From the September 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

The Human Touch in Action

First, let me state up front: I am no Luddite. While I don’t have the advisor technology chops of a Dave Drucker or a Joel Bruckenstein, I have been a technology user for a number of decades.

I’ve had an email address for more than 30 years; was editor of an electronically delivered and searchable database in the 1980s; was a beta tester on what would become Acrobat when I worked with Adobe Systems on a project at The New York Times. Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve helped launch an advisor news and analysis site that’s had very healthy success in terms of the metrics monitored by my now best tech friend, Google Analytics, along with a separate little metric called revenue that Google doesn’t track.

I’m aware that technology tools are partners that help you level the playing field, deliver targeted communications and services to your clients, and scale your firm in ways you could only imagine 10 or even five years ago.

And yet, it’s the personal touch—the person-to-person touch—that you offer clients that differentiates you. It’s also the way that your continuing education is advanced: whether it’s a local study group or a national FPA conference. Talking to your peers, in person, provides you with insights that you can’t get electronically.

Sorry for the long run-up, but that personal interaction is why our annual Broker-Dealers of the Year roundtable is so valuable to us as journalists, to the executives who lead the winning broker-dealers and I hope to you, our readers.

So here’s what I learned outside of the formal roundtable interview that begins on page 24 with additional content at AdvisorOne.com. These four men whose firms won BDOTY in 2012 are entrepreneurs. They can’t imagine working for somebody else (sound familiar, independent advisor?). When I asked each of them individually during the photo sessions if they were planning another phase of their life, they all looked surprised. This is what gives me meaning, they said. Why should I look for something else? This is a great business, they argued, despite its tight margins and fierce competition.

As an example of how that in-person connection can lead to a collaborative atmosphere, here are some selected responses from the leaders of the Broker-Dealers of the Year when I asked how imposition of a fiduciary standard would affect their businesses.

“We’re moving glacially toward a fiduciary standard; the distinction between an IAR and a registered rep is getting narrower.”—Barry Knight, NEXT Financial

“Does the DOL understand our business? Does anyone in the government understand business at all?”—David Pintaric, WRP Investments

“Our reps don’t have two ethical standards: one for advisory clients and one for commission clients.”—Eric Schwartz, Cambridge Investment Research

“I have a problem with reactionary regulation. A fiduciary standard is coming: The question is when.”—David Stringer, Prospera Financial

Here’s to more in-person communications within the industry, and with regulators and legislators as we enter what promises to be a highly partisan election season.

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