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This ain't no Fantasyland: Tales from T3

Amid red-eyed financial geeks, our intrepid reporter spots a theme: The robo-adviser threat

Feb 12, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

By Joyce Hanson

+ Zoom

I have been asked by my editors to write one final blog post on the last day of the T3 Technology Tools for Today conference. And so as I sit here clacking away on my keyboard in the California Ballroom of the Hilton Anaheim, I would just like to take this opportunity to complain that Disneyland is a three-block walk from the hotel and I have not had time to set foot anywhere near the front gates of the park let alone Adventureland, Fantasyland or Tomorrowland.

My best hope is to enjoy the final moments of the Tomorrowland that is this year's forward-looking T3 conference, which is clearly starting to wind down. There are some tired-looking people here, many of them recovering from last night's Junxure cocktail party. I just overheard T3 co-founder Joel Bruckenstein say, “I've got to get some sleep,” as he entered the ballroom prior to introducing Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of Advisor Technology Solutions at The Charles Schwab Corp.

“Has anyone used the Domino app to create a pizza?” Ms. Hathi asks the room as she speaks of technology trends in 2014 and beyond. And then she gives us a depressingly funny statistic from Morgan Stanley: 91% of people keep their smartphone within three feet of themselves 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

The point is, the robo-adviser threat is real, she reminds us. Very, very real. And make no mistake, this isn't just the opinion of the person in charge of developing Schwab's technology for registered investment advisers. The robo-adviser threat is a subject that keeps cropping up here at T3 not only in the sessions but as advisers, speakers, vendors and media people schmooze over coffee in the exhibit hall and drinks at the glamorous Hilton bar.

(And by the way, if you haven't yet caught MoneyGuidePro chief Bob Curtis' robo-adviser act, put it on your to-do list, or at least check out the flurry of photos that always get posted on Twitter whenever Bob interviews that wacky robot in a cheap silver suit. Hashtag: #T32014)

But Ms. Hathi believes that technology will not replace the adviser: “Has Web MD replaced your doctor?” she asks. “No,” is the answer, of course, so don't worry, humans still rule, even among the mysterious Millennial generation — of which I am not a member. I've got to say that the bright-eyed university students running around excitedly and competing in the FASTech Quiz Bowl and talking about how much they l-o-o-v-v-e financial planning and tech tools … well, they're a fresh and welcoming presence here at T3. I'm sure the young Jersey guy from William Paterson University I talked to on Monday, Giuseppe, who came up a winner at the Quiz Bowl, knows all about the excellent tele-presence experience that Ms. Hathi says curved-screen TVs can deliver when the adviser of tomorrow converses online with clients.

“Did anybody go to the Consumer Electronics Show?” Ms. Hathi asks. I don't see any hands go up, but I'm curious, so I Google it. Huh, look at that. In January, the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show welcomed more than 150,000 attendees to Las Vegas. That's quite a few more human beings than the approximately 500 in attendance here at T3. I guess us #fintech folks have got another trend to keep an eye on: the consumerization of technology. See you at the next T3.

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