From the March 2008 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

Boomers are fully caught up in the Web

A significant behavioral shift has occurred among Internet users between 40 and 60 years old. More than 75 percent of Americans in this generation go online at least once a month, and they are using their time online in increasingly diverse ways. A Pew Internet study found that 94 percent use e-mail, 75 percent obtain news, 44 percent utilize online banking, and 9 percent even start blogs. The upshot is that the generation as a whole has moved beyond email and now values the Internet as a source of information and tool for simplifying their life.

So what does this mean for advisors? According to the Pew research, clients are demanding online access to their account information. While advisors in the past were reticent to provide online account access -- believing, perhaps, that the service would be underutilized given the cost -- the increasing availability of viable solutions and rising client demand provides reasons to reconsider.

From the research, we can also infer that boomer clients are open to new means of communication with their advisors. Firms should consider blogs, e-mail newsletters, instant messaging, and even text messaging as means by which to keep clients in the loop without disrupting their day. There are no replacing tried-and-true methods like annual face-to-face meetings and regular phone calls, but experimenting with other communication options -- particularly for clients who show a preference for them -- may lead to deeper relationships.

As boomers prepare for retirement, they are faced with a daunting task list. While you, as their advisor, take part of their load, there are still responsibilities the client must attend to. And companies are developing creative solutions to help.

Advisor Products Inc. is set to launch an enhanced client portal that, in addition to providing the expected account information, allows advisors to assign to-do items to clients, such as reminders to fund IRAs or return account forms. The system also simplifies the process of creating blogs, it allows firms to share their event calendars and it provide warehousing for insurance policies, portfolio statements and other documents.

Andy Gluck, the company's president, says it's critical to host these tools on your own site, rather than relying upon the services of a custodian. He provides a number of reasons why.

First, consolidation and change within the industry means that it's increasingly difficult to keep all clients with a single custodian. Firms are finding that today's clients are more likely than ever to have assets distributed across a number of providers.

Even if all of your client accounts are in one place, exclusively relying on the technology of a custodian can be limiting. You're restricted to the tools provided by one company, and it is unlikely that you have much influence over the introduction of features or improvements. In contrast, working with a third-party vendor means a bigger role in the planning of new features.

Finally, sending your clients away from your Web site to that of a custodian squanders the opportunity to further establish your firm's brand. Rather than seeing your logo in the corner of the screen, clients will see the custodian's. This means a missed opportunity to strengthen your role as a regular online information source.

Bottom line -- boomers are online and ready to conduct business over the Internet. If you've delayed building a client portal, now's the time to catch up.

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