Practice - Technology
Tech Tips: What Advisors Can Learn From Students
Monday, February 11, 2013
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MIAMI - When Frank Patzke, the president of Guidant Wealth Advisors, met Barry Mulholland, an assistant professor at Texas Tech University, while waiting on line for lunch at last year’s Technology Tools for Today conference, neither had any idea how a chance encounter would shape Patzke’s business and Mulholland’s curriculum.

When it comes to creating a more holistic and integrated technology solution, Mulholland, who teaches a course on technology at Texas Tech, told a room of advisors and vendors that he wanted to find a way to give students more real-world experience.

Patzke, who is based in Palatine, Ill., said he just wanted to find the right technology solution.

“Like many advisors, I come to conference like this because we like technology,” he said. “We want to understand the cutting edge, but we are also  frustrated with the technology we have and wedon’t understand why it doesn’t work. We want a solution.”

Over the course of the fall semester, Patzke spoke with 25 or 26 students who presented, in six or seven group, a litany of technology solutions for his practice.

In the past, Mulholland, who has worked at Texas Tech for four years as a professor, said the class was presented with hypotheticals, but with real-world specifics, students were able to learn a lot more about how to integrate financial planning, research-based, portfolio management, CRM and risk management platforms.

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“We have had a technology course for five years that has encouraged students to examine different technology platforms,” he said. “When I first came to T3 I realized, this industry needs a lot more integration.”

Kyle Grabenstetter, a graduate student, at Texas Tech said the ability to potentially make a “real impact on a real company” was essential.

“I think it provided us as students with the motivations to really go for it,” he said.

Mullholland agreed.

“This is the real world and a lot has changed since I was an advisor 10 years ago,” he said. “There are a lot of factors for an RIA that are different now. This is an interesting project and the students really embraced it.”

Over the course of two months, Patzke provided Texas Tech with information about his company, the hardware and software it was using, and the systems he hoped to enhance.

Thomas Layton, a graduate student at Texas Tech, said his group realized early on that the real problem was integration.

“As students, when we dealt with hypotheticals, we always wanted to throw money at a problem to solve it,” he said. “But after the second phone call, we realized that advisors are averse spending money and perhaps the best solution is better education about the current platforms he had in place.”

Patzke, whose firm is affiliated with LPL, says every vendor talks about integration but “day-to-day, these systems don’t integrate as smoothly as you’d hope.”

Mulholland said he was most impressed by the students that did something “unexpected.” One group told Patzke his website was “boring,” and, since then, Patzke has updated and improved the site.

Patzke said initially he hoped the project would solve all of his technology problems, but really it made him take a hard look at his business.

“The first question the students asked was, ‘what’s your technology budget,’” Patzke said. “I said, ‘I don’t know. Whatever is left after I pay everything else.’”

Though most of the suggestions “weren’t practically applicable,” Patzke was impressed.

“I was expecting the silver bullet,” he said. “But I learned more than I thought I would.”

Patzke said the project is just starting to scratch the surface.  “We clearly have an age dichotomy in this industry, today,” he said. “There is a great educational system out there now that advisors need to leverage. … I think there is an opportunity here for dinosaur-like advisors to work with young students and share what we are doing in this industry. I think that that will benefit the industry, consumers and clients.”

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