Philip Kessler, the founder and managing partner of SWS Partners in Columbus, Ohio, is quick to remind people that technology is not a business strategy. It’s not going to build your firm for you or make you grow.

What he likes about technology, however, is that it allows the robots to do what they do best while planners are doing what they do best. With a team of only five, his two-year-old firm has grown to $200 million from $80 million in assets in two and a half years. He says he could add a zero to that figure while adding only two new employees.

“We knew from day one that we were going to have a heavy reliance on technology and a much smaller reliance on humans,” Kessler says of his firm, launched in late 2015.

A veteran of AllianceBernstein and Merrill Lynch, he struck out on his own with a partner when robo-advisors arrived on the scene a few years ago. Kessler saw the writing on the wall. The investment management part of the financial advice business has been commoditized, he says. Companies of the future will have no need for receptionists (his firm doesn’t have one). They can meet the clients on video, sign them up with e-signatures. Large firms with 35 staffers could today conceivably use technology to cut two-thirds of them, he declares. He thought it was time for him to join the revolution or die.

The revolution in fintech has allowed advisors to now do in minutes what it used to take them all day to do. In many ways, the clients are the ones doing the busywork advisors used to do—updating their own metrics on the cloud or blasting their spending behavior from Mint into the advisors’ portals. Robo-advisors are no longer thought of as threats, but advisors’ right arms, allowing the technology to handle the asset allocation. It’s not that humans have no role, but the roles are changing: They now must offer judgment, insight on the future, a sympathetic assessment of client psychology. In many ways, says Kessler, the tech revolution has forced advisors to show exactly what their value is: It’s the subjective part, not the calculating.

Secure Document Sharing

Firms can now offer clients landing pages, securely share documents from the cloud with both the clients and other professionals, see up-to-date account values, post quarterly reports instantly to the portals, aggregate outside accounts so people can see their entire net worth. They can use software like Calendly or ScheduleOnce to book meetings.

Rick Adkins’ firm Arkansas Financial Group in Little Rock has $490 million in AUM and over 300 clients, which it runs with a staff of six, including four planners. After he and an ex-partner split more than a decade ago, he cut expensive tax compliance work out of his practice and was allowed to re-envision his firm, locating its inefficiencies. “Frankly, back then there were three planners and seven staff members. Kristina [Bolhouse, his current partner] and I said the first thing we have to start doing is outsourcing everything we can. … I’m kind of a dinosaur in the profession and most of my peers were like me … you kind of get into a mode that you did everything yourself.” So they pushed books and payroll chores out the door, cutting seven staff people down to two.

“While [software] appears expensive on the surface,” he says, “if it allows you to reduce having a staff member who is doing the mindless, repetitive, rote work, then I believe human beings were not designed for and let technology do that, you’ve kind of got a win-win.”

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