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How boomers could spark tech innovation

They say millennials are always on their phones.

But baby boomer and Generation X advisors are adopting new technologies — especially on cell phones and tablet devices — more than even their younger counterparts, meaning firms should pay close attention to those segments when launching new tech initiatives, according to recently published data by Redtail Technology.

“It’s no secret that our industry is evolving at lightning speed,” says Redtail CEO Brian McLaughlin. “We set out to uncover the technology disconnect across generations, and the results really surprised us.”

More than half of baby boomer (52%) and Gen X (58%) advisory employees access their firm’s CRM system via a cellphone or tablet device, according to the survey of almost 2,500 advisors. Millennial usage of such mobile platforms topped out at about 50%.

“When I travel to conferences and see advisors working outside in the lobby, a lot of the times it’s the baby boomers who are on the iPads,” says David Mehlhorn, director of sales at Redtail.

Across all generations, financial planning software (79%) is the most commonly used technology followed by client portal (57%) and risk profiling and analysis technology (51%), the survey found. Additionally, most Gen Xers (89%) and baby boomers (86%) had little hesitation around adopting a CRM.

However, mobile usage still lags behind more traditional outlets like desktop and laptop usage. Almost 80% of Gen Xer advisors use desktop- and laptop-based tools, while just 58% use mobile platforms, according to the survey.

The advisor experience on mobile technology platforms still needs significant improvement across the industry, according to the data. “People aren’t quite there with trusting that the technology is going to check every single box,” Mehlhorn says. “With financial services, they have to trust the tools.”

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However, mobile planning tools are still nascent, says Michael A. Palazzolo, a Gen X planner that works with Gen X and Baby Boomer clients in Birmingham, Alabama. Palazzolo runs his entire practice, including a VPN, from his iPad with a blue-tooth powered keyboard, he says.

"I've conducted a few client meetings in coffee shops this way and taken the iPad with me as my only computer for trips," Palazzolo says. "I could also do the same with my iPhone, but the small screen makes it a bit painful."

Further development in advisor technology will lead to greater adoption, says Marguerita M. Cheng, an advisor based in Potomac, Maryland.

"There are some amazing tools that offer aggregation and integration, but they may not always have an app," Cheng says. "Other tools have apps but not as robust applications and integrations," shes says.

That lack of trust is only compounded when dealing with more consequential issues like trades and compliance. Only 9% of wealth management firms reported using digital trading software, and 31% reported using compliance technology, across all generations.

While there are compliance features present in other technology tools, like documentation within the CRM tool, investment objective review and email archiving, the use of compliance tools seems relatively low, considering the importance of compliance in the industry, according to the report.

Firms have tried to addressing some of the adoption problems that come with new tech offerings.

For example, Morgan Stanley introduced a new advisor dashboard, dubbed WealthDesk, intended to make it easier for advisors to manage client relationships. UBS announced a partnership working with Broadridge Financial to revamp its platform and with SigFig on its robo advisor.

Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, or Millennials are actually all asking for the same thing when it comes to technology, says Sean Williams, a Timonium, Maryland-based advisor. "Ultimately, clients want expertise and access," he says, adding that his clients manage their financial plan through a client portal and can text him directly through a designated line.

"I've found when it comes to change you can either innovate, adapt, or do something that looks a lot like extinction," says Williams. "Doing business the same old way doesn't serve clients today."

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