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The Thriving Business Of Transcription

Tom Burroughes, Group Editor , January 28, 2019

Transcribing advisors' conversations with clients securely and fast can build confidence and trust - as well as being a vital task when so much needs to be logged. This publication spoke to a practitioner in the space.

If it isn't documented, it didn't happen. In our compliance-focused age, when wealth managers often need to keep a detailed record of every conversation with a client, sloppiness can be death to a career and damage a firm.

The business of transforming the conversations between professionals and their clients might seem an obvious business line but there are not many copy-taking firms that specialize in this field. One such firm, however, is US-based Copytalk®, which provides secure mobile transcription services. Formed in 2001 and based in Florida, the business takes recordings of conversations and turns them into text form within a few hours.

Via a smartphone app, a user can dictate notes and these are transcribed in a secure office, guaranteeing that they remain private - a key concern when wealth advisors are talking to owners of significant fortunes and with sensitive issues involved. The firm likes to promise that turnaround times can be as little as six hours.

This the kind of service that plays to an urgent issue for advisors - their lack of time. Advisors who want to boost their productivity prefer to get the drudgery of transcribing notes by a pro rather than do it themselves. (This is even a point not lost on the author of this article, who still uses shorthand for some reports.) When time is money, savings from outsourcing are large. In fact, this sort of business model is part of a much wider trend of outsourcing that family offices, wealth managers and advisors use in this increasingly regulated environment. Or, to put it in more traditional terms, this is a feature of the division of labor that Adam Smith had identified two and a half centuries ago.

Efficient record-keeping can achieve other goals. Managers of salespeople, for example, will want "good, copious notes" to track their staff in the event of employee defections, a situation accentuated by the present tight labor market, Maree Moscati, chief executive of Copytalk, told this publication recently. "Companies want to know that client information is secure," she said.

"What we help to do is memorialize relationships with clients," Moscati said. 

"Our long-established primary goal is to maintain industry-leading quality and security. Anyone familiar with the industry will realize that security, especially in a highly-regulated industry such as wealth management, is a moving target," she continued. 

Efficient note-taking and reports can also help wealth advisors and other professionals prove to clients that they do a solid job, and this improves client retention, she continued. 

With more than a quarter-century of experience working in financial services, Moscati said she became aware of how laborious note transcription is, and how important it is in an increasingly regulated sector.

While Copytalk, started off transcribing notes from areas such as medicine, its service soon garnered demand from the financial sector. Besides finance professionals, lawyers also use the service.

Among recent developments, last year Copytalk said that it was pursuing partnerships with and fielding inquiries from preferred CRM platforms. In 2016 it became a member of the Money Management Institute. Also in 2016, Copytalk signed an agreement with Shareholders Service Group. The group provides brokerage and custodial services exclusively to independent registered investment advisors.

While Moscati said her firm's services are highly distinctive, there are of course other transcription services out there, although turnaround times, pricing models and language capabilities vary depending on what the client wants. Examples include Speechpad and Verbal Ink. 

Rising regulatory burdens are helping to drive demand for its services, Moscati said. "In many ways the drive for regulatory compliance steers people toward our service. Compliance and documentation go hand in hand, and Copytalk's service is built around facilitating documentation by allowing users to dictate important information. Clients in this space need a vendor that can respond to the stringent regulatory requirements of the financial services and insurance industries, and Copytalk has tailored the service to meet those demands," she said. 

All over the world

Copytalk does not solicit business outside the US but foreign individuals and firms like what they see and have become clients. In Hong Kong and mainland China, for example, Moscati said "we're getting quite a lot of requests", although it doesn't actually do business in mainland China at present. Copytalk has done business with accounts in the Netherlands and the UK. The service is only available in English.

The firm employs between 400 and 500 transcribers, working across four facilities in the US. Security is tight and transcribers are constantly monitored and frequently audited. This is a labor-intensive business. Staff are not allowed to use their own computers or devices to do the work, and they are not told the name or identity of the person/firm they are transcribing for. After 60 days, transcriptions are destroyed. Every transcription carries a time stamp. Such steps are needed in the event of a complaint arising from a business conversation. 

What is the revenue model? "Our flagship service is offered at a flat fee for unlimited usage per user. Our service is sold individually, to large and small groups, or to entire enterprises. Given the diversity of our clients, we work with those clients and firms to match rates and billing models to their needs and opportunities," Moscati said. 

So what next? Would Copytalk consider serving the public sector?

Moscati is skeptical. To work for the US government would put a firm through a long and arduous vetting process, and given the likely fees the firm could charge on a public contract, the barriers to entry for the public sector are high, she said. 

And what about artificial intelligence - would robots replace human note transcribers eventually?

"Copytalk actively monitors the AI technology space as it relates to voice recognition and related assistive technologies. Although the offerings are impressive from a technology perspective, we have found that the offerings are not up to the rigorous demands of our industry," she said. As this technology evolves, it may come to have a place in our technology stack, at which point we would continue to leverage our security and delivery/integration infrastructure.  While we do this, our clients appreciate the opportunity to give commands to our live, US-based transcriptionists during their dictations - such as "Operator, delete that last sentence' - I'm not quite sure that AI will get to that point," she added.

Given the relentless demand for record-keeping in this bureaucratic, litigious age, it is unlikely that the pile of work is going to ease off any time soon.

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