How quickly do high-tech changes affect the financial advisory industry? If you were asked the question a couple of years ago, you could be forgiven for answering “Not very.” Broad cultural shifts seemed to be taking a long time to trickle down to planners’ daily practices; advisors might be streaming movies at home on Netflix, but they’d still send out paper statements and require manual signatures.

That seems to be, well, changing.

One big reason may be the arrival of the so-called robo advisors. In the last year and a half, they’ve gained assets and attention; now they’re trying to shift consumer expectations for advisory fees and online delivery.

That effort seems to have struck fear into planners’ hearts — at least gauging from the number of conference seminars and white papers I’ve seen devoted to the battle against them.

But the real game changer, argues columnist Joel Bruckenstein — who authors Financial Planning’s annual Tech Survey analysis — is not the robo business model, but the new technology these startups have developed.

That, I believe, is why you’re seeing Schwab roll out a no-fee digital service of its own, and why Fidelity Institutional Wealth Service and TD Ameritrade Institutional partner with the online startups to offer white-label versions for advisors. It’s also why advisory firms tell us they’re putting a renewed emphasis on comprehensive planning service (and software) — that is, to differentiate themselves from online competitors and rationalize their higher fees.

Rapid shifts tend to produce surprising domino effects. The real truism is that if you’re not paying attention, you’ll soon fall behind.

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