On the flip side, technology will also permit many small firms to jump down the curve and automate many of the back-office functions without mainframe systems. Hurley predicted that 85% of these functions soon will be automated. ''Look at all the technological change we've seen in the last three years that no one anticipated,'' observed one advisor. 

  Significantly, at the symposium's breakout sessions, few advisors voiced concerns about the competitive implications of fast-changing technologies. But advisors in affluent regions already are witnessing the changing dynamics in the market. One of the strongest competitors for now has turned out to be Northern Trust, which has hired marketers for $200,000 to $300,000 a year to bring in $50 million to $100 million. ''They have lots of marble and dark wood,'' one advisor quipped. 

  But the world and client profiles are changing as fast as the competitive playing field and in ways that will conspire to confound veteran advisors and new entrants. Speaking at the Undiscovered Managers' symposium, Marjorie Bauer, senior vice president of Fidelity Investments, noted that 46% of the U.S. affluent are business owners, according to a 1998 Yankelovich Monitor report. Most of them are small business people and, by nature, are control freaks with a high degree of self-confidence. Only 36% of the affluent believe they must sometimes compromise their principles, compared to 50% of the nation at large. 

  This group is a bundle of contradictions. Fully 70% of them want more control over their lives, but 85% want less stress. As Bauer explained, their attitude towards money differs from mainstream Americans in several ways. For example, 76% think that having enough money is very important to happiness, compared to 69% of the U.S. population at large. However, when asked if money is the only true measure of success, only 8% of the affluent responded affirmatively, compared to 22% of the broader population. 

  Affluent Americans also view their money as a means to an end, for both themselves and their communities. According to the Yankelovich survey, only 28% of all U.S. citizens contributed time to their communities in the past year, but 68% of the affluent did. The typical client of a financial advisor faces far more choices than most Americans. What differentiates many affluent individuals from the rest of society is their ability to make smart choices from alternatives produced by others. 

  The good news for advisors is that clients and prospects face too many choices. As Bauer explained, affluent clients may want to be in control but they are waking up to the realization they can't control everything. One of the many paradoxes of technology is the way in which online trading - an initially liberating experience for many investors- frequently turns into enslavement and frustration. 

  What clients really want, Bauer explained, is a partnership. That's a redefinition of the advisor's traditional role as know-all, see-all sources of ultimate wisdom. 

  But change is accelerating. And while advisors are preparing for marginal change, they are likely to experience geometric change.

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