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Tech Tools Can Take the Mystery Out of Planning

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With just a few clicks on a keyboard or a few taps on a tablet, financial advisors can present clients with instant visualizations of virtually unlimited financial scenarios.

“A financial advisor used to be a little bit like the Wizard of Oz,” says Shannon Reid, vice president for education and practice management at Raymond James Financial Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla. “It used to be the man behind the curtain.”

An advisor would meet with a client, go off to draft a plan and then present the results, often in the form of a printed book.

Increasingly, the wizardry takes place in full view of clients, Reid says.

“Today, there is no man behind the curtain,” she says.

In other words, financial plans aren’t concocted behind veils but on screens.

New technology encourages clients to become more deeply engaged participants in the financial planning process, Reid says.

Software and applications can also make updating a plan, whether it is a small tweak or a major reworking, easy to handle.

“In the past, it could have been months of back and forth before we’d figured anything out, and, by then, it had all changed,” Reid says.

Technology allows clients and advisors to create and change plans in real time, she says.

“So the plan becomes a living, breathing thing that advisors and clients build together, and the collaboration means that the client feels as much ownership as the advisor does,” Reid says.

Conference rooms and offices should reflect new technological realities, she says.

They should be places where people are comfortable looking at monitors or tablets, rather than lots of printed material.

“Some advisors have started to actually remove the conference room table so that they can have a more comfortable environment and sit next to the client while discussing what they are viewing,” Reid says.

Make sure screens are large enough and easy to see, she says.

That can be especially important for older clients, and easily customizable visuals are a big advantage of digital presentation, says Dennis Hall, chief business architect at Northern Trust Wealth Management in Chicago.

Hall cites a longtime client, now in her 90s, who used to struggle with magnifying glasses when she came in to the office but was elated by the ability to enlarge her information via touch on a tablet.

“‘I don’t have to squint anymore,’ she told us,” Hall says. “She thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

That is just one example that underlines that tech-based approaches work across all ages, not just for younger clients, Hall says.

“The younger generation has definitely grown up with these devices, and they kind of have more of an expectation that we’ll use them, but we’ve found that baby boomers are also very comfortable,” he says. “We’re finding that tech-savvy spans age groups.”

Paul Hechinger is a New York-based freelance writer.

This story is part of a 30-day series on leading tech trends for advisors.

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