Integration has long been considered the holy grail on a financial advisor’s desktop—and for good reason. Integrated technology can improve efficiencyand help you maintain a high level of service for your clients. Still, there are two interesting truths to keep in mind when thinking about the role of integrated technology in financial services: integration means different things to different people, and integration is never complete.
Integration Is a Work in Progress
This is true in every industry, not just ours. Take the example of car manufacturers, which are trying to integrate more Internet-based apps and functionality into their vehicles. At some point—perhaps in the not-too-distant future—each time you drive up to the window at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, your car will know who is with you, along with their preferred drinks. It will then connect to the coffee shop, place the order, and pay with whatever payment preference you have on file, all while making sure that your loyalty reward card is properly credited. This is just one illustration of the millions of integration points being worked on at this moment across all industries.
The Internet of Things
The move toward total integration is part of what’s known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT). The IoT refers to how almost every single electronic item that we use on a daily basis will connect to us, to other electronic devices, and to commerce. The rise of inexpensive electronic components, as well as ubiquitous high-speed Internet, is paving the way for a more automated future.
Just look at tablet computers, which were considered a luxury item when they first burst onto the scene. Now, they’re practically disposable. Have a cracked screen? No problem! Just throw out your tablet and get a new one. It’s probably cheaper than fixing it. That’s how far we’ve come. What was once considered a thing of science fiction has now morphed into science nonfiction.
The Age of Convenience
Integration has also helped us push the limits on personal and business productivity, giving rise to the “convenience” age of integration and the IoT. Here’s just one example: Purchased by Google in 2014, the Nest thermostat probably knows more about your location than your significant other! It knows when you’re away, when you’re on your way home, and when to turn on your heat or air conditioning at just the right time to save you money while ensuring that you’ll feel comfortable the moment you step into your house. Change the thermostat manually often? Nest learns your patterns and starts to make adjustments before you do.
We’re seeing trends like this in business as well, with innovations such as printers that automatically order ink when it’s getting low and voice over IP systems that smart route to cell phones or remote receptionist vendors.
All of these things point to something I’ve come to think of as “perfect” technology: technology that you don’t have to actively use. Instead, it’s constantly working in the background and knows what to do for you and when.
What’s the Cost?
Clearly, the benefits of device interconnectivity are very real, but what’s the cost? The 2016 distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack comes to mind.
The attack targeted a company named Dyn, which offers Domain Name System (DNS) services. DNS services translate the web addresses we see every day into the IP addresses (i.e., numbers) needed to find and connect with the right servers, so browsers can deliver requested content. A DDoS attack overwhelms a DNS server with millions of lookup requests at once, rendering it incapable of completing any request.
In a nutshell, an attacker can take out the entire Internet for any end user whose DNS requests route through a given server. To orchestrate this attack, viruses were installed on unpatched devices that people simply don’t think of as “computers.” The thermostats I mentioned above were part of the electronic zombie armies that perpetrated the attack, as were refrigerators, DVRs, TVs, web cameras, and even wireless printers.
In almost all of these devices, users can go into the settings menu and check to see whether a “firmware” update is available—these updates often have both security- and performance-related enhancements baked into them. Unfortunately, some manufacturers don’t care about patching firmware, even when their devices have known vulnerabilities; they just move on to the next generation of devices.
One important lesson here: Check your Internet-enabled devices for firmware updates at least a few times a year. The benefits gained likely outweigh the downsides, and reputable manufacturers are more likely to maintain their hardware with security patches for years after purchase.
Looking beyond integration, will the world even need people for commerce? There are already programs writing programs (PwP), meaning that code is being developed without any human intervention (other than the person who writes the initial code). Plus, artificial intelligence (AI) continues to progress at a steady pace and the ubiquitous Internet is connecting even the most remote areas of the globe. Given all of this, I suspect there will come a time when you and I are no longer needed for the services that we currently provide.
The good news? AI is not likely to take over the jobs that we perform anytime soon. But what is in our near future is the next evolution of integration: unification. We can debate what led Apple to rise from bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable company one decade later. My take is that Apple took integration to the next level, creating a unified experience across devices and programs—iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iMacs all working with similar interfaces. This drove user adoption, as people were less intimidated by the technology because it all looked and worked the same way, substantially reducing the learning curve.
If you haven’t heard of Pokémon GO, I can only imagine that you’ve been vacationing on a remote island or in the middle of Siberia. Since its release in early July, the game, a modern-day iteration of the original Pokémon trading card game, has seen unprecedented success. The uber-popular app has already been downloaded tens of millions of times, and Nintendo’s stock is up more than 60 percent in the past month (although Nintendo recently said that its exposure to profits would be limited). Never has a mobile app game been so hyped—and for good reason, I think.
My 15-year-old daughter hopped on this game the day it was released. She eventually convinced my wife to join, who then convinced me to join. This became the impetus for us to buy my 12-year-old son his first phone so that he could join, too. And that, in and of itself, exemplifies one of the many strengths of this game: it can bring families together (mobile and video games often do the opposite).
But Pokémon GO is more than just a game. After playing it for a week, I’m convinced that it will not only usher in a new chapter of gaming for humankind, but that it will teach us lessons that will change how we do business. You may think this is a bold statement. How can a game change our approach to business? Let me explain.
Lessons from Pokémon GO
1) It’s bringing families and generations together. The fact that kids and parents can go out “Pokémon hunting” together as a team—or even as rival teams—is fun. But when I first witnessed a 75-year-old man playing Pokémon GO with his granddaughter, I knew this was something more. While the original Pokémon game was largely popular with 10- to 12-year-old boys, the new game is appealing to nearly every demographic.
How can this change your business? Anything businesses do to help connect family members in general is a positive. For financial advisors, one big risk they face is losing their clients' children (and assets) to another advisor after a client passes away. It goes without saying that finding creative ways to help your clients’ families connect across generations—and with your brand—will pay dividends.
2) It’s making us feel part of a community. In general, I’ve talked with more random people in the past couple of weeks than I think I’ve talked with in the past year. That’s because PokéStops and Pokémon gyms are static and people flock to them. (If you don’t know what these are, check out Wikipedia’s description of the game.) Additionally, so far in my experience, there seems to be a bond between Pokémon GO players that is fun and genuine.
For example, one very cool aspect of the game is the concept of “lures.” Lures are not easy to attain—unless you buy them through the app—and they attract wild Pokémon to PokéStops without your having to move from that spot. (Okay, so this is the lazy part of the game.) If you use one of your lures, everyone playing Pokémon GO within about a one-half-mile radius will see it and can benefit from it. I’ve witnessed individuals thanking total strangers for their generosity.
How can this change your business? When people feel part of something bigger than themselves, they develop a profound appreciation for that connection. We partner with a local organization and invite home office staff and their guests to roll up their sleeves and make a positive difference in the world.
Do you hold your own giving back initiatives? The next time you hold a food drive or offer a book swap, consider putting signage outside your office to promote the event and invite your local community to participate. Then, if your business is lucky enough to be a PokéStop (or if you want to submit a request to become one), consider dropping lures at a set time each day. It would cost you about $1 per day to do this, and the increased traffic in front of your building could ultimately lead to extra donations to your giving back initiative—and perhaps even a new prospective client or two.
3) It’s taking gamification to the next level. Many companies have implemented a “badge” or “medal” system for social media and marketing purposes. Pokémon GO is built on the same psychological principles that drive such programs, and once you get started earning rewards, it’s hard to stop.
How can this change your business? This one’s a little tricky to implement on your own, but think about fun ways to get your clients more involved in their financial planning. If they’re struggling to set aside money for a child's college fund, for example, maybe you give them a gold star each month they contribute to the account. Once they get 12 stars, you’ll take them out to lunch.
4) It’s opening our eyes to the real world around us. It’s hard to believe, but the most popular game in the world right now is teaching us about the areas where we live and work. I’ve learned more about landmarks in my town in the past week than in the 12 years I’ve lived there.
How can this change your business? Appreciation events are an excellent way to develop greater rapport with your clients. In every town in the U.S., there are treasures that many people either don’t know much about or don’t know exist at all. Hold a client appreciation event at one of these lesser-known venues; throw in some finger food and libations and you’ve connected your clients to the community in which they live. And I’m sure they’ll spread the word that they were there . . . because of you!
5) It’s taking augmented reality (AR) mainstream. One of the best parts of this game is the introduction of AR into mainstream gaming. AR is nothing new, but it is new to the masses. Overlaying a game like this on a map of the U.S. (or other countries) is a game-changer.
How can this change your business? I’m not sure yet, but I bet it won’t be long before we know.
6) It’s keeping people active. One of the many brilliant aspects of Pokémon GO is that you have to go to the game; the game does not come to you. Although the details of how to play this game are outside the scope of this blog post, players have to do a lot of walking. PokéStops, Pokémon gyms, and wild Pokémon are all found out in the real world, not from the living room sofa. By way of example, I walked more than 20 kilometers in the first week with my family, and I’m pretty sure I would not have done so otherwise.
How can this change your business? Health and wellness—both financial and physical—are important topics in our industry today. As you work to help ensure that your clients have enough money to retire comfortably, why not find ways to help them stay active as well? Organize a team for Walk for Hunger; start an exercise club with a group of A clients and get together to play basketball or go for a swim or run on a Saturday morning; or, if you have a nice space for it at your business, hire a yoga teacher to come in and offer a class on your lawn.
A Dose of Caution
Pokémon GO is representative of how people are interacting with technology and the world around them today. But it’s not all rainbows and lollipops. Some news stories have reported that players have been “lured” into trespassing on private property and walking off cliffs; some have even walked unsuspecting into a robbery in progress. While there are always some downsides to change and disruption, I believe this summer marks a huge turning point for the future of gaming—and a huge opportunity for financial advisors to change the way they do business for the better.
Every day, each of us makes a number of decisions that affect our lives. (Research says the number of decisions is somewhere between 3,000 and 35,000; I couldn’t decide which source to trust, so I’m giving you the range instead!) In making these decisions—regardless of whether our choices involve something rather ordinary or matters of consequence—we are attempting to optimize for something.
Optimizing the User Experience
When it comes to the technology one of our core goals is to optimize our users’ time. By saving time, advisors and their staff gain efficiencies (e.g., cost savings) and productivity (e.g., the ability to focus on revenue-generating activities), along with more personal time to spend however they see fit.
In addition to optimizing the tools we build and support to save advisors time, we believe that we have an even higher calling, so we focus on optimizing the user experience with our technology. Of course, that begs the question, “What leads to a great technology experience?”
Although the answer can vary, I believe these seven ingredients are essential to creating an amazing experience:
What I find most interesting about optimization is that it is in the eye of the beholder. Two people might perform the same action but do so for different reasons. One advisor might place a trade to buy IBM, viewing it as a vehicle to maximize long-term growth, while another might buy the same stock for the company’s stability and the potential income stream it can generate.
Optimization isn’t black and white or wrong or right; it’s all about perspective. And just as many technology platforms have had to evolve to become browser-agnostic, so they work with any system from Chrome, to Firefox, to IE, I believe financial advisor technology will need to become user-agnostic—so it works to meet any advisor’s needs, no matter how he or she chooses to run a business
I’ve never understood the infamous New Year’s resolution. What’s so important about a single day (i.e., January 1) that warrants a different human behavior from what existed a day earlier (i.e., December 31)? People—myself included—should make resolutions all the time when they want to change, even if they make the resolution on June 19. I know, it sounds “soap-boxish,” but you can get away with that when it’s your own blog. :)
In any case, while you might have weight loss or getting in shape, eating better, getting more sleep, or a whole host of other standard resolutions on your docket, how about adding this one: getting your computer into shape. Of course, via the Shield program, we take care of advisors’ common software patches (e.g., Microsoft Office, Adobe, Java, Antivirus), but there are other things that you can do to your computer to help it perform even better. Here are a few:
Happy New Year to both you and your computer!
I recently read an interesting Computerworld piece on the “Internet of Things,” which talked about the many electronics and even nonelectronics (such as toilets) that are becoming and will become connected via Wi-Fi. Typically, articles like this one go on about all the cool things that these new devices will bring us, including a refrigerator that will text you when you are out of milk or better yet that will order milk for you from the store to be delivered. Of course, outside of Cyber Monday, one of the big buzzes this week on the Web has been that, in the future, such deliveries will likely happen via an Amazon drone. This Computerworld piece, however, had nothing to do with future conveniences or sci-fi prognostications.
No, instead it discussed the threat that the “Internet of Things” will bring to us. A solid example provided has to do with a Linux bug recently discovered by Symantec. Although almost no one in the world thinks he or she uses Linux, almost everyone in the world actually does. For example, most Internet routers, TV DVRs/TiVos, DVD players, and so on, use the Linux kernel as their core operating system. So when you are navigating those menus via your tablet or remote, you are in fact using Linux.
The Linux bug was patched more than a year ago, but the interesting point made in the piece was that most vendors of these devices do not expose the operating system to the end user, nor do they make it available to update with patches. Many devices, such as Internet routers, offer firmware updates, but, again, almost none of them patch those devices automatically. This leads to the conclusion that, as everything becomes connected to the Internet, there will be an increase in the devices that have vulnerabilities, which, of course, will lead to an increase in the number of people who try to do harm. Just think of what someone could do if he or she hacked into all of those aforementioned Amazon drone delivery devices! (Hint: It wouldn’t be pretty.)
I love that we live in interesting times and am glad that I’ll be around to see how this all plays out.