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‘Office of the Future’ Puts Advisor Technology on Display

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Fidelity Institutional announced Wednesday that is has opened an intriguingly named “Office of the Future” on its Smithfield, R.I., campus. The office was designed with input from the Fidelity Center of Applied Technology to address macro technology trends that have the biggest impact on advisors in the near future: mobile, pervasive video, evolving interfaces, cloud computing, social media, big data and gamification.

“What we’re doing here is taking those macro trends and identifying which are most likely to evolve to influence advisors’ offices to some extent in the current state, but we’re looking in the three- to five-year time horizon,” Ed O’Brien, senior vice president and head of platform technology for Fidelity, told ThinkAdvisor on Thursday.

The office is an example of what Fidelity thinks newer offices will look and feel like, O’Brien said. Advisors can visit the office or see it online in a virtual tour, similar to what you might see on a real estate company’s website. “We recognize that not every advisor that we serve or that wants to work with Fidelity is going to travel to the Northeast,” O’Brien said. “We wanted to make it a place where people could come and learn what’s new in technology and hopefully be able to see practices where good technology is getting good utilization and good innovation.”

O’Brien said 80% of advisors want to do more with technology and get better utilization, referring to data from Fidelity’s “Insights on Advice” study conducted last year. “Part of what we can do here is take new technologies and put it into practice so that advisors can hopefully learn ways to make their investment in technology more efficient.”

Fidelity has a “pretty robust practice management offering,” O’Brien said, that includes technology and operations consultants to help advisors implement new technology or get better utilization of what they currently have. “It’s a pretty scalable offering. For instance, let’s say somebody calls and says, ‘I’m thinking about moving some of my software and applications to the cloud.’ We have white papers, we have checklists that say, ‘Here are the top 10 questions you should ask when thinking about cloud technology.’ From that kind of tactical [support] all the way through to helping advisors decide if they should have their own data warehousing strategy to support their multiple lines of business. It’s a pretty broad spectrum that we can help them on.”

O’Brien said of the experimental office, “It gives you a sense of a room that is much more open to collaborative discussions with their advisors either working with associates in an office or when they have clients in the office, moving away from what tends to be ‘you and I sit down across a six-foot wooden table with a monitor in between us.’ Instead, we’re putting technology in our hands that we can work with together.”

As for the kind of technology on display, some is familiar, like monitors and cameras that facilitate virtual meetings. The office also showcases things like gesture controllers “so that we can start to use more human interaction as opposed to things like mouse clicks.”

This kind of technology is an attempt to “make the environment more user-friendly,” O’Brien said. When people feel “more comfortable with technology, hopefully they’re going to use it more.”

Advisors’ adoption of technology isn’t so much a strategy to appeal to younger, more tech-savvy clients, either. Research from the “Insights on Advice” study found one-third of advisors are already using cloud technology and another third want to adopt it. “Very quickly you see it’s not really based on generation [of clients], it’s firms that want to do two things: They want to drive more efficiency in their practice and they want to have a better client interaction.”