As 2017 draws to a close, it’s only natural that we begin thinking about what changes 2018 may bring to our industry.

Whenever I’m asked for predictions, I reflexively think of the Niels Bohr quip, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” That semi-joking caveat aside, my initial instinct about 2018 is that we’re going to see a much greater emphasis on implementation and execution, along with a commensurate dip in focus on innovation. New tools and solutions will enter the marketplace as they always do, but our interactions with advisors as of late point to an upcoming period where they will concern themselves more with fully realized usage of existing tools to address some of the challenges they’ve put off dealing with to this point.

Increased Focus on Cybersecurity

With the apparent delay of the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule until July 2019 (at the earliest), it looks like a lot of firms will focus more on dealing with cybersecurity issues in 2018. As one of the biggest threats to advisory firms, it’s only natural that advisors begin turning their attention in this direction, particularly with the freeing up of resources previously slated to deal with fiduciary rule compliance. Whether that means “taking the necessary precautions to minimize your office’s vulnerability to attempted cyberattacks” or talking with each of your technology vendors to ensure you’re comfortable with the level of security with which they treat your data, the recent data breach of Equifax only heightens the relevance of cybersecurity initiatives, such as the one just announced by cleverDome, moving forward.

Expanded Communication Solutions

The focus on client communication is not going away. An overriding concern for many in the not-too-distant past was the threat of robo-advisors and how they would chip away at client and prospect pools for living, breathing advisors. That fear turned out to be more hype than substance, but, rather than any inherent deficiencies of robo-platforms, that may be more due to:

a) the human tendency to value relationships with other human beings rather than turning it all over to the machines (for now) and

b) the incorporation of technologies with robo-like features to handle some of the simpler interactions with clients.

What does that tell us going forward? I believe most advisors recognize that staying connected with their clients is essential, and that a big part of that will be ensuring they are equipped to communicate with them using the channels they prefer.

Texting is going to be a huge part of that, and we can expect to see new applications working inside of existing tech platforms that allow advisors to communicate with their clients via text compliantly. This will have the twofold benefit of driving more efficient business practices while also showing your clients you can adapt with technologies to make their lives easier. While offering the ability for advisors to communicate with their clients via text is an obvious disruptor in our industry, ironically it is the exact opposite in your clients’ worlds, where that capability simply means they can now interact with you like they’ve been interacting with everyone else.

Technology Choices Drive Independence

The array of technological solutions to choose from to build your ideal system of office workflows has never been more bountiful or integrated. There is truly an abundance of technological wealth available, and it empowers advisors to rethink their position and ties to the wirehouses, with their one-size-fits-all tech platforms. It’s not a new trend, but the shift from larger institutions in favor of independence driven by technology options will continue in 2018.

Artificial Intelligence Is Still Far, Far Away

While AI is currently hot with consumers, we’re still a few years away from it becoming relevant in the advisory space. Consider the compliance-fueled concerns that up until very recently thwarted any viable texting solutions in the industry; artificial intelligence will face equal, if not greater, challenges until ways are found to incorporate it securely and meaningfully, with limited usefulness now outside of relatively minor data-driven tasks.

Reflect. Implement. Execute. Repeat.

At some point individuals, firms and even tech providers have to stop and reflect upon whether they are fully leveraging the assets they have rather than seeking out the “latest and greatest.” I believe 2018 will be a year of implementation and execution, rather than a year of invention. The technology entering the advisory space is likely to be existing tech, adapted to create new and better solutions for existing problems, rather than new and innovative technological paradigms that leave everyone breathless. On the whole, that’s a positive — when everyone can take a beat to breathe, they can reflect upon the jobs they’ve been doing and then figure out how to do them better.