Nearly 200 executives of the industry’s leading independent broker/dealers and technology providers gathered in Dallas this week for the third annual TechLeaders conference. Top themes discussed this year at the event included ways to streamline the new account opening process, enhancements to the client experience, marketing automation, and ways to drive efficiencies while increasing advisor productivity.

TechLeaders is an annual technology conference for executives focused on the needs of independent broker/dealers and how these independent firms support their advisors in the delivery of financial advice and products. Designed as a series of technology product demonstrations, TechLeaders enables IBD tech executives to sample the latest in CRM, financial planning, portfolio reporting, document management and other back-office systems critical to running a broker/dealer in today’s more complex and regulated environment, while at the same time attempting to level the playing field with bigger, wirehouse competitors.

New technology enhancements to the compliance and paper-intensive process of onboarding new clients were front and center at TechLeaders. Ninety-six percent of firms are increasing their 2014 technology investments focused on the new client process, according to industry consultant Beacon Strategies’ annual IBD tech survey released at the conference.

Advisors affiliated with independent broker/dealers will see improvements and simplification to the time-consuming operational task of opening new accounts. As an example, Laserfiche, an enterprise content management platform, showcased a “straight-through processing” solution that included workflow automation and integrations with various CRM applications to pre-populate electronic forms while utilizing digital signatures to open a new account with no paper generated.

“The faster you can bring on a new client, the sooner advisors can start generating revenue,” noted Michael Laks, head of the financial services vertical for Laserfiche.

To enhance the client experience, several technology companies were releasing new features and functionality to their platforms to better engage clients in the financial planning process. Finance Logix, for example, introduced new capabilities in mobile apps and their client portal to better link financial planning data to CRM and reporting systems. Through “widgetization,” an advanced approach to technology integration, Finance Logix is able to embed graphical financial planning analyses, or “widgets,” such as a retirement cash flow chart, right into CRM client screens and portfolio management reports.

These financial planning widgets are then interactive and can model various solutions to better explain and connect portfolio information with clients’ financial plans. “This fourth-level of integration makes a tremendous difference in advisors’ ability to engage with their clients and get them to take action,” said Oleg Tishkevich, CEO of Finance Logix.

Another top area for technology investment in 2014 will be in improving advisor productivity. Tracy Thompson, senior business development executive for Advent’s Black Diamond performance-reporting division, said there are substantial benefits to investing in technology to help advisors do their jobs.

“For firms that have invested, their advisors are able to spend roughly 70 percent of their time on client facing activities, while those firms that haven’t are only able to spend 55 percent,” Thompson said. “This equates to 250 extra hours per year, per advisor, and can make a significant difference for client retention and advisors’ ability to bring in new business.”

Large back-office technology companies such as Broadridge, Albridge, Quadron Solutions, Ipipeline and several others also took center stage at TechLeaders. Their consistent message and areas of investment were to help IBDs better manage risk in their operations and be more nimble in responding to changing market conditions.

While TechLeaders is primarily a technology showcase, there are also many opportunities for executives to mingle, network and talk about the latest industry developments during roundtable sessions, receptions and the always popular “Game Night.”

The talk of the town was the recent news regarding Morningstar’s acquisition of data aggregator By All Accounts for $28 million. This latest high-profile acquisition in the advisor tech space had the conference buzzing about the motivations for the deal and speculation about who might be acquired next.

Overall, the mood at the conference was upbeat and optimistic for a growing industry. The financial crisis that caused many delays in investments in IBD back offices a few years ago is a distant memory. Executives were in growth mode and the 2014 TechLeaders conference is a clear example of this movement to better enable independent advisors to run a more profitable and scalable business through advanced technology.

To learn more about what went on at TechLeaders, check out the many tweets on the #TechLeaders2014 hashtag on Twitter.

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.com or on Twitter @NexusStrategy.