“I Can Work From Anywhere, Man!”
My 3-year-old son loves that song Johnny Cash sang called “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man!”, even if he only catches the word “Man!” at the end of each line. I haven’t been everywhere, but I can work anywhere, Man! When my son begs to go to work with his Daddy (and current best friend), he isn’t just talking about the traditional office in a building with a desk and chair.
Sure he likes coming to my main office in the building with the cool waterfall and big TVs in the lobby…
…but his favorite Daddy’s Office might be at a local Starbucks where he can watch his “work” (aka Cars, Planes, or Despicable Me) on his iPad too.
Or it could be the office at his Grandparent’s house where his Daddy can work on the back porch while he chases the dogs and feeds the cows. Or it could be the office he saw pictures of in Mexico on the beach about the time his parents had been married for 5 years. His mother is not a fan of that office… something about no work on an anniversary vacation, I think.
Someday I’ll explain to him that he grew up in a time of frequently evolving technology that allowed his Daddy to work from anywhere, as long as there was an internet connection. I’m not really a work-at-home type of guy, but I’m also not a live-behind-a-desk guy either. I just enjoy being around people. It’s one of the reasons I love this job. After about 5 years in, I decided that I didn’t want to be a traditional desk-and-office all day long kind of financial advisor. And with the technology we now have at our fingertips, we don’t have to be!
I probably spend more time in coffee shops and out of state than I actually do in my office. The concept is that I can be anywhere in the US while still effectively running my practice, and my clients can be anywhere too! Looking back on that decision to be modern and mobile turned out to be a game changer regarding how my practice is modeled. Now almost half of my clients live out-of-state, but our personal and professional relationship looks like one you would have with a good friend or co-worker.
Before I liked my job, but now I love it because I get to come to work each day working the same amount of hours but getting so much more done. I can now fully commit to a long-term relationship with my clients and they can reciprocate because we know that our conversations will be just as productive face-to-face as it will when we’re 2000 miles apart.
There are endless ways to set up this concept of a Modern & Mobile Office, but here’s how I roll…
A good laptop is key. You might look like a 1980’s nerd if you walk into a Starbucks lugging a desktop monitor, CPU, keyboard and mouse. Maybe cool when Apple had six colors in their logo, but not so much anymore. I do use an Apple laptop in an effort to fit in at a coffee shop, but I draw the line at skinny jeans and dirty v-neck t-shirts.
I use a moderately souped up Macbook Pro so I don’t have to wait on the spinning wheel or flipping hourglass just because I skimped on my laptop budget. There are some things you don’t go cheap on. Laptops, toilet paper, and soda. Slow computers, sandpaper-like tp, Mr. Pibb, and Shasta just don’t cut it. My phone system doesn’t even use an actual landline anymore.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems where you simply plug a desk phone into any modem or router while operating a multi-user system from a simple app on your smart phone. My phone provider of choice is RingCentral, but Vocalocity (just purchased by Vonage) and several others including the traditional phone companies offer good VoIP phone systems as well.
Connecting with your clients in person and socially online can and should be a seamless conversation. Similar to our face-to-face interactions with our friends and clients, the goal of our online social conversations is to connect, educate, share information, and develop long-term relationships. Choose 2-3 platforms and beginning connecting, sharing, and conversing. LinkedIn should be a requirement as it’s your 21st century resume, but you can easily connect through any of the other platforms as well. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Blogging, Instagram, Pinterest…etc. Last year I began checking in at my morning coffee shop of choice with Foursquare so clients or friends can find me for a free cup of coffee and answers to their financial or investment questions.
There are often blurred lines for financial professional between their personal and professional relationships, especially socially. I try to consistently differentiate between my social platforms to help my clients, regulators, and myself understand what is open to the professional world and what I prefer to keep a bit more private. My Facebook and Instagram are solely personal, but I interact both personally and professionally on my LinkedIn, Facebook Company Page, Twitter, and Blog.
We are in a new age of social media as financial professionals so I would highly recommend archiving everything regardless of whether it’s personal or professional. The truth protects you and your clients (see more about archiving under Security). Amy McIlwain recently broke down a rare guidance update from the SEC regarding social media for financial advisors.
Custodian’s Advisor Platform.
Any custodian worth their salt has a web-based version of their trading platform. These versions are just as capable and often more efficient than the slow downloaded version that needs to be updated every now and then. I primarily use Scottrade, who just rolled out a sweet modern look earlier this year, but I also have access to TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab among others. (Will mention latere, but I note that I use Blueleaf to aggregate various custodied data as well as clients’ held-away accounts.)
Client Management or Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
Having a clean and user-friendly CRM will keep you current, but if you don’t then you’ll find yourself drifting back into a comfortable rut that makes it more difficult to change and stay relevant with each passing day. Comprehensive and robust CRM’s like Salesforce are great for large companies that want to customize a product into a proprietary (sticky) tool that keeps their advisors in-house, but that’s not what I’m after. If I can’t afford to drop it, then I can’t afford to spend too much time learning how to operate it. I started off with Redtail, which is very nice, and some custodians like Scottrade offer steeply discounted packages like CRM and Imaging for their advisors. But I wanted an even simpler version so I recently switched to Wealthbox. Wealthbox does a great job of integrating your contact’s vital information with their social interaction on all the major networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter…etc). Wealthbox’s professional social networking mentality helps me stay closely connected to my clients all over the nation while falling right in line with my Modern & Mobile Office concept.
Big Picture (aka performance or data reporting).
This is the latest cool kid to the party. Account aggregation. Being able to see and show your clients all of their financial accounts in one place. From there the possibilities are endless which allows you to take your financial practice in any direction you want. eMoney Advisor is what I started using in the beginning of the big picture revolution. They do a great job of connecting everything, and then using that information to create a plethora of reports and scenarios. As with my CRM, I was looking for the more straightforward version so I began using Blueleaf last year. The simplistic functionality of Blueleaf has been the swing vote in several new client relationships since I jumped on board. Clients now view Blueleaf as being synonymous with their big picture. Talking with a client about their big picture in such a simple organized way is how I have great conversations whether we’re sitting in my office or a thousand miles away. Blueleaf has a 30-day Free Trial for advisors who are considering the platform. Yes we get paid to provide investment advice and management, but don’t most of our clients also expect us to consider their big picture before providing any kind of specific financial advice?
Everyone isn’t on board the paperless bandwagon YET, so you have to pick and chose how you implement. Paperless financial records and digital signatures are the new frontier for financial advisors. The goal is to improve operational efficiency so we can spend less time doing paperwork with clients and more time helping them manage their money. To go paperless you must understand the process and security of each provider. I currently use Dropbox with some additional encryption for my data storage, but others such as Carbonite and SugarSync are solid options too. Routine backups on a portable external hard drive don’t hurt either.
Digital signatures are my next addition. Adobe’s Echosign and Docusign are household names in this space, but the recent partnership between Docupace and SIGNiX could be very productive option too (Docupace and SIGNiX partner for digital signature integration). I’m also looking into RightSignature for their simple and easy integration with my data storage of choice, Dropbox.
The paperless strategy you choose for your practice should also be one you can easily communicate to your clients, broker dealers, custodians, and regulators. And don’t forget the savings for getting rid of your printer and its $2,700 per gallon ink which comes in as the 7th most expensive liquid in the world!
Archiving & Security.
Encryption is a term you should familiarize yourself with if you haven’t already. Sending sensitive data unencrypted is like trying out for that new survivalist show on the Discovery Channel called Naked & Afraid… you might survive but you’ll most likely regret it. Don’t send your sensitive data out into the harsh cyber world naked and afraid.
Smarsh is a robust archiving and email encryption service I have used in the past, but I now use Erado for their overall efficiency. Ask the providers you are considering about their archiving and encryption methods.
Notice the theme of web-based and MOBILE vs the old-school downloaded versions? If you need to borrow a friend’s computer or one at an internet café to check something quickly, it’s okay as long as you coordinate with your providers (custodian, Dropbox, Redtail, Blueleaf…etc) on the security and encryption. Most custodians have established strategic partnerships with the providers that make up all the key ingredients of a modern office.
Of course nothing will protect you from the common security issues we should all now how to handle by now. Like visiting a website you’re not familiar, even after your web browser says “Do you really trust this website?”. Or clicking on links in emails from unknown senders. If you leave your laptop out at a coffee shop while you visit the restroom, be prepared to remotely wipe the hard drive and plan on never seeing that computer again. I actually met a guy this past week who said he sent $140,000 to Nigeria in exchange for a $10 million gift from a Nigerian prince… he’s still waiting on a response. You can educate the ignorance, but a fellow named Ron White seems to think that you can’t fix stupid.
Change is key.
Change is good. Change keeps us current. It makes us relevant and indispensable (see Seth Godin’s book “Linchpin”). Be a Linchpin to your clients and for your business. Embrace change and see what it does for you and your clients. Stay open to new technology and thought processes to see how far you can stretch your client’s dollar. In a connected world and increasingly transparent society, clients will notice your efforts.
“The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.” -Henry Ford
My goal when I go to work every day is to do my job better than I did the day before, always improving, so I can go home to my family knowing that I gave something substantial to those who trust me.
— Brad Raines, @ModernAdvisor