In the last several market downturns, the public turned to independent advisors for unbiased financial advice after having been burned elsewhere. We look for history to repeat itself this time around; but is your firm ready to service new clients efficiently and cost effectively? If you and your staff are struggling to keep up, if you don't know how profitable each of your clients are to the firm, if you have no automated routine work flows, or if you are struggling with any other technology and/or practice management issues, the 2009 Technology Tools for Today conference taking place February 26-28, 2009 at the Dallas Intercontinental Hotel in Addison, Texas, is the place to get answers.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that co-chairs Joel Bruckenstein and David Drucker face as organizers of the 2009 Technology Tools for Today Conference (T3) is putting together an educational program that contains something for everybody. The diverse business models of attendees necessitate that we address topics from multiple perspectives, but after reviewing extensive input from former attendees, I'm confident that this year's event can benefit all advisors, no matter what their backgrounds and goals are.

One attendee group we expect to be particularly well represented in 2009 are breakaway brokers. With all of the recent turmoil in the captive B-D sector, we expect many advisors to enter the ranks of the independents in 2009. One of the many challenges of going independent is acquiring the systems and technologies that were previously supplied by one's wirehouse employer. The exhibition hall at the T3 conference is the ideal location to discover the systems and technology tools that have helped support the success of independent advisors in recent years. In fact, the exhibition hall at the T3 Conference may be the most overlooked and underappreciated reason for attending. According to industry expert Bob Veres of Inside Information:

"There's a certain... ANIMATION, I guess you would say, about the Technology Tools for Today Conference exhibit hall, an energy that you never see at other conference venues.  Instead of the normal (and somewhat embarrassing) ritual of attendees avoiding eye contact with the (mostly mutual fund) vendors and representatives as they make their way to the coffee machine or breakfast spread, instead of people in the booths shifting from foot to foot hoping somebody will eventually think about talking to them, you have a kind of frenetic interaction at most of the booths.  One representative is leading a small crowd through an on-screen demo of newly added features while another is talking price, functionality and interfaces with a different group.  Nearby, a third is engaged in technical negotiations with several power users, all speaking a cryptic language most normal humans wouldn't understand."

Technology programs present some unique challenges, since the landscape changes quickly and we must prepare well in advance. However, we have a great deal of rich subject matter to work with right now. As a general rule, when Dave and I start laying out the program, we divide the subject matter into two broad subjects: "evergreen topics" and newer cutting edge ideas.

Examples of evergreen topics include CRM software, financial planning software, portfolio management software and document management software. While we've offered one or more sessions on these topics every year, the content varies significantly from year to year. There are a number of reasons for this. For example, almost every vendor updates its product at least annually, so even if you've participated in a presentation about a specific category of software in the past, you can count on hearing about new developments this year.

While there have not been any revolutionary developments in CRM software over the last year as of yet, there has been evolutionary progress among most of the CRM applications. The same can be said for portfolio management software. Many of the providers have added new features and strengthened their product lines. In addition, the pending release of FinFolio, a new portfolio management software application scheduled for release before year-end, should spark some renewed interest in this already competitive niche.

There has been a great deal of development in financial planning software recently, with more on the way before the conference rolls around. MoneyGuidePro recently released a major upgrade to itsflagship product, dubbed MGP: G2. EISI is scheduled to release major upgrades of both Financial Profiles and NaviPlan in the third quarter of 2009, and we expect that they will be previewing these new versions at the show.

MoneyTree has also made some major enhancements to its software over the last year, with more coming soon.

Another trend we've noticed over the years is the ebb and flow of vendors serving various niches. This has been particularly true in the portfolio management software and service sector over the last four years. For example, Intuit began offering portfolio management software to advisors a few years ago, only to withdraw from the marketplace approximately seven months later. Since the announcement of our first conference four years ago, Morningstar has incorporated portfolio management tools into Advisor Workstation while Portfolio Director has begun marketing a low-cost portfolio management product to advisors. The last four years have also seen the entry of online providers such as AssetBook and Black Diamond. As stated earlier, they will be joined by FinFolio before year-end.

There's also been quite a bit of activity on the acquisition front. Over the last year or so, Schwab has acquired Etelligent, PNC has acquired Albridge, Morningstar has acquired FCSI (dbCAMS+), Investigo has been acquired by Broadridge, and B-Ready has been acquired by Open Finance Network (OFN), and there is a good chance that further consolidations are in the works. With all the goings on in this sector, I feel confident in predicting that our portfolio management breakout sessions will be lively. Attendees will have ample opportunity to ask questions and to hear about how the acquirers plan to integrate their acquisitions into their long-term strategic business plans.

Document management is another topic we cover each year, and there continues to be a real thirst for this type of information. As we have discovered in previous years, many advisors are still not fully aware of what a state-of-the-art document management system is or what it is capable of. Even those that are conversant in document management have important questions about topics such as file formats, optical character recognition, retention policies and document authentication. The T3 conference is a great place to get those questions answered.

It is not only document management software that is evolving. Scanner technology continues to move forward. Over the last year, Virtual Office News ( has reviewed outstanding new small office and workgroup scanners from leading manufacturers including Fujitsu, HP and Kodak. We expect a number of excellent scanners to be on display in the exhibit hall, as they have been in past years, so that attendees can get a hands-on trial before committing to a purchase.

This year we are introducing a number of cutting-edge topics. One that we've added based on requests from a number of returning attendees is a session entitled "Trading Microsoft (and VISTA) for a Mac." Quite frankly, such a session would not have been practical four years ago, but since then Apple has moved to Intel processors, many Microsoft loyalists have become frustrated with VISTA, and software vendors have come up with a number of ingenious ways to run Windows software on Macs when necessary. In addition, the explosion of online applications within our industry that can run on a Web browser has made the idea of running an all-Apple office, or an office in which Macs can coexist with Microsoft based PCs peacefully, a reality. This session will feature insights on using a Mac from both a financial advisor and a developer of software for the advisor community. The session's moderator, Dr. Gerald Levin, was one of the advisors who requested this session. Dr. Levin is himself an advisor who is grappling with the pros and cons of integrating Apple computers into his practice.

Another potentially hot topic at the conference could be the impending new browser wars. While we do not have a specific session devoted to this topic, we expect that it will come up in many sessions related to online, or Web-based software.  For those of you unfamiliar with the issue, as recently as 2002 Microsoft's Internet Explorer held a commanding 95% market share. Since there was little competition at the time, there was little incentive for Microsoft to improve on their existing product.  The launch of Firefox in late 2004, however, began to rekindle browser competition. Innovation at Firefox has allowed it to capture about 20% of the browser market.

Google, not content with the pace of innovation in the browser niche, recently launched a beta version of its own Web browser called Chrome. It appears that Chrome is designed with a few goals in mind, the primary one being to build a modern browser from the ground up in order to accommodate the way we compute today, as opposed to the way we computed when the existing browsers were initially launched. Until recently, online applications were relatively modest and limited in scope. This was at least in part due to limitations inherent in the browsers of that era. Google, with its online applications such as Gmail, Google Docs and the Google Calendar, has a vested interest in creating a more robust platform on which those applications can operate. Chrome appears to be a part of Google's effort to influence the future development of Web browsers in order to facilitate the further evolution of Web-based software. When speaking at a news conference introducing Chrome, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said of Chrome, "I think it is a very basic, fast engine to run Web apps."

Without going into a lot of detail about specific Chrome features, it is easy to see how Google and Chrome could have a substantial impact on the technology that financial advisors use in the future. That's because more and more vendors serving the advisory community are offering Web-based solutions. These include financial planning developers such as EISI, MoneyGuidePro and MoneyTree; CRM providers such as IAS, Redtail, Oracle and Upswing; as well as portfolio management solutions like Albridge, Adhesion, AssetBook, BOSS, Black Diamond, Orion and PortfolioDirector. If new Web browsers developed by Google and others can provide a richer platform on which to build Web applications, it is likely that developers within our industry will make use of this richer environment to deliver enhanced products to their advisor clients.

In addition, if Chrome technology allows Google to further enhance its existing collection of online applications, these Google apps could become a real competitor for Microsoft Exchange and the Microsoft Office suite of products. If that were to happen, it would profoundly affect the way many advisory firms do business today.

While all of this might seem a little far-fetched to some, few could have anticipated the changes that followed Google's entrance into Web-based e-mail when it launched Gmail in 2004. Before Gmail, providers of free e-mail accounts generally offered between 2 MB to 4 MB of free storage. They also severely limited the size of e-mail attachments.  Furthermore, their interfaces were slow and their search capabilities were almost nonexistent. Google changed all that by offering a generous 1 GB of free storage to start (it's now up to about 7 GB), an improved interface and excellent search capabilities. As a result, competitors were forced to significantly upgrade their own offerings in order to remain competitive. The result has been a better experience for all.

Hopefully, Chrome will usher in the same sort of competition and innovation in the realm of browsers and online applications.

Every now and then, a topic that starts out as cutting edge becomes evergreen. Two examples of cutting edge topics that have the potential to become perennial ones at the T3 Conference are integration and mind mapping.

When a session on integration was introduced at the conference a few years ago, the prevailing sentiment was that integration among software providers was still in its infancy and there was widespread dissatisfaction among advisors with regard to the pace of change. While progress on the integration front has been slower than many advisors would like, there are many positives. Two years ago, on an integration panel I hosted, a number of independent software vendors demonstrated how their respective software products could communicate with each other. Attendee feedback from that session led to the formation of Your Silver Bullet (, a membership organization of vendors serving the advisor community who are dedicated to the goal of making their respective software products "play well" together. As of this writing, there are about 21 members listed on the firm's Web site, and we expect at least 18 of the member firms, plus the parent organization, to be available in the exhibit hall to answer integration questions.

Of course, Your Silver Bullet (YSB) is not the only integration avenue available. A number of broker/dealers and custodial firms will be on hand to demonstrate how they can help advisors integrate various software packages, and numerous independent firms that are not YSB members offer integration with partners of their choosing.

In addition, there will be at least three breakout sessions related to integration. They are  CRM's Next Frontiers: Integration, Intelligence and Mobility; The State of the Art in Software Integration; and Advisor Panel: Our Technology Platform.

For the first time in 2008, the T3 Conference offered a cutting-edge breakout session on mind mapping. For those unfamiliar with the concept, mind mapping is a technique for rapidly generating, capturing and organizing ideas, tasks, and activities centered around a key concept. Wikipedia defines a mind map as "a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision-making and writing." Since the mind mapping session was one of the most highly rated by attendees in 2008, the upcoming conference will feature a general session on the topic hosted by Gary Davis Jr., noted business and compliance consultant, and Janet Tyler Johnson, an advisor and accomplished user of mind mapping software. Following this session, there will be a breakout session on visual client communication featuring SmartDraw, a flexible visual drawing tool that includes mind mapping capabilities.

It should be clear by now that the T3 conference offers advisory firms large and small a wealth of information designed to improve efficiencies and profitability. The conference, priced at $375, includes a two-hour ethics course that satisfies the CFP Board ethics requirement, making it one of the best conference values in the industry. To register online today, visit and click on the conference link. I look forward to seeing you there!