If you run a small or independent financial advisory practice, employing cloud-computing technology can help you level the playing field between yourself and the bigger players, says Geoffrey King, director, financial services, with Cisco Canada in Toronto.

Cloud computing — using web-based services to store your files so you can access the information remotely — has its benefits and its risks, according to King.

“[Cloud computing] can help make the small person big,” King says. “[Advisors] need to strike the right balance between the value created and security when stepping into this new operating model.”

On the upside, the cloud gives you the flexibility of being able to take your business with you while on the go. But there are always security concerns when you store important data on the web.

King offers the following pointers to consider when deciding whether cloud-computing technology is right your practice:

> One big package
Using cloud-computing technology will give you a complete package that will allow you to access your files or documents from anywhere at any time, without your having to own a complex system of computers.

In this way, King says, you would be able to close the service gap between yourself and your larger institutional competitors.

“You can now offer big value,” King says, adding that you will be able to offer services traditionally provided only by larger firms.

As well, King says, many cloud providers have invested considerable resources to ensure that there are ironclad security measures in their cloud-based platforms.

> Do your research
Before committing to any cloud-based technology, be sure to do your homework and shop around.

Talk to your colleagues and peers and any advisors you know who use cloud technology or are considering it.

You might also find it relevant to talk to your regulatory body — whether it is the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada or the Mutual Fund Dealers Association of Canada — to make sure you would be compliant regarding data security.

As well, evaluate costs, which vary, King says, depending on the kind of services you wish to perform virtually, and the scope of your business.

> Know your purpose
Even before doing your due diligence, it is important to clarify the objectives you hope to achieve through cloud computing.

For example, do you want to spend more time interacting face to face with your clients to build a better relationship? Or would you like to do more educational seminars to promote your specialty to prospective clients?

While cloud computing can help address these concerns, it is important to define exactly what you hope to achieve through the added cloud tools. Too often, advisors don’t understand the breadth of the technology and, thus, fall short of being able to take full advantage of their benefits.

In short, don’t just chase the brass ring because it is bright, shiny and new. Make sure you know how to incorporate these tools to take your business to the next level.

This is the second instalment in an occasional series on cloud computing.

Next week: Cloud computing and building a mobile practice.