From the April 2007 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

April 1, 2007

Too Much Tech?

Nightmare scenario No.1: En route to a meeting with your most demanding client, you're driving along a rural road that meanders in and out of cell phone coverage. Suddenly a deer bolts from the trees and you swerve flipping the car and sending it down an embankment so steep that you can't be seen. Pinned underneath the steering wheel, you languish for days screaming in vain and praying someone will at least see the smoke rising from the still-smoldering engine.

Alas, if you only had the latest in footwear gadgetry: Quantum Satellite Technology's GPS Panic Shoe. It comes equipped with panic button and built-in microphone that can transmit your pleas for help to the nearest police station. They're stylish, go with everything, and only cost $350.

Nightmare scenario No. 2: You're late and lost for a meeting when your cell phone runs out of batteries. You pull over to ask for directions and drop a quarter in the pay phone. You buy a candy bar on the way out and arrive 10 minutes late.

Sure, anything can happen. But which scenario is actually likely?

From sitting in traffic to working from home, there are gadgets for every type of situation. But do fancy electronics really make wealth managers more effective? After all, J. P. Morgan didn't even have a fax machine and he did OK.

"Gadgets and toys are only as good as the advisor who uses them," says Tom Froehlich a wealth advisor and president of Froehlich Financial Group. "Of course, the old fashioned way of doing business has always worked. But now you can run a much more efficient operation with the latest technology."

For example, at a recent investor information meeting Froehlich typed notes into his handheld computer and simultaneously emailed questions to his assistant in the office. Even before the presentation finished, Froehlich's staff was assembling research so that when he returned to his hotel, all the information he needed was sitting on his laptop.

Because working on the road has become such a typical "MO," a number of products designed to facilitate life away from the office have sprung up.

"If I wanted to, I could run this business from a mountain top in Colorado," says Mitch Vigeveno, CEO of Turning Point Inc., a recruitment firm for wealth managers based in Safety Harbor, FL. "The question is, how connected do I want to be?"

Vigeveno says that for the young financial advisor still building a clientele, being accessible is important, and there's no end to the number of gadgets needed. Wireless optical scanners, foldable keyboards--you name it.

"This guy has to be on the road trying to build his business. He is his own management team and has to be that available," Vigeveno says.

Chuckling, he adds that even established managers need to be reached: "A lot of independents take a lot of vacations. So they're in their cottages in the Caribbean, and maybe only work a couple hours a day, but they still want to be in touch with the office."

The downside of being able to take calls on a Jamaican beach is that you might actually start taking calls on a Jamaican beach. Aside from the toll it takes on your personal life, bringing your office with you wherever you go means clients and vendors never know when you're working and when you're not. Furthermore, the technologies that make gadgets mobile are always inferior to standard office equipment which sometimes makes actual communication difficult.

"The big deals aren't made in an email," says Jonathan Sparer, a researcher fresh from college and newly employed at Goldman Sachs. Sparer thinks gadgetry often gets in the way. "You never know what's going to happen when you meet someone for drinks. It could be your big break. But emails--those are legal documents and it's hard to make an impression with them."

Sparer and other cubicle-dwellers on Wall Street are issued Blackberries, a brand of PDA (personal digital assistant) favored by large companies. Palm also makes a PDA which has a bigger and brighter screen, as well as more accessory applications.

Take note, however: The more functions you try to squeeze into a gadget, the more unwieldy it becomes. Imagine fiddling through a Swiss Army Knife when all you need is a nail file.

Expect to spend $300 to $500 for the Palm or the Blackberry--and a solid half-day of your time setting it up and figuring out the basic functions. Naturally, even gadgets need gadgets--extra batteries, chargers, expandable memory chips, and wireless headsets to free your hands while driving. All totaled, being fully mobile may cost less than $800, but don't forget the monthly subscription of no less than $50.

For the newly mobile manager, the benefits are bittersweet. "It's great getting those text messages from your kids: 'luv u dad,'" says Froehlich.

On the other hand, "I love you" is always better when it comes with a hug.

Charles Lane is a freelance writer based in Patchogue, NY.

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