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How to Think Like a CEO and Help Clients Prepare for Transition

By Joel Redmond, CFP

“The world has changed. I see it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none who now live remember it.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

Many commonplace activities we thoughtlessly undertake today are, in fact, miracles – things undreamed of by previous generations. Think about the ease with which a highway driver can navigate a sharp turn – the force of friction keeps the car from flying across the highway and through the median into ongoing traffic. Or consider transcription software – anyone, anywhere, can publish any literary work they want a la Churchill by just speaking aloud to their digital amanuensis. Transoceanic communications previously inconceivable are now ubiquitous – and have the triumvirate flavors of voice, video and data. We hear often of the benefits of these revolutions. What are the casualties, though? How do they impact the work of wealth strategists, investment advisors, and other financial consiglieres going about their work every day about town and across the globe? To get an idea, let’s look at print journalism.

At the turn of the 20th century, the newspaper industry held illimitable dominion over the synthesis of information throughout the American landscape. In a world before computers, television, and (largely) radio, news barons like William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and Adolph Ochs reported on everything from the sinking of the Titanic, to Black Tuesday and the onset of the Great Depression, to the ascendance of the Nazi Party in Germany, to the Norman landings on D-Day. These publishers, and the editors and reporters that worked for them, were the definitive place for American citizens to get their news. Indeed, a few decades before the turn of the century, a teenage prodigy named Thomas Alva Edison became the first person in the country to found and operate a newspaper aboard a moving railroad train.

The story changed for newspapers, though. Since 2000, the newspaper industry has shrunk 40%. Some executives are forecasting that every daily paper in the country will have only 1-2 days a week of print delivery by 2018, with everything else moving online. Online revenue growth trails print ad shrinkage 10:1. And an average of 15 papers a year – about 1% of the total – shut their doors permanently. In my native Syracuse, New York, print delivery recently went from seven days a week to three days a week, and a third of the staff was let go on 31 January. These firings included one staff reporter who has been by-lining since before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

These people who have been let go are examples of the casualties of a digital war – the unseen and undiscussed aspects of our landscape that eloquently remind us that whenever our world grasps something new, it has to let go of what it was already holding onto. Beyond the immediate and obvious aspects of helping these people in transition with their financial lives, what new vantage can we gain as financial professionals from this “future shock?” There are many, but here are a few I’m thinking of:

Helping Clients Prepare for Transition

1)      Think bigger-picture. Instead of looking at specific companies, examine the industry they operate in. What is its history? What are its prospects? How does that impact how you interact and approach clients?

2)      Become a reporter yourself – and go to the source. Since we’re in an age of information, one thing you can do to make sure yours is the best possible is to minimize the distance between you and the facts you’re looking for. Going to the SEC website and looking at actual company filings instead of reading a news report about them, perusing government documents rather than reportorial summaries of them, and calling someone up and asking a question or two instead of assuming are examples of this trait – and you can use it to help give your clients more accurate and timely answers to their questions.

3)      Tell clients what’s in it for them briefly and clearly. Print newspaper-to-tablet is only one example of the video stimuli most clients are embracing today, especially Gen X-and-younger. If 1900 was the age of the four-column news scoop, 2013 is the age of the video soundbyte.

4)      Have some fun trying to predict what the next big thing will be. To do this, you have to take more than a passing glance at technology, and where it will lead us. Read the works of thought leaders. Think like the CEO of a company tasked with making everything in life better, faster, easier – for everyone. Who knows? Maybe it will help your relationship with your clients.

Trying to predict the next big thing may not help you to make your clients (or yourself) fabulously wealthy, but it may help you to spot trajectories like those of print journalism’s enough to make profitable decisions for both of you. In an age where half-lives are shrinking constantly and the flow of data is exponentially rising, this willingness to inquire, verify, and learn will divide the haves, the have-mores, and the have-nots even more dramatically than they are today – and their advisors.

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