I really got to thinking about all this adviser dependence on the web last week after reading a new kasina LLC report, “What Advisors Do Online 2009.” (There's a story on InvestmentNews.com summarizing some of its key points.)
What most struck me were the answers to the question: “How has the amount of time you spend online changed over the last 12 months?” Of those responding, 22.3% indicated that their usage has increased by more than three hours a week, while another 28% said it has increased by one to three hours a week.
While the single thread here is the web as a delivery mechanism, the types of technology and tools advisers are accessing vary greatly. In some cases, their choices are based on the type of firm they are with — portfolio managers typically need a different set of tools from pure planners; brokers' needs differ from those of registered investment advisers. How an adviser embraces technology can also be a consequence of the level of interest in technology itself, with a smattering of age-related resistance, or bias, thrown in.
“I have a unique perspective because I came from the paper and pencil days — when I think of a spreadsheet, I think of a ledger book and paper charts,” said Richard Cox Sr., chief investment manager of Cox Wealth Management LLC, who said he has been in the business for 30 years.
Since last year's economic debacle, his firm has been spending substantially more time using technology, he said, but while its advisers may use a public website to “get a quick quote when away from our terminal,” they do not rely on such sites in forming investment selection decisions, depending instead on professional tools.
“I'm more of a portfolio manager using technology to help me make investing decisions, and what happened last year with the market downturn makes us all the more focused on doing the right research, and we rely heavily on Dorsey Wright [& Associates, dorseywright.com], which has a daily asset-leveling program,” he said.
Like Mr. Cox, that company has evolved from its roots providing paper-based products years ago to delivering its technical analysis, still based on point-and-figure methodology, in the form of interactive charts over the web. He also subscribes to and uses daily Morningstar Inc.'s historical data. He's also a fan of Seeking Alpha Ltd. (seekingalpha.com), which provides the views of fellow investing professionals and gives him ideas.
“Don't get me wrong,” Mr. Cox said, “I spend a fair amount of time more generally on the web — like visiting MarketWatch and CNBC — but the reason I hit those is that they are so popular that they can influence investor behavior, so I want to know what they are telling people,” he said.
Other advisers follow different paths to their information, though it is still delivered over the Internet.
For example, Rich Arzaga, founder and chief executive of Cornerstone Wealth Management Inc., said that his first stop is always BranchNet, the broker workstation of LPL Financial, with which he is affiliated as a registered representative.
“Most of my business-specific web time is on BranchNet, because it pulls in most anything I would need to know and aggregates many other sites. I rarely use Yahoo or CNBC, and we also have an online link to a private-label version of eMoneyAdvisor [through LPL] as well as a portfolio review tool, so I don't find myself on Morningstar,” he said. He added that InvestmentNews' daily e-mail alert is his third-most-used starting point on the web, behind BranchNet and wallstreetjournal.com.
Younger advisers are taking what many older advisers consider even more “exotic” approaches in their web use and reliance. For example, many younger advisers tell me that aside from having to log in through web portals at the sites of custodians or their broker-dealers, they frequently don't even go out in search of web content on a daily basis; they have it delivered to them instead.
My confidant Bill Winterberg falls into this camp. He's a certified financial planner who maintains the technology blog fppad.com and is an operations and efficiency consultant to advisory firms.
“Adopting [really simple syndication] and using feed readers changed the way I navigate content on the Internet. Instead of bouncing from website to website, I now view content that I care about, since I'm the one that subscribed, and it is pushed to me via RSS,” he said referring to the “push” technology that delivers content after an adviser visits a site and clicks what is most often a square orange icon (with curved white lines running through it), thereby subscribing to the site's feed.
Mr. Winterberg also happens to be advanced in other ways.
For instance, he tends to browse these days with Google Inc.'s Chrome web browser rather than Internet Explorer or Firefox, and he is both a consumer of, and regular contributor to, Twitter, the microblogging site.
While the Internet, or web, however you label it, is becoming ever more unwieldy to categorize in all its permutations, it has already fully infiltrated the adviser's life to such a degree that he or she cannot live without it. Adapt or be left behind.
E-mail Davis D. Janowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.