TD Ameritrade Institutional’s annual conference in San Diego, CA was the place to be for advisor technology this week.

Over 3,000 attendees gathered for three days of content, networking and parties, with a key focus on how technology will streamline the way advisors operate their businesses.

Inside the jammed exhibit hall, the big asset custodian featured 45 technology companies who have integrated their systems into TDA’s core brokerage platform and advisor workstation, called Veo.  These innovative technology firms covered all aspects of an advisors’ back office, from CRM systems, to portfolio management tools, to financial planning applications to document management software to mobile apps and many others.

“Advisors today are faced with more client demands, a changing regulatory environment, increased competition for talent and as a result, increasing costs,” said Jon Patullo, managing director for technology for TD Ameritrade Institutional in his opening remarks from an entertaining and engaging session on ways advisors can use technology to enhance their value proposition.  “The solution here is to apply technology in smart ways so you can become more efficient in providing client service and processing business.”

The results, if advisors do, are quite dramatic.  “Top performing firms are able to spend more of their time with clients, and on average generate 3.5 times more revenue,” Patullo noted.

Patullo is overseeing the Veo Open Access initiative, a multi-year project to provide an “open API” platform for third-party technology applications to integrate with to streamline the flow of data between systems and minimize manual processes and data entry.  The open API approach, similar to how Apple has enabled hundreds of thousands of Apps to be available on its iOS operating system for mobile devices, has won several industry awards and has given TD Ameritrade a sizable lead over rival custodians in the technology integration arena.

According to industry tech guru, Bill Winterberg of Fppad.com and featured panelist, the speed of deployment for the technology integrations has been quite remarkable due to the open API approach.  “In less than 3 years, Veo Open Access has gone from concept stage to 40 vendors live on the platform and a total of 60 in development.  That is truly remarkable for an initiative of this size, scale and scope.”

While there were a number of topic areas discussed during the session, a key theme and issue area for advisors was the use of file sharing services.  These online applications, such as Drop Box, enable an advisor to share documents and files with clients as well as collaborate online with other professionals, including CPAs and attorneys. 

The convenience and collaboration of these file-sharing services have been a real benefit for advisors by eliminating the need for multiple emails back and forth as well as being able to manage edits and changes to automatically synchronize versions of documents. However, due to the risk of confidential client information being exposed, security is also a top concern. 

“There will always be a conflict between usability and security,” said industry technology expert, Joel Bruckenstein, publisher of the popular Technology Tools for Today (T3) newsletter and organizer of the advisor industry’s leading technology conference.  “There are holes and pathways that private, confidential information can be accessed by hackers, so advisors need to insist upon strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.”

When asked by an advisor how detailed the security process should be, Winterberg quipped, “If it is inconvenient for your clients to access, then you know it is secure.”

Another key area of discussion centered around client service workflows and ways to systematize and automate them.  Key to that process is a focus on leveraging workflow tools that exist in advisor purpose built CRM systems, such as Junxure.  “Advisors need to standardize their processes so that they are not constantly reinventing how things get done in their businesses and can provide a consistent experience,” said Winterberg.  “Once these processes are established, then you can automate those workflows, embed them in your CRM and build structure around how you deliver advice and service to your clients.”

The conference also featured dozens of sessions and workshops on how advisors can incorporate social media into their businesses, compliantly.  These sessions included ways advisors can stay active on social media and generate relevant content as well as the “do’s and don’ts” of social media networking and engagement.

While the conference was packed with practice management content and inspirational, famous speakers such as Condoleeza Rice and Malcom Gladwell, there was also ample time for networking over breaks, dinners, late nights at the hotel bar and a popular final night party that featured 80’s rock star, Pat Benatar. 

To learn more about what went on at the conference, check out the twitter feed under the hash tag: #TDAI2013.

Timothy D. Welsh, CFP® is President and founder of Nexus Strategy, LLC, a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry, and can be reached at tim@nexus-strategy.comor on Twitter @NexusStrategy.