CHICAGO - More than a thousand financial planners from around the country descended on the Windy City for the Schwab Impact conference. The event gave them a chance for them to gain market intelligence, schmooze with peers, shop for new technology, check out new investing products and learn a few smarter ways to run their business.

Financial Planning was there to cover the event. Here are a few of the most interesting things our team heard.

1. Paperless Productivity

David Lincoln, of Family Office Exchange, reported that a firm it works with undertook a two-year process to go entirely paperless. It wasn't entirely a green decision, though.  The firm (which Lincoln only referred to by a pseudonym) said the change had slashed the time involved in hunting for client files. It told Lincoln's firm that it expects to get a 7% drop in the amount of staff hours required per client relationship.

2. Get Personal with Gen Y

Stop thinking of Gen Y as "they." When trying to speak to younger prospects, you need to connect with them by understanding them as individuals said generational characteristics expert, Cam Marston. Think about how your offering affects their lives and their future. “You’ve got to get out of you and into them,” Marston said.

3. Worried About the Fiscal Cliff?

So is Charles Schwab (the man, not the company). He said there's a "high probability" that the U.S. will go over fiscal cliff at year's end. He also predicted a resolution in the spring, however. (And he pointed out a bright side: A tough spring may offer investing opportunities.)

4. Going Mobile

Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of Charles Schwab's Advisor Technology Solutions, reported that 25% of US online adults have an interest in using their mobile device as a main channel for their personal financial life.

5. Funding a Handoff

Schwab announced it would help provide financing for junior partners seeking equity in a firm. The program is now in a pilot phase aimed at larger firms; and Schwab said it expects to make several loans over the next few months.

6. Succession Planning, Part 2

The industry’s succession planning problem is bigger than it sounds, says Michael Paley of Focus Financial Partners. Think of the industry’s problem instead as a continuity problem, he said. That means advisor firms must consider continuity planning that considers the clients, the staff and the firm’s senior principles.

7. Get a Process

Impact Award winner Jerry Foster got big kudos from this year's judges for its use of technology to define an efficient, standard workflow. "We built a ... process automation," he explained. "Everything we do operates within the Salesforce CRM. So every time new clients come on board, they get the exact same experience."

8. Global Uncertainty

Moderate your expectations for the Middle East, said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. "I don't think we've bottomed out' in the Middle East," he said. The so-called Arab spring may sound like a three-month event but it could last 30 years," he said.

9. Loss and Grief

Got a client who's lost a spouse to death or divorce? As challenging as it may be for an advisor to ask clients about a painful loss, it’s a crucial way to serve the client and stand out, said Amy Florian, founder of grief consulting firm, Corgenius. “When the advisor is reluctant to bring it up or name the reality, then they are just like everybody else in the client’s life,” Florian said. Very few people know how to talk to grieving people, but those who do can “set yourself apart,” she said.

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