Randy Carver's technology sidekick can't fit in his jacket pocket. Nor can it be held in the palm of his hand. That's because his indispensable tool is the Internet itself.
The Web is the lifeline of Carver's business. Actually, it's so critical to his practice that when the city where he works — Mentor, Ohio — did not have a local Internet Service Provider, he established one himself.
“I have such a big client base — 3,200 families — that there's no way I can deal with them all without e-mail and my Web site at www.bullmkt.com,” says Carver, a Raymond James Financial Services broker. “Without it, we're lost.”
So with the help of a client, Carver created Lakenet four years ago. At the time, the only reliable ISP in the area was America Online, but it was a long distance call for many of Carver's clients. “So no one was using it,” he says.
Fast forward to today. Scores of clients now zip off electronic notes and questions to Carver. “I get about 250 e-mails a day, so I desperately need [the ISP] for my business to run the way I want it to.”
Carver also communicates with clients and prospects as the host of an Internet-based radio show on Wednesdays and Fridays. Interested listeners can e-mail questions to the show at www.daer.com, which he says is “the largest Internet radio station in world with 1.2 million listeners at any time.”
In addition, Carver launched a Web-based seminar program in April. He has already provided education about retirement planning and 529 college savings plans to the clients and prospects who logged on.
The Web has served Carver well. His business has grown 30% to 60% a year since 1998. “It's up 50% from two years ago,” he says. “Without the Internet, business likely wouldn't be as good as it is today.”
Broker: Randy Carver
Raymond James Financial Services, Mentor, Ohio
Sidekick: The Internet
Use: Relies on the Web to communicate, market and educate. Makes the most of e-mail, too.
Rewards: Can manage book of 3,200 families because of increased efficiency. Increased business 50% in two years.--Rick Weinberg
John Preston is an unabashed stock-picker. Several times a day, he plugs some numbers into the Telescan Investors Platform (TIP) software program on his personal computer, looking for individual stocks worthy of further investigation.
“I've been in this business for the past 18 years, and I know there's always some stock that does unbelievably well,” says Preston, a rep with First Union Securities in Columbia, S.C. “My question has always been, ‘Is there a way to look at the markets and find these things, where the market shows something going on, like a phenomenal price/volume breakout or something like that?’”
Good question. By punching in any combination of 170 different criteria, Preston can search for those huge winners. Usually, he runs two searches. The first is for stocks that have risen above their 50-day average price with a large increase in trading volume. The second is an “earnings-driven, relative strength scan” that finds companies with the highest five-year projected EPS and P/E growth rates, together with a relative strength index.
Preston has been using the TIP program for the past eight years. He studies about 100 stocks a day. “I'm looking for one thing that seems to have a compelling perspective from a valuation side,” he says. “And I'll integrate that with common sense.”
Even if he doesn't discover the next Microsoft, doing such extensive analysis helps him know which industries to watch.
A recent example: the gas pipeline sector. His system spotted Atlas Pipeline Partners, which he bought in March at 22 before it jumped to over 40 a month later.
TIP costs about $149, plus monthly fees. Call Telescan at 800/324-4692 or check out the firm's Web page at www.telescan.com.
Broker: John Preston
First Union Securities, Columbia, S.C.
Sidekick: Telescan Investors Platform
Use: Screens 100 stocks each day that are moving above their 50-day moving average and have above-average EPS growth and relative strength.
Rewards: Improves chances for client performance. Ensures he's “fishing in the right pond” for ideas.--Michael Hayes
It happens every time. Reginald Armstrong is driving home after a long day of helping investors at First Union Securities in Florence, S.C., when he remembers something he absolutely must take care of when he gets back to the office.
That's when he whips out his Olympus VN-180 Digital Voice Recorder and starts talking to himself.
“When I'm zipping down the road between appointments or on my way home, I say to myself, ‘I've got to remember to call that business owner.’ But if you don't have a pen to write it down, you're going to forget about it by tomorrow morning,” says Armstrong, head of the three-member Armstrong Wealth Management Group.
The VN-180 is digital, so there are no cassette tapes to worry about. It records up to 180 minutes, Armstrong says. “I could actually record a client conversation if I really wanted to.” Although he hasn't used the device for that purpose, he has used it to document his team's business-planning meetings.
Touch-pad arrow buttons and an LCD screen display on the recorder enable Armstrong to save his voice messages in one of three folders: personal, business or time-activated, which plays up to 20 messages at specified times, like a personalized alarm. In the morning, Armstrong listens to all of his messages and transfers them into his calendar or Palm Pilot manually.
While Armstrong says the device isn't critical to his career success, it has been a trusty helper. “I have had other little gadgets in the past that have never really been of any value,” he says. “This one works because it's easy to use.”
Armstrong adds that the messages are crystal clear, unlike the choppy playback quality of digital recorders just a few years ago. And the VN-180 is reliable: He's been using the $119 device for more than a year and still hasn't had to replace the batteries.
Broker: Reginald Armstrong First Union Securities, Florence, S.C.
Sidekick: Olympus VN-180 Digital Voice Recorder
Use: Records and organizes notes while away from the office.
Rewards: Improves efficiency. Keeps priority tasks from slipping through the cracks.--Michael Hayes
Tucker Watkins calls his contact management system “the core” of his business.
The senior planner with American Express Financial Advisors in Irvine, Calif., uses GoldMine software to stay on top of his 300 client households and $50 million in assets. The program tracks basic data such as names, addresses and phone numbers, of course, as well as archived letters, follow-ups and appointments.
Watkins has three terminals in his office linked with GoldMine. “It keeps us all informed and instantly updates us on the status of our clients,” he says. “If anyone has a contact or makes a change, it is apparent to all. It's also great for assigned to-dos.”
Watkins is particularly enthusiastic about GoldMine's data handling capabilities. He can download client data into the program, then link to Excel, Outlook, Word and PowerPoint.
The program provides ready access to information when a client calls. “I can immediately be looking at his net-worth statement, entire portfolio, IRAs as well as a contact record of letters, appointments and any previous PowerPoint presentations,” Watkins says.
He is also impressed with the linkage GoldMine provides for information on clients' CPAs, attorneys, relatives and referrals.
American Express rates its planners on customer satisfaction, and Watkins says he always gets high marks. “I trace that to GoldMine. It's all based on people and your ability to keep track of them.”
Client satisfaction is about more than just accessing raw data. It's about having all the information available so you can understand clients' whole picture — their values and goals as well as their numbers, Watkins says.
“My clients like the system as much as I do,” he adds. “They're amazed at how much information I can access with a few key strokes.”
Offered by FrontRange Solutions, GoldMine is available at computer stores for less than $300. Call 800/654-3526 or access www.frontrange.com.
Broker: Tucker Watkins American Express Financial Advisors, Irvine, Calif.
Sidekick: GoldMine software
Use: Networks computers in his office together to ensure up-to-date communication. Links to other programs for custom analysis and presentations.
Rewards: Gets high marks from clients for his high-tech, high-touch service.--Tom Nelson
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