If you are interested in the latest developments, trends and happenings in the world of advisor technology, then look no further than the 8th annual Technology Tools for Today conference held earlier this week at the downtown Miami Hilton.
T3, as the conference is known in the industry conference lexicon, is the advisor technology version of the massive Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held every year in Las Vegas.
But instead of 100,000 consumer attendees and thousands of technology vendors highlighting the latest gadgets designed to entertain, the T3 conference is a small, but growing niche in the B to B technology marketplace and is comprised of over 300 advisors and 80 technology vendors gathering together to test-drive the latest software to help RIAs run a more efficient business.
Featuring three days of non-stop technology demos, vendor panels and high-profile keynote sessions, T3 has become ground zero for the advisor technology industry. Designed and promoted by technology experts Joel Bruckenstein and David Drucker, T3 has grown over the years as more and more attention is being focused on the ecosystem of technology and service providers that support independent RIAs in their mission to provide the highest quality advice to high net worth investors.
Leading that charge were the big asset custodians, such as Schwab Advisor Services, TD Ameritrade Institutional, Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, and Pershing Advisor Services. All of these major players had very visible presences at the conference and dominated the general sessions, technology panels and booth space in the exhibit hall.
Because these institutions benefit when advisors grow, particularly at the expense of the declining wire houses, they all have a vested interest in investing millions of dollars into platform enhancements and the core technologies advisors use on a daily basis.
But the one firm that stood out the most was definitely Fidelity. Looking to replicate the great success of its roving robot from last year, Fidelity provided a unique vision into the “office of the future.”
In Fidelity’s trade show booth was a robotic arm built by Kubi that held an iPad and which could be operated remotely to show a client their financial position, investment plans and performance reports if the advisor wasn’t able to be on site. In combination with the robotic iPad arm was a smart TV that used Aviya technology to include avatars for online, remote meetings. Avatars could be visual substitutes for third-party professionals, such as an estate-planning attorney or an investment manager, enabling the client to participate visually vs. over the phone.
“This is a bridge technology until we have holograms,” said Al Lee, Senior Project Manager for the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. “We wanted to create a vision of what an office could look like anywhere and model what the client experience would be if the client, advisor or expert can’t make it to the meeting,”
To round out the office of the future, Fidelity included a table with a touch-screen surface top that a client could swipe with their finger to review investing and wealth management content. Designed to engage clients and prospects in the waiting room, the table resembled a giant iPad, with room for four.
While Fidelity took the opportunity to show off its innovative side, the majority of vendors took more of a practical approach in identifying the most common issues advisor’s face in managing their back offices and how their purpose-built applications provide solutions. Despite the fact that the advisor technology industry is still an emerging space, the good news for advisors is that with all of the attention focused on the success of the RIA industry, many new entrants are starting to show up and this was very evident at T3.
Some of these new entrants are innovative start-ups, like InStream Solutions while some of them are true industry heavyweights, like Salesforce and Microsoft.
InStream is a great example of innovation and disruptive technology. InStream integrates financial planning software with a marketplace of solution providers, such as investment firms, mortgage banks, insurance companies, and more, to provide an efficient way to implement planning recommendations. Based on the client’s situation, alerts are triggered to let the advisor know if there is a better product out there, such as a mortgage with a lower rate, saving the advisor time in researching product solutions. And, oh, by the way, InStream is free. CEO Alex Murgia and President Zohar Swaine held court at the conference and were constantly in conversation with interested advisors.
On the heavyweight side of the coin, the big custodians are integrating their core brokerage systems into the massive CRM operating systems of Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Because they know that advisors with a CRM are more efficient and grow faster, the custodians are keen to make this adoption happen. For the first time, Salesforce held a large presence at the conference. The popular CRM platform came to T3 with a mission to support its partners and to put a face to the many custodian integrations.
The rest of the agenda was sprinkled with advisor panels featuring technology executives and industry consultants discussing “What’s New?” in financial planning, portfolio accounting, document management, portfolio rebalancing, CRM and more.
One interesting panel discussion focused on security and what advisors need to do to ensure that whoever is on the other side of the phone call is who they say they are. “We’ve seen hackers and other nefarious individuals compromise a client’s email address to send messages to their advisor requesting a cashier check or other money movements,” said industry tech guru Bill Winterberg of Fppad.com. To prepare for those instances, “advisors should have a healthy dose of suspicion and make sure to have multiple authentication processes,” noted T3 conference organizer, Joel Bruckenstein.
While the goings on at T3 are very business focused, after hours activities belonged to the many vendors in attendance who used the attractive night life of South Beach to entertain conference goers, host dinners, network with complementary software providers and ensure that everyone had a great time.
Based on the energy, buzz and excitement at T3 2013, the technology outlook for RIAs is very bright, indeed.
To learn more about what went on at T3, follow the #T32013 hashtag on Twitter.
Read a Q&A with T3 organizer Joel Bruckenstein about tech trends for advisors.
Timothy D. Welsh, CFP® is President and founder of Nexus Strategy, LLC a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry and can be reached at [email protected]or on Twitter @NexusStrategy.