Tuesday, 25 of September of 2018

Conventional Wisdom

Having just entered the final waypoint to a new anchorage into my chartplotter I now eagerly await the beginning of sailing season on the Chesapeake Bay.  What’s really cool is that I am at the airport, killing time before my flight back from BISA’s Annual Conference.  You see, this highly sophisticated piece of software, one that can actually steer my boat to a preprogrammed destination, is on my phone – sitting right next to the BISA 2012 Conference app.

BISA 2012 Convention Smartphone App

As I thought about sharing the highlights of the conference with Wealth Biz Buzz readers, I immediately conjured up images of existing press stories trying to recount passionate keynote addresses and information-packed breakout sessions.  I felt so, been there, done that, I decided for us both to pass on summarizing (in eight hundred words or less) three days of intensive interchange.

Yet, as I stare down at my smartphone, that little blue BISA icon continues to occupy my attention.

While I couldn’t put my finger on it at first (figuratively, not literally), it dawned on me; this one seemingly innocuous application represented a sea change for our Association and, for our industry.

I developed the title for this post weeks before the conference.  Perhaps thirty-plus years in the business has heightened my cynicism to unhealthy levels, but I quite expected to report how nothing much had changed, as the topics, speakers (me included), exhibitors and conversations, were a rerun of earlier years.

To some extent, this was true.  One of my two presentations addressed “Integrating Trust and Brokerage” (click here for more on this topic).  How long have we been kicking that can down the road?  So long, it appears that quips about Groundhog Day were bandied about and, questions as to whether anyone will ever really do anything more about the topic than talk about it, dominated the Q&A.

Yet, my attention kept coming back to that little icon.

It wasn’t so much what it did, although I was highly impressed with its capabilities.  Of course I was happy not dragging reams of paper from room to room.  No more fiddling with accordion-like schedules.  I put my #2 pencil down and completed and submitted session evaluations electronically.  Granted, that was all nice, but what that little icon really represented to me was progress.  Progress, and maybe, just maybe, a more collective recognition of the compelling need for change.

There was plenty of discussion about looking forward, not backward, particularly over the past few years, when, let’s face it; banks went from revered to reviled.  There was also plenty of data underscoring what we intuitively know; there is new competition to be reckoned with; namely RIAs, Family Offices, Independent Trust Companies and Discount Brokerages.  Try as we might, we are losing ground to these ornery upstarts.

This last point further highlights the critical need for a rapid change in course (if we are to avoid the rocky shore on the other side of the fog bank).

So, I suppose this piece ends up being more of a plea; an SOS signaling the imperative need for change; a call to action, which squarely challenges the conventional wisdom of the past.  A communiqué to my compatriots, not espousing change for change’s sake, but urging you (not the other guy) to adopt a different approach to your business in the coming months and years.

The iPhone was released to the public on June 29, 2007, less than five years ago.  Think of how this one device has revolutionized the way people not only communicate, but live.  This invention, coupled with social media has literally changed world history; simply reflect on the Arab Spring or the 2008 Presidential Election.  Consider why your children don’t own wristwatches and, why Kodak is out of business, or, how I am using this tiny device to plot complicated navigational courses around the globe.  It’s hard to believe it’s been only five years.

Of course, when I started in the business, clients had to call me from a hardwired phone (remember “if calling from a rotary phone stay on the line?”) to ask for a stock quote or have a research report sent via first class mail.  Now, the technology available to me from my discount broker is as powerful as that of my financial advisor (who happens to be my wife).

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about technology; it’s about anticipating and adapting to change.  It’s about remaining relevant and competitive.  It’s about replacing the old conventional wisdom with the new.

Our industry is notoriously slow to move.  Legacy systems, cultural barriers, compensation differences, sacred cows and, yes, conventional wisdom conspire to bring progress to a mere crawl.

This lack of progress reminds me of my hometown – Washington DC.  A city where there is seemingly no lack of good ideas, but an abundant lack of courage and action resulting in frustrating and dangerous gridlock.

Thinking of being locked in a self-imposed quagmire takes me back to the cartographers of yore.  When they completed putting the known lands of the world on parchment they added vast oceans with a chilling admonition at the edge of the map – Here Be Dragons!

It was believed in those days that the world was flat and the oceans infested with sea monsters.  Yet, a few intrepid explorers didn’t accept the conventional wisdom and set out using the latest knowledge, technology and best practices to change that thinking forever.  Today, if someone told you the world was flat, you’d check the dosage of his meds!

We know what is on the other side of that fog bank, and that if we do not change course we are destined for rocky times.  As Einstein so poignantly noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

So grab the courage to take a different approach, to set sail for uncharted territory to discover the new world that lies beyond the horizon.  And, when doing so, take comfort in the fact, that BISA is there with you, lighting the way.


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