When I visit financial advisor Lee Davis in his secret desert lair, a second home he maintains in a gated golf community in Scottsdale, Ariz., I’m not sure what to expect. Davis uses the space as a fortress of solitude as well as a virtual office, and snowbirds down there to retreat from Colorado’s cold winter months.
Having previously met in his main office in Greenwood Village, Colo., we had discussed the theme of this story — to find out if a successful advisor can thrive using a virtual office.
At that time, we had talked at length about the technological advances that were available to advisors in the financial and insurance world. So when I pulled into his driveway in my Ford Focus rental car and parked next to his sweet white Corvette, my mind wandered to the futuristic possibilities. I was half-convinced that Davis stood before a touchscreen wall like Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” and shifted an ever-changing array of interactive accounts.
Nice fantasy, I guess, but not the reality. Instead, Davis maintains a small (“modest,” he calls it) home office, much like the home office you’d find associated with most business professionals.
The setup is simple and clean, and to Davis, that’s the key. You might be thinking, “That works for him, but I’m not a techno-nerd.” Neither is Davis. He’s not writing binary code or taking computers apart and customizing them to his specs. He simply has a personal and professional interest in technology and keeping up with the latest offerings available to advisors.
“Using Skype and other technology is actually a lot easier than some of the more complex parts of our business,” Davis explains. “Skype, for example, is as easy as going to the website and downloading it on your computer or your tablet or smartphone. We also use Adobe Connect, which is a web-conferencing service.”
According to Davis, the technology he uses is relatively easy. Like anything else, he says, it becomes better with practice. Before you take it live with a client, he says to practice with your team or kids or grandkids. “I don’t think anyone needs to be afraid of the technology that I’m talking about here. It’s much more simple than a lot of the things we have to do day-to-day anyway.”
See our exclusive video interview: Q&A with Lee Davis
The human touch
It sounds great, on the surface. I mean, I’m ready to sign up myself for a similar setup, but the skeptic in me remembers the countless conversations I’d have with advisors across the country over the last five years. “People like the face-to-face contact,” they’ve told me. As cool as the gadgets are, that one important question keeps creeping up, unanswered: What about the lack of that human touch?
“Clients actually appreciate that I will meet with them even when I’m in Arizona,” Davis says.
He paints a picture for me and there he is, appearing writ large on the 55-inch HD TV screen in the main office’s conference room. The rest of the team, including Davis’ son and partner in the firm, Jeremy, can meet with the client face to face, while the elder Davis spends time in Scottsdale.
When it’s needed, however, Davis returns to the main office. ‘From November to April, I’m in Scottsdale, but I’m back in Colorado every 10 to 14 days to spend a few days there, meeting with clients.”
But for the most part, the clients are more than happy to meet through Skype or Adobe Connect.
If there is reluctance, Davis says to them: “Why don’t we give this a trial run? Why don’t we see if we can work through this? And I’ve worked long enough that I can help them navigate through any problems that come up.”
Davis has met clients who never thought about communicating in a digital way, but once they’re working together they see how easy it is, he says. “I have clients in about 20 states and four foreign countries. And so, (using technology) makes it very easy to communicate about complex subjects.”
See also: Infographic: How advisors use technology
Technology gives advisors a sense of freedom and control like they’ve never had before. And, like Davis, they can spend time at second homes, vacation retreats — wherever they have phone coverage and a high-speed Internet connection, really.
That part of the equation sounds good, but I prod Davis about the ability to maintain a full workload while working remote.
“Whether I’m here or in Colorado, my schedule is the same, he says.” He gets up early, hits the gym at 5 a.m., is back home from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., reading the paper and eating breakfast. “By 7 a.m., I’m ready to go and have a 7:15 a.m. call with my assistant.”
He says the plan is to have every hour on the hour as an opportunity to have a client meeting.
“I like to have things wrapped up by 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., after that it’s free time.”
After giving me a rundown on his schedule, Davis initiates a client call on something he refers to as a “phablet” — a Samsung product that is part smartphone, part tablet and clearly larger than the airplane’s TV I’d squinted at on the flight over.
For proprietary purposes, he tells me, “It goes without saying: you don’t know this client, you’re not privy to any of their confidential information.”
“Correct,” I say.
It’s a first client meeting garnered through a referral and Davis drives the client meeting both literally and virtually. Earlier, he’s sent the client an email, containing a link to Adobe Connect. All the client has to do is click on the link and then Davis walks them through their account. They see what he sees on the page. If they have trouble keeping pace on the screen, Davis can highlight or point to the given place. A few times there are technical glitches — a frozen screen, an un-highlighted area. Davis remains calm. He clicks a few things and the client tells him all is good again.
After the call, Davis dials in to a Dictaphone service, making any important notations from the meeting. Within minutes, the call will be transcribed and emailed to Davis and his team.
In all, the client meeting took roughly 45 minutes.
“It’s that easy to do,” he says. “Take this morning for instance.” I look at the clock on my smartphone; it’s 10:30 a.m. “I’ve just finished my fourth meeting of the day and that’s pretty much the goal,” Davis says.
Not yet noon, and Davis is done for the day, if he wants. Down the road in Scottsdale is the annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction, where rare, collectable automobiles are on display. (Later that day the original Batmobile will fetch $4.8 million.)
And, beyond the walls of this virtual office is a golf course.
“Free time is critical to a significant producer,” Davis tells me. “As critical as oxygen.”