Lon Dolber (left), Ralph DeVito, Amy Webber and David Stringer; photo by Tom McKenzie.

Are you thinking about the subscription model specifically or bringing in life-balance activities?

Amy Webber, Cambridge: Ideally it’s on the front end of your financial-planning digital engine. So at the beginning, there are individuals who don’t need the sophistication that we were talking about earlier; they’re paying using Venmo or another digital-payment service, just like Amazon, Netflix and everything else they’re used to.

You’ve also got your documented services, and on the back end, there are all kinds of regulatory issues, which we’ve had to tackle; there’s proving services … and making sure you can do all of that electronically for the most part.

Then the [younger investors] get out of grad school and get an actual job that is paying them income; they need more help than they thought they did [before]. Everyone needs debt management right now, up to a certain age; so debt management is perfect to do on a subscription basis.

Best practices and structure — changes to [help them] change their behavior. You have to give them [ways] to change behavior in a complementary way that’s about documenting and is transparent.

Getting back to basics, how does the BD you lead support advisor success?

David Stringer, Prospera: We stay pretty focused. These are business owners, and [we are focused on] helping them run their business, grow the business, protect their business, marketing, making acquisitions … and coming up with all the capital. We’re putting in place some of these different business services to help them. It doesn’t matter if you do more brokerage business or advisory businesses — just help them run their business better.

Probably the median age [of our advisors’] investor client is in the mid-50s, which is the same as our advisors. So we work on succession planning, and we have advisors’ kids coming into the business. We have seen the transfer of wealth. We provide tools, but it’s really about the advisor coming up with their strategies on how they’re going to build that relationship with the next generation.

The big metric that we follow is asset flows. You can tell that some businesses are lifestyle businesses [for the advisor]; they still have to attract new business to stay put, but some are dying businesses; these are guys coming to the end of their careers.

We’ve also got some practices that are growing like gangbusters and are bringing assets in like crazy. It’s our job to put the tools out there for them.

We’re probably not going to be the first innovator or even the early adopter. We’re going to be a fast follower. There are adopters of clearing firm technology and integrators. I put our firm in that adopter and integrator camp.

And then there are creators. Sounds like you guys are doing a lot of creative building and new stuff, which means bigger budgets and staying on the cutting edge. We’re going to lean heavily on integrating great tools that people need and lean on our clearing partner to bring us some of the latest and greatest.

Lon Dolber, American Portfolios: It’s interesting, because if you look at an interview [Amazon's Jeff] ]Bezos did in 1999. Back then, there were people questioning their model, because they had gone beyond selling books. Bezos didn’t want to talk about the technology at all. He only wanted to talk about one thing: the customer experience. This is the bottom line — the service to the customer and the customer experience.

Stringer: The technology drove the client experience.

Dolber: That tells me if we can hang on, maybe we don’t have to win on technology. We have to believe that we can win on service and customer experience, which has a lot to do with when they pick up the phone and call you. How quickly do you pick up the phone? Do you really know the customer? Will you go to the ends of the [earth ] when they have a problem?

Webber: Amazon is a good example of how technology did drive [change], because customers demanded a more technological, digital way of doing business.

But that intimacy and the customization that everyone in this room has worked so hard to deliver, regardless of whether that’s picking up the phone or offering some sort of electronic portal — depending on the demands that are coming in from your clients, that is going to be a win, I believe. This is why many firms no longer exist; they were trying to put everything into one box and make it look one way.

Stringer: Sometimes firms are hiding behind their technology. One of our fundamental behaviors is that we have in our firm’s practice the human touch, which is really a key component to the advisor and client experience.

Dolber: I agree with you. If I look at our service center, there are people answering the phones, but the technology we use is Salesforce to get the metrics; that technology is not visible to the customer, but it’s the way we analyze root causes of issues. If I’m not looking at why they’re calling and categorizing it, I can’t fix anything. But overall, our business is about people. We pick up the phone, answer the phone and talk to our customers.

Stringer: We call it service recovery, when we look at a service issue. How quickly can you recover? Because you can actually turn those things into a gift and turn them into a positive — if you recover well. That’s a process we work on, because people make mistakes; it just happens. You can work on how you fix it. How do you make it better so that there’s a better client experience?

Webber: Our goal is to use automation even to the extent of machine learning to do the day-to-day easy stuff. But humans still have to be involved and engaged on the sophisticated side for trying to bridge gaps.

We’re [also] building sophistication in our service model and are working to make sure that it’s running in a more automated fashion; our clients, our advisors and their investors are demanding that access, and a lot of that service access is on their phones today. It’s mobile.

We’ll actually allow the investors, if the advisor enables it, to literally open the account. Now, not one advisor has come forward yet and figured out that they want to use that as a prospecting tool. Most advisors … would like to meet someone before opening an account. So, it’s got to have those bumper bars in place.

Ralph DeVito, The Investment Center: As for technology, we’re called a fast follower. We’re more focused on the client — my client being advisor. We’re going to make mistakes on basic processing at times, but we apologize. For us, it’s been focused on getting out to the advisor and finding out where they want to go, what are they looking to do and how are they running their practice?

We help with our advisor marketing and practice-management program. We’ve had tremendous success with that, where our advisors are growing like crazy. It’s really a coaching program, but it teaches some tech and marketing. You then add a virtual assistant.