From the October 2006 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Tech Overload

Technology used to be one of my best buddies. Back in grade school, I was the first kid on the block to have a cassette player that could rewind or forward to the next song on a tape. You simply had to pound on the play key and the forward key at the same time -- and hope that there were at least two seconds between songs. Because I was the first to enter this brave new world, I was labeled a "techie."

Over the years, this techie has witnessed some incredible advances in technology. From my early days as a financial advisor, I can vividly remember entering my first order online. I can also remember communicating with my rep friends all across the country on my BD's satellite network. This was years before any of us had even heard of e-mail and instant messaging. We were pioneers in digital time-wasting.

Today, a fully equipped financial advisor has the freedom to take more vacations because technology allows us to take our office with us wherever we go. The bad thing about technology is that it allows us to take our office with us wherever we go.

When I travel for business these days, I end up checking one full bag of electronic stuff. What is it that I so desperately need? Well, for starters, I take my laptop so I can work in the hotel in the evening. I need my BlackBerry so I can get my e-mail throughout the day. I also need my cell phone, in case anyone needs to reach me. And what is a trip without an iPod? Let's throw that in there as well.

Have I ever actually needed all this stuff? Of course not. I carry all of it just in case. I'm not sure what the case is, but at least if I need it, I have it. I have officially become an electronic pack mule.

While I enjoy having these capabilities at my fingertips, I have found that I don't really need them at my fingertips. Could financial advisors be the same? One of the biggest competitions among independent broker/dealers is technology. Which firm offers the rep the absolute best technology? Flip through the pages of any financial trade publication and look at the ads for BDs. Somewhere in all of them they talk about how great their technology is.

My question to you is this: How much of a BD's great technology do you really use? One of the firms I used to work with had a reputation for having the best technology available for an independent financial advisor. You would think that reps attracted to this firm would be some of the most technologically savvy reps around.

To find out the truth, during a recent conversation with one of my old buddies on the trade desk, I asked the question, "How many reps enter their orders online?" She told me about 40 percent of the firm's trades were entered online. I was stunned to learn that over half of the trades were still entered over the phone. In this day and age of digital enlightenment, I find it pretty amazing that so many reps still choose to pick up the phone and call a live body to transact their business, when there is an "easier" option available.

Apparently, many financial advisors treat their technology much like I treat mine. While I may never actually need it or use it, it just makes me feel good knowing it is there. Now, if only I could keep it all charged . . .

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Once a mildly amusing comedian, Bill Miller now works as an industry wholesaler and formerly was a recruiter for a leading independent broker-dealer; reach him at writingbill@mac.com.

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