Kevin Cork, a Canadian rep who calls himself "The Screaming Capitalist," uses technology extensively to work with clients and run his office.
Kevin Cork's first computer in the early 1980s was an Atari 400. Remember those? Ever since then, he's been into technology. As a branch manager with independent firm TWC Financial Corp. in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Cork uses technology to communicate creatively with clients and to manage his business.
First, there's his virtual office. Because of space limitations, "we had to find alternative ways of housing staff," Cork says. His solution: two assistants who alternate times at the office and work on their own computers at home. Cork also works from home part time. The three are connected via a VPN (virtual private network) from Microsoft.
"It's tunneling protocol--a highly secure way of accessing computers via the Internet," he explains.
The system requires a high-speed Internet connection. "We have ADSL in the office, and we each have a cable connection at home," Cork says. "I paid for their cable connection. It's cheaper than leasing bigger office space."
In addition to two assistants, Cork has a financial adviser associate, Victor Salas, who handles half of his client base. Together, the team uses free ICQ (www.icq.com) instant messaging software to communicate in real time.
Cutting-edge communication technologies don't end with staff. Cork sets up online client meetings through www.placeware.com. "It's the slickest thing I've seen," he says. "It allows you to invite a bunch of people in. You can prep slides, text or audio files. People show up, and you can have a PowerPoint presentation. You create a frame--put a frame around your computer--and they can see what you're doing." For example, clients can watch Cork surf Web sites or he can teach them how to use software.
For six of his top clients, Cork arranged an online presentation by a fund manager. "He talked about why they underperformed so badly," Cork says. Clients could also post questions. "High-end clients love to be able to talk to a manager."
Another way Cork talks to clients is through his Web site at www.screamingcapitalist.com. Creatively designed, it features a knockoff illustration of Edvard Munch's famous 1893 painting, "The Scream." "I hired a company to set it up, and I pay monthly fees for hosting, updates and Web reports," Cork says.
The site contains a client-only section where Cork holds group chats. He sends material via e-mail before the chat, then he can review it online point by point.
To reach a broader group, Cork e-mails a financial planning newsletter twice a month to 700 clients and prospects using Outlook Express and ACT!. "You don't have to buy a list server," he says. "It's simple and cheap."
Cork likes freebies. He uses a free software program called HotSend (www.hotsend.com) to turn any type of document into a file to e-mail. "People who receive it double click, and it opens." Cork also uses www.driveway.com. It provides 25MB of free document storage space, so accessing uploaded client letters or notes is possible from the road.
Don't look for Cork at the fax machine. He set up a toll-free number with JFAX.COM to receive all faxes via e-mail. "The faxes pop into a folder," he says. "We can keep it in electronic format or delete it. It makes the handling of information easy."
How does Cork find all this stuff? One, he's got a passion for technology, so he researches it. Two, he's got several techie clients, so he formed a "technology council." "They send me suggestions on software and Web sites," he says. "It's a way of developing relationships with the tech guys."
It's just a little data exchange between a tech-savvy broker and his clients.
Sharon and Loren Kayfetz run Personal Financial Consultants without the usual reams of papyrus.
Take a gander around your office. If you're like most of us, you have stacks of paper all over the place--papers to be read, papers to be filed, papers to be processed. Now close your eyes and picture your office without that unsightly paper jungle. This dream is a reality for Sharon and Loren Kayfetz, a married team of mutual fund-oriented advisers who run Personal Financial Consultants, a broker/ dealer in San Ramon, Calif., controlling about 100 million dollars in assets.
About three years ago, they started discussing how to get rid of the paper. "We were saying there must be a better way of storing and handling it," Sharon says. They decided to create a paperless office.
"The hardware is easy," Sharon says. "The software isn't."
After doing extensive research on the Internet, the Kayfetzes selected LaserFiche software by Compulink (www.compulink.com). A major reason they chose it was that it had WORM (Write Once Read Many) technology, she says. "Images in the database are unalterable. You can't change the date, address, dollar amount or signature." This feature is required by NASD regulations on imaging technology.
The software was 1,500 dollars. In hardware, they have a high-speed scanner, a jukebox (holds CD-ROMs), dual-mirrored hard drives, a server and a keyboard, totaling about 13,000 dollars, Sharon recalls.
They hired a computer consultant to install the system and train the staff. "In the beginning, you need a consultant to help you work through the problems," Sharon says.
The Kayfetzes decided to scan their records for the past 20 years. "Why go back so far?" Sharon asks. "Why not? It's all there--we can use it when we need to use it."
Two part-time people were hired to scan the records at 8 dollars to 10 dollars an hour. The initial scanning process took about nine months, which was longer than the Kayfetzes anticipated. "We had little glitches with the software," Sharon remembers. That's not unusual considering the volume of material. "A high-speed scanner can do 30 to 40 pages a minute," she says. "Each CD holds 10,000 to 12,000 sheets of paper." To complete the process, the Kayfetzes hired a shredding truck to destroy the mountains of paper on-site.
The reward? A computerized file storage system on 25 CDs that makes searching for documents "faster than looking in a file cabinet," Sharon says. There are different ways to search, including optical character recognition, which converts scanned images into searchable text. "You can do a search on a name. If you write a letter and you mention one word, it can search on that."
The system is backed up continuously, and copies of the CDs are stored in a fireproof safe in the Kayfetzes' home.
After going paperless, Personal Financial Consultants reduced its office space by half. "It saved us 1,000 dollars a month on rent," Sharon says. "And we reduced our staff to one three-quarter time assistant and one half-time person for scanning."
Clients are happy with the system, too. "We're passing our savings on to clients," Sharon says. Some pay nothing more than a 25 basis point service fee. "We have found that clients in and around the Silicon Valley feel it's a remarkable way to run our office."
Their next tech tool will be a digital signature box. Clients will sign an interactively prepared application, have their savings or checking account electronically debited and sign off on the trade ticket. The result: No physical checks, forms or tickets.
When the Kayfetzes say they want to eliminate all paper, they aren't kidding.
Planner Ginita Wall's two Web sites bring her national media exposure and business.
Two and a half years ago, when a colleague broached the subject of creating a Web site for Ginita Wall, her first thought was, "There's no way in hell I need a Web site." But her colleague's son, David Barnett, was starting a Web site development business, and Wall, a San Diego-based CPA and CFP, agreed to a meeting.
After discussing the benefits of a Web presence, Wall agreed to let Barnett's firm, MindGrind, develop two sites--one for the nonprofit group she co-founded, Women's Institute for Financial Education, at www.WIFE.org, and www.planforwealth.com for her planning firm.
Looking back now, Wall says, "It was the best thing we ever did." The sites garnered national exposure, attracting publicity, other Internet gigs for Wall and some business.
Both sites employ a successful strategy to cut through cyberspace clutter: useful content, appealing graphics and easy navigation. The sites are also listed on Internet search engines.
Wall consults with clients and prospects on financial issues and does no transactions. She charges 180 dollars an hour.
"Much of my work is in divorce--forensic accounting, working up the financial end of divorce," she says. "I'm also a professional writer." Wall has written six self-help books on financial topics ranging from saving to investing.
Those books are available on www.planforwealth.com, along with a description of Wall's services, newsletter articles and prominent links to other Web sites to which she contributes.
Wall co-founded WIFE in 1988 with financial adviser Candace Bahr, to provide financial education and networking opportunities for women. The group publishes a quarterly newsletter and conducts monthly seminars for women going through divorce.
The WIFE site has a multitude of articles on finance-related topics, many from volunteer columnists. "We do a lot of content exchange with other sites," Wall says. Viewers are drawn in with cartoon-like illustrations, including a snorting bull.
"We get 50,000 hits a month," she says. "That translates to 10,000 visitors. They stay an average of 14 minutes." This past June, The New York Times reviewed WIFE's site favorably.
The site has raised Wall's media profile. She participated in a segment on women and taxes on NBC Nightly News in March. She also did a 45-minute Webcast on Digevent Money Lunch at www.digevent.com. For Business Week magazine, Wall did an interview on widowhood. She was later videotaped for a related piece on the magazine's Web site. Visitors can also see the Business Week interview on both of Wall's sites.
WIFE's site led to other Internet jobs for Wall. She is the Retire Rich columnist for www.iVillage.com, a women's site. She writes, chats and answers a very active message board. Wall also serves on the advisory board for the GE Center for Financial Learning at www.financiallearning.com. "They were looking for somebody to handle women's issues," Wall says. "I gave them carte blanche to use the articles from the WIFE site, and I wrote some new content for them."
The Internet has enabled Wall to position herself as an authority on women and investing not only to the public but also to her peers.
"I was asked to speak at Schwab's Impact conference [in 1998] and for the AICPA on niche marketing in June," she says. "It's been a very, very interesting experience."