Uber is killing the taxi cab, Amazon is overtaking retail and Netflix is dominating entertainment, but it is the cell phone that makes this all possible. The threat from digital disruptors only became pervasive when technology took the huge leap of becoming portable. The biggest danger to your business is the cell phone resting in your client's pocket.
We consume almost every imaginable service via our mobile devices — we shop for everything from shoes to cars, to vacations; we assess our home values, read, research and entertain ourselves. We share our lives and interact with the world on a daily basis through our portable computers. The structural change this brings to all commercial ventures cannot be overstated.
COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE DIVIDE
Phones and tablets are changing how we consume products and services in three key ways:
1. We educate ourselves and form opinions before we buy. A referral from a friend used to be enough for most consumers. But today we trust Google as much as we do our friends. I recently had to replace some windows in my house. I asked friends for recommendations, but I used the internet to validate what they'd suggested. I learned about different products, compared different vendors and negotiated the pricing and installation. When was the last time you made a major purchase without researching the alternatives and educating yourself online?
2. We have answers at our fingertips instantaneously. We used to rely on the print newspaper to tell us today what happened yesterday. Now we're notified instantly by multiple sources in audio, video or written form. We have grown accustomed to instant answers and instant consumption. Uber tells us exactly where our driver is and airlines alert us via text the moment there's a delay in our flight. No one has to wait for information anymore.
3. We expect easy, interactive solutions. We are all programmers. When we create a playlist, use Google maps or schedule a vacation on Expedia, we are using highly interactive software that guides us through the process of programming a solution for ourselves.
NARROWING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
There are three imperatives to building the mobile-friendly advisory firm of the future:
1. Manage your online reputation. Your online image is as important as what your physical office looks like. Googling yourself and your firm, assessing the impression your firm leaves and ensuring your deliverables are consistent with what consumers expect are crucial steps to success. Clearly articulated services, carefully aligned brand-positioning and meticulous and immediate responses to online commentary are imperative to competing in a mobile world. Potential new clients will reach a decision before they even have a chance to meet you.
2. Meet people where they live. Many advisers still force in-office client meetings. That's not how most people interact with the world anymore. Social media, instant messaging and video conferencing offer a plethora of convenient ways to stay in touch and keep informed. Perhaps the first couple of client meetings require in-person interaction, but ongoing advice must be more dynamic. Consumers want answers the moment they have questions. And they need to be able to see all of the components of their financial lives—not just investments—whenever they want. We are an on-demand economy. Your systems must support that.
3. Give your clients the controls. The world has become one of collaboration and personal involvement. It is incumbent for the adviser of tomorrow to use technology to simplify the client's financial life and help them design their own voyage. Could your clients tell you all the components of their financial plan without asking you? Can they change the assumptions and evaluate what happens without your help? Can they easily find information on their phone whenever they want? Ensuring the final mile to the consumer is easy to use and simple to adjust will not only empower your clients, it will make you indispensable to them.
INTO THE ABYSS
It's easy to gauge whether you will fall into the digital abyss or soar over it. Are your clients' phones connected to you even when they aren't talking to you? In the next few years, they'd better be or you could become tomorrow's video store owner: providing content everyone wants but in the wrong format.
Joe Duran is chief executive of United Capital. Follow him @DuranMoney.