I’ve been in the journalism business for 33 years now, and I’ve seen plenty of changes. The reporting and editing process uses much more technology, there are more deadlines, the revenue model has changed, reader expectations are different and competition is broader, with some competitors being digital only.
The new journalists entering the field are much more comfortable using digital tools for researching, writing, editing and producing, but I must say their command of the language leaves something to be desired, especially for those of us who had to diagram sentences back in the fourth grade, who studied years of Latin and who had to write, write, write throughout high school and college and graduate school. My first job as an editor was at a pioneering company that unfortunately lived hand-to-mouth financially, so we had no training on hardware, and software for which we didn’t exactly have licenses, if you get my drift. Plus we were doing some cutting-edge work for which there were no tech tools, so we had to make up production processes as we went along, just as we had to figure out for ourselves workarounds for our balky computers and software (though mostly we worked on dumb terminals connected to an IBM System 38, as I recall).
Our leaders and owners are now less patient business people. Better financial reporting tools means they can look not just at quarterly financials (and website traffic) but monthly, weekly and daily numbers — sometimes intraday — and expect quick action if those financials (or page views) are not up to snuff.
We’ve got much better collaboration tools, and the output of our reporting and editing process comes in audio, video and infographics, in addition to words.
And you, our readers? Well, you’ve got so many more options to stay informed than you did 33 years ago. There’s still print, of course, though that’s a dying business, many say (despite evidence to the contrary). Then there are multiple websites and e-newsletters and alerting services and mobile apps. There are online forums and webcasts and podcasts that supplement in-person study groups and advisor conferences that focus on broad issues or have a more discrete focus, like women’s issues or alternative investments or ESG/SRI/impact investing. Social media is a far more important networking and even educational tool to many, especially younger, advisors.
There are clear parallels between professional journalism and the independent advisor business. From its beginnings in the late 1960s through now, there’s been so much change. There are now so many different tools you can use, CRM systems to monitor your clients, financial planning software that gets data from all the places where your clients have money and so many investment research applications. You also can avail yourselves of advancements in “softer” areas like risk assessment or behavioral finance. You face competition from digital advice platforms — those robos don’t have any bricks and mortar to worry about, presenting a serious challenge to your fees. Of course, while robos might be attractive to younger, less wealthy clients, your current clients are very loyal and recognize that your wisdom and experience make you a better long-term partner than an algorithm.
In both journalism and the advice business, the personal aspect, the human-to-human interaction, remains the differentiator. You know that’s the case in providing advice to individuals and families, and we know it’s the case in plumbing insights from you when we’re writing and reporting.
In this issue, we report on our sixth annual independent broker-dealer Presidents Poll. We gathered the data in aggregate from 59 IBD leaders directly, and there’s value in discerning trends from that data. However, it’s the direct words of those presidents that illustrate the data-mined trends that make the article particularly useful, I’d argue, just as it’s the personal interviews we do in our day jobs that make sense of the news advisors want and need. Yes, both of us are using technology to do our jobs better, but in the end we’re building a personal connection.