When we think of technology for financial advisors, we usually think of wirehouse or broker-dealer platforms attempting to integrate financial planning, portfolio accounting and customer relationship management functions. But sometimes it's the little things -- the "utilities" -- that make our day easier because they help us work around deficiencies in our mainstream systems.
Here are 10 such utilities, both software and gadgets, that can make a crucial difference in your personal productivity.
xe "one"1) EVDO Cards
Evolution-Data Optimized, or "EVDO," is a wireless radio broadband data standard currently employed in the U.S. by Verizon and Sprint. In short, this technology takes the form of a PC card that you can slip into a laptop computer so as to obtain an Internet connection anywhere you can get cell phone service.
You'll pay an additional monthly fee (over and above your cell phone charges) for the privilege of using an EVDO card, but it will be well worth it if you travel and want to work during airport downtimes or when staying in hotels with pricey Internet service. Connection speeds average 400 to 700 kilobytes per second, depending upon your location.
Check out http://estore.vzwshop.com/overview/wirelessinternetaccess/ or http://www.sprint.com/business/products/sections/wirelessData.html. You can generally get a deal on the PC card based upon contract duration, and monthly charges run about $60.
Let's face it: Passwords are a pain in the neck. You've got 200 different websites bookmarked in your Web browser and half of them require distinct usernames and passwords. Keeping track of all of them is a real time waster.
That is, unless you use RoboForm (www.RoboForm.com), a "Web form filler" that automates password entry. For a $30 one-year license, you can begin having RoboForm encrypt your usernames and passwords and enter them for you when you load bookmarked pages in your Web browser.
3) Pass2Go USB Key
How about when you're not at your own computer, though? RoboForm now offers the Pass2Go USB mini-drive (you've seen them -- they're those thumb-sized flash drives that fit easily in a pocket or purse) that holds your passwords and logs you onto bookmarked websites automatically from any third-party computer. And security's not a problem because as soon as you remove Pass2Go from a "foreign" computer's USB drive, all traces of your private information are removed with it.
The Pass2Go USB Key will set you back $40 on the RoboForm website.
4) KGB Keylogger
We all know the importance of backups, so we back up critical files at the end of the day or week -- to tapes, to DVDs, even to commercial online backup sites. We back up data to keep regulators happy and to recover from major disasters. But how about minor disasters, as when you've been composing a letter to a client for the last 15 minutes and forgot to save the text, only to have a power surge suddenly reboot your computer?
You need a "keylogger," software that records your keystrokes. And an excellent one is KGB Keylogger (http://www.refog.com/keylogger/) by Refog Software, which can be yours for just $40.
When needed, KGB Keylogger will give you a log of your keystrokes from which you can quickly re-create your lost composition without having to actually rewrite it.
Conference calls are mainstream. Individuals use them for three-way conversations; coaches use them for 100-person workshops. But did you know you can have your very own free conference line service?
It's not the only such service around, but www.FreeConferenceService.com is one of the best. You get 24/7 access to a bridge line that will accommodate up to 50 callers any time you want. The only catch is that each person must spend his own dime to connect with the bridge line.
If you want toll-free service instead, www.FreeConferenceService.com will be glad to give it to you because that's where it makes its money -- on toll-free calls and bridge lines for more than 50 persons.
Another free service with lots of competition is www.SendThisFile.com, which is designed to do one thing well: send very large files to people whose e-mail probably wouldn't accept them.
Most e-mail servers limit the size of file attachments you can send and receive. With www.SendThisFile.com, it's not a problem. Upload your file at no cost and your e-mail recipient receives a link to the file that's good for three days. Have a 100MB graphic file you need to get into your printer's hands yesterday? Forget burning CDs and overnighting them; just use this service.
Like free conference calling, there are premium file-sending features (see http://www.sendthisfile.com/enterprise.jsp). For basic free service, though, you can't go wrong with this website.
You've heard of GoToMyPC, the Web-based service that allows you to tap into your office or home computer when you're somewhere else? It works great, but it costs $14.95 a month and some of us need a service like that only occasionally.
Of course, there's always pcAnywhere, the long-standing application that accomplishes the same thing once you've installed and tested the software on two (remote and host) computers. There are just two problems with this solution. First, it costs $200 and, second, it's made by Symantec, the maker of various "Norton" products.
Isn't that a good thing? Not necessarily. In recent years, Symantec software has become unusually invasive. Once installed on your computer, Symantec products tend to take over, running processes in the background you never even asked for.
So what's the solution? Try Radmin, or Remote Administrator v2.2 (http://www.radmin.com/). For just a one-time licensing fee of $35, you get simple but effective remote access to your main machine -- either for file transfers or full-blown remote (as-if-you-were-sitting-in-front-of-it) computing. Combine Radmin with an EVDO card and you can operate your primary system from just about anywhere.
8) Google Desktop
Google is truly amazing when you think about it. There's no less than a billion-gazillion pieces of data on the Internet and Google will find the piece you want in mere seconds. What if you could apply the same technology to your own hard drive?
You can, of course, and Google makes it possible with Google Desktop (http://desktop.google.com/). We're not suggesting that you don't need to employ a carefully-designed filing system to organize all your data, graphic and e-mail files, but even the best of systems hides a file or two now and then.
Once you've let Google Desktop (a free beta product) index your hard drive, it will quickly search out all references to the files you want and pinpoint the locations on your drive. In fact, after typing in the subject or filename you need, Google will simultaneously check both your hard drive and the Internet. And don't let its beta status bother you; it's been around for well over a year and claims many happy users.
Spam -- it invokes a string of expletives from most of us. In fact, there may be no single intrusion to efficiency greater than junk e-mail because it's so hard to prevent and its removal is often so labor-intensive. The problem, of course, is that "auto-pilot" spam blockers always sweep a few legitimate e-mails out with the garbage.
If we want to be sure we see all the important e-mails that come to us while minimizing the time we waste eradicating spam, we need not a spam blocker, exactly, but a mail "washer" -- software that will let us see all our e-mail, automatically segregate the spam from the good stuff, and then let us annihilate the offending messages with a single click.
What we've just described is MailWasher (http://www.firetrust.com/). It doesn't delete anything without your prior approval, and it doesn't keep spam from coming back repeatedly. It just makes it oh so simple to get rid of it and move on to more important things.
10) Belarc Advisor
We've all seen those "system tools" that give you a quick read of your computer system -- the specifications of your processor, hard drives, RAM and so on. Belarc Advisors (http://www.belarc.com/free_download.html) does all of that, but it also does something that will come in exceedingly handy at some time and place when you least suspect the need for it: It catalogues all of your software licenses.
Remember the last time you installed a Windows Office Suite product, for example, and were asked for a 25-alphanumeric-character code that was conveniently printed on a label affixed to the CD case in which the software was packaged -- that is, until you lost it?
No worries. Just run Belarc and retrieve all your codes (plus more hardware specs than you ever wanted) so you can properly safeguard them for future use, as when installing upgrades to your software.
And did I mention that it's free?
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We're willing to bet that at least one of the above 10 tech tools will boost your productivity. Take some time to experiment -- a few well-spent minutes could save you many hours.
DAVID DRUCKER is a financial advisor who speaks, writes and consults with other advisors as president of Drucker Knowledge Systems. See his newsletters, www.practicelifecycle.com and www.virtualofficenews.com, for more information.