With so many conference choices from vendors, custodians, and user groups, you probably have one on your calendar or plan to sign up for one. Whether it’s a technology conference or a conference that showcases technology, you probably look forward to learning about new software and other tools that boast a high ROI.
But the conference itself is an investment. Perhaps you won’t be able to calculate an ROI from your attendance, but there are ways to ensure a successful learning experience. Whether you are a first timer, or have attended technology events in the past, you will appreciate the following guidelines to make your investment a good one.
The technology world is much bigger than the common tools – We all know about CRM, financial planning, portfolio reporting, and re-balancing tools. You may already own one or more of these. This is a great forum to learn about other technology products, including document management solutions, portfolio risk management software, and a variety of apps. This isn’t just about the future of technology, but the future of your firm.
The best part of conference sessions is at the end – I’m talking about the question and answer session. This is when you learn what the technology can and can’t do. Sessions tend to be general to appeal to a wide audience. The questions get more specific and are from people like you whose firm may be in the same situation, leading to a good networking opportunity.
Don’t just wander through the rows of vendor exhibits – Have a plan. Do at least two rounds of exhibits, each with a specific goal. For example, during the first round, you can concentrate on your firm’s needs and then focus on emerging technologies during the second round.
Refrain from asking how much the technology costs – Each vendor prices differently. It takes time to prepare an apples-to-apples comparison of prices and services. Factors affecting costs include firm needs, outsourcing services, custom report capabilities, number of users, number of accounts, and AUM.
Buzzwords to be wary of:
Integration – Advisors love to hear the word so vendors keep saying it. But the context may not be correct. For example, while evaluating software with an advisor, a vendor stated that his software “seamlessly integrates with other software through csv”. After much prodding, the vendor finally admitted that the advisor needs to export the data to a csv file, then, go into the other software to import the file. While not an issue, it is not “seamless” as stated. To be safe, ask for a demo of how the integration works.
Customizable –Don’t worry about customizing until you know your needs well enough and know which needs won’t be supported by the technology. The evaluation process will determine this.
Best and Most Popular – If this were a popularity contest, every vendor would claim to be the queen bee. Don’t worry about other’s perceived notion about the best. You are looking for the best solution for your firm.
Want a real return on your investment? Network with peers – It’s one thing to hear vendors tell a story – it’s more effective if your peers tell it. If you’re wondering how useful portals are to clients, ask other firms what percent of their clients use the portal. If you’re considering outsourcing, ask others about the differences in managing outsourced staff versus managing in-house staff. If you’re thinking about reducing your firm’s emphasis on performance data to your clients, seek out firms that dealt with the issue so you can benefit from their experience.
When you are back at the office, show your firm the results of your investment in the conference.