Leading cloud-based CRM software company Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) announced last week its first industry-specific product aimed at financial advisors, appropriately called Salesforce Financial Services Cloud. The move is significant, as it shows Salesforce isn't afraid to go deeper into its product line and develop specific solutions for customers, rather than only expanding horizontally to other industries.
What is Financial Services Cloud. and why does it matter?
Salesforce.com's new Financial Services Cloud product is built on its main technology and ecosystem but specifically tailored to financial advisors and wealth managers. The product promises to streamline paperwork and reduce administrative burdens on advisors as well as promote better client engagement.
I remember working with financial advisors in situations where the advisor would schedule a regular quarterly meeting. For the meeting, the advisor had gathered all of the financial information from various accounts and systems and put it into a generic word-processing document or spreadsheet to give the client the financial picture. The process was slow and cumbersome as the information was cobbled together from disparate sources and was in no way dynamic or interactive.
These days, clients -- especially younger-generation clients -- expect to be able to see and manage their financial accounts from one place. They also don't want stuffy quarterly meetings but would rather be contacted by email, phone, or even text messaging. If financial advisors don't evolve, they risk losing these clients to other advisors who have proprietary in-house systems or perhaps even low-cost "robo-advisors" such as Betterment or Wealthfront, which are capturing the financial accounts of many millennials for their ease of use and reliance on technology.
As Simon Mulcahy, SVP and GM of financial services at Salesforce.com, stated: "Today's investors want a much different relationship with their advisors than their parents had. They want someone who understands them and engages them on their terms."
Salesforce seeks to bring financial advisors into the future with a complete cloud-based system that allows them to view all of their clients' accounts and action items. They can access this information from anywhere, on any device. Not only did Salesforce develop the product with large wealth managers such as AIG Advisor Group, Northern Trust, and United Capital, but the product also integrates with independent software companies such as Advisor Software, Informatica, and Yodlee.
What does this mean for Salesforce.com?
It's too early to tell how big this particular market opportunity will be for Salesforce. But as Foolish followers of Salesforce's stock have no doubt heard, CEO Marc Benioff has his sights set on $10 billion in annual revenue for Salesforce This move is a step in the right direction, as Salesforce's growth has slowed a bit from its previous blistering pace.
Last quarter, revenue grew 24% compared with last year, which stopped a three-quarter streak of declining revenue growth. But this figure is down from the incredible 38% growth in fiscal Q2 2015. As investors stay focused on top-line growth, the decision to finally go vertical should be welcomed.
More importantly, it shows Salesforce is now ready to take its existing clients and go deeper, giving them specific and tailored products for their industries. This development will make its software more valuable, as it will no longer be a generic customer relationship management service but a service that adds much more functionality. This change, in turn, could increase sales from current customers and lock them into Salesforce's ecosystem,. giving Salesforce a sticky customer base that will continue to provide revenue for years to come.
Salesforce could also go vertical in other industries, such as healthcare. Both financial services and healthcare are huge industries and big growth opportunities. Sophisticated software will also be needed to navigate the increasingly complex regulatory environment -- these industries will need to make sure they follow ever changing rules and paperwork and do so as efficiently as possible to keep their competitive edge.
One concern investors may have is whether this decision will increase costs, as Salesforce will need to develop more sophisticated software and develop new expertise. This area will certainly be something to keep an eye on. But investors can hope that by going deeper, the company can increase sales from existing customers. If so, lower marketing costs will offset the increased development costs.
Investors in Salesforce.com should cheer the latest announcement, as it marks a fairly significant change, or at least an addition, to the company's strategy. Not only should it help boost the top line, but it should also build the company's competitive advantage and create a stronger customer base for recurring revenue in the future.