make a difference. That’s why we’re big believers in individual financial professionals. Those with the guts to strike out on their own. We’re devoted to their success.
Our story covers a lot of history, since 1979. There’s one consistent thread throughout it all: how our customers speaking up led to our success. Most of our achievements came from their ideas and from listening to them.
Thank you to our customers, our users and our employees for making Advisys the success it is today; and for the fresh ideas and customer insights that will help drive us into the future.
Bootstrapping to our first success.
It's the 1970’s. Richard (Dick) Kettley, JD, CLU, ChFC, leaves the advanced planning department of a life insurance company to start an estate planning practice. He’s married with a family and he knows he’s taking a big risk. Still he’s driven by a desire to determine his own success.
At the time, laws prevented attorneys from advertising. To attract clients, Dick conducted training meetings at life insurance agencies around Southern California where he lives. His topic: how to use life insurance to pay estate taxes and legal expenses.
In those days estate taxes were severe and the need for estate planning widespread. If agents are able to sell a policy, all Dick asks in return is that they refer their clients to him to create the wills and trusts they'll need.
To help with his presentation Dick prepares handouts using a typewriter. The boxes, arrows, and diagrams on the handouts simplify an otherwise complex topic. Thanks to the handouts, agents understand an opportunity they’ve been overlooking.
Months go by and Dick’s efforts result in only a trickle of new clients. Still, agents call him daily asking for new copies of his handouts to use as a presentation in their next client appointment. An idea takes shape in Dick’s mind: would agents pay to buy his handouts? A close friend encourages him to give his idea a try.
Dick dives in. He spends every free moment and late nights creating the artwork by hand for the Estate Planner’s Notebook. He scrapes up the money to have it printed and bound in top quality leather. The title is inlaid in gold lettering.
He finishes in time to attend the Million Dollar Roundtable in 1979. The Estate Planner’s Notebook is a sellout and Advisys is born.
Early years in the garage
The Estate Planning Notebook was the first of many breakthrough ideas for Advisys. Now financial professionals had access to presentations to help clients make informed financial decisions.
Dick’s approach was unusual, too. He simplified complex tax law and financial topics so they were still accurate, but also easy to understand. It's an approach that distinguishes Advisys to this day.
Suggestions flooded in from buyers about other topics they’d like to see covered. Soon Dick was busy creating notebooks on retirement planning, financial planning and business continuation. He bought a printing press and ran it out of his garage. His children helped assemble the notebooks around the kitchen table.
In time, Dick closed his estate planning practice to focus full time on his growing publishing business, which he named Kettley Publishing Company.
Our first software program
Then, in 1981, the world changed with the release of the IBM PC personal computer. Many financial professionals were early adopters. They complained there weren’t more software programs they could use on their PCs for their business. We were one of the first to respond.
We reformatted the notebooks' content to work in the IBM computer operating system (DOS). The graphics and flow charts in the notebooks became stick figures and dotted lines. A simple interface allowed users to select different reports from a menu and print them out.
We also addressed other customer requests. They wanted to personalize presentations with client information and customize them to client’s needs. They also wanted their name to appear as the author of the presentation.
The software program called Back Room Technician was released in 1986. Now customers no longer had to rely on boilerplate presentations like the notebooks. The software let them choose from hundreds of concepts to create professional, personalized client presentations. From start to finish, the entire process took them just minutes.
The first FINRA reviewed software
The 1980’s and 90’s were times of significant regulatory changes for the industry. Back Room Technician became a resource for keeping financial professionals and their clients up-to-date.
In the early 1990’s investigations into misleading sales practices by insurance agents made headlines. Though isolated to a few rogue agents, companies around the country looked for better ways to protect themselves. For many the solution was Back Room Technician.
Back Room Technician became a standard among several financial services companies. Compliance departments reviewed and approved the concept pieces and educational materials in advance. Their agents and representatives knew the material was safe for use with clients. This was a first for the industry.
Several customers asked the company to submit Back Room Technician for FINRA (then NASD) review. No other software company had tried before to have regulatory authorities review their application.
After two years, Back Room Technician completed FINRA review. Today, customers expect financial planning software to comply with FINRA guidelines. We pioneered the way, raising the standard of safety for the industry as a whole.
Our first Windows software program
In 1994, Microsoft released Windows 3.0. Considered the first “modern” version of Windows, it looked like the many versions that would follow. The interface was easier to use than DOS. It also had improved graphics and print capabilities.
A groundswell of demand grew for a Windows version of Back Room Technician. Users wanted the simple DOS graphics replaced with higher quality images like those used in the notebooks.
Many companies created a Windows version that worked like their DOS program had done. This helped them get to the market as soon as possible and kept costs low.
We took a different approach. Software developers saw in Windows an opportunity to create a user interface that was much easier to use.
Most financial planning programs at the time required users to input data in one screen. Then they had to exit and create the presentation in a separate screen. Then they had to view the presentation in another screen. This was due to the limitations of DOS software.
Because the programs were so complex, customers complained that they were difficult to learn and use. If you made a mistake, you had to repeat the process all over again. It was frustrating and time consuming.
We created a different way to work. Users selected concepts and educational pieces for their presentation in a window on the left side of the computer screen. Their selections displayed instantly in a window on the right side of the screen.
Our new Windows interface let users browse report selections and add them to their presentation with the click of a button. They could input data, perform calculations and view results all on the same screen.
Back Room Technician for Windows debuted in 1996. Customers found it much easier to use and that they could create presentations in even less time. We still use this innovative approach to the user interface in our applications today.
Financial planning for average Americans
As the popularity of Back Room Technician for Windows grew, users began asking, “Why can’t you create a financial planning solution that’s as easy to use as Back Room Technician?”
Most Back Room Technician users were doing business with middle class and mass affluent clients. They complained that using financial planning software designed for high net worth clients was too complex and time consuming. They wanted a solution that was a better fit for their clients.
Back Room Technician underwent another dramatic change by adding goals-based financial planning. Streamlined data gathering and simplified financial plans focused on just the essentials. Users created financial plans in minutes, not the hours other systems required, without sacrificing accuracy or quality.
Back Room Technician for financial planning came out in 2005. Customers now had everything they needed to serve their clients in one easy-to-use solution: from the first approach, to analyzing needs, preparing a financial plan and presenting recommendations.
Advisys is born as a web services solution
Netscape Navigator, the first successful graphical web browser, was released in 1984, just a year before Back Room Technician for Windows. The web then was difficult to use and not nearly as popular as today. It would take another decade for the web and the technologies associated with it to mature.
In 2004, a cascade of advanced, new web technologies converged on the market in what was knows as “Web 2.0.” This was the beginning of the web as we know it today.
The following year we began work on a web version of Back Room Technician. Thanks to the new technologies, we could recreate the user interface just as it had been in the Windows software. We meticulously reproduced every feature of the software in a web browser version to the delight of our customers.
To the casual observer, the web version and Windows version of Back Room Technician looked identical. But behind the scenes, everything was radically different. We completely reimagined the Back Room Technician to create a 21st Century solution.
We built it on a web services platform that exposed the content and financial planning calculations to the Internet. This meant they were accessible to other web programs and easily integrated with them without going through the browser. Financial services companies and third-party developers could use the content and calculations to enhance their own solutions.
Eventually, the web services platform would power Learning Management Systems, company web sites and client self-service portals. Companies used it to improve their own homegrown applications and drive better value to agents and representatives.
It was a tremendous undertaking, nearly three years in the making. We released Back Room Technician for the web and the web services platform in 2008. We used the occasion to change our name from Kettley Publishing Company to Advisys. A mash up of the words "Advisor” and “Systems", the name expressed our new vision to help financial professionals succeed by providing them state of the art solutions.
Improving compliance response times and accuracy
Financial services companies and their agents and representatives need access to accurate, up to date information. The web meant Advisys could update its content and financial planning tools faster than ever before.
Advisys created the Administration Center to help its customers be more responsive, and better informed about their business.
With the Administration Center, compliance staff could review revisions and content additions instantly, and make them instantly available to their agents and representatives. Business managers could see how often users prepared plans and presentations. They could identify popular features, reports and best practices. They could measure the impact and ROI of their training and marketing: locally, regionally, and nationally.
In 2010, Advisys received a patent for its innovative approach to compliance administration.
Listening and learning to accomplish even more
History shows Advisys’ best ideas come in one way or another from its customers. Because of them, we built a platform that provides us amazing speed and flexibility in creating customized solutions.
No two customers are exactly alike; we want our customers to have it their way. Learn more by visiting our case studies. Better still, call us with your idea or need for a solution.
We know we’re at our best when we’re working with our customers to get the results they want. We’re grateful for their loyalty and look forward to serving them and others for decades to come.