The Washington Times-Herald

December 7, 2011

Baby boom professionals embrace video conferencing

Don McNay
CNHI

Richmond — “People get ready, there’s a change a comin’”

— Curtis Mayfield

In 1988, MONY Securities in Atlanta invited me to speak at a conference. The president of the company insisted I read an obscure book by John Watts, “The Financial Services Shockwave: Survival Tactics for Wall Street and Main Street.”

A great book in its era, Watts made predictions about how technology would change the financial world.

Some were right, some were wrong. But his best was the vision that financial advisors would someday communicate with their clients via video conferencing.

This was decades before Skype. It was at least a decade before widespread use of the Internet

Watts had an idea that I thought would revolutionize the financial services industry.

His idea seemed far-fetched and way off in the future. As former Washington Redskins coach George Allen used to say, “The future is now.”

When I read “The Financial Services Shockwave” 23 years ago, I immediately grasped how Watt’s idea would help my business.

I live in Central Kentucky. Many of the attorneys and claims professionals I work with are in places such as Washington, D.C., or New York City. It’s expensive and time consuming to visit them.

I also do business in a lot of small towns, such as Glasgow, Ky., and Terre Haute, Ind.

You can’t just hop on a commercial plane and go to Glasgow in Kentucky. When I drive to see someone in one of those cities, it’s the only place I can be that day.

As the Spinal Tap said, “It’s a great big world and there’s only one of me.”

My expertise is in obscure financial topics, such as structured settlements, qualified settlement funds and special needs planning. I realized that improved communications would open large new markets.

I saw the opportunity. But I didn’t have the technological resources to take advantage of it.

Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, I spent many years searching for a video conferencing system that would work for me. I also needed to convince the lawyers, mediators and claims people on the other end to be as technologically aware as I was.

I was the first person I knew to use email. It took me a while to find a second person. Same with Facebook, Twitter and social media. I was ahead of the curve and had to bring my customers and peers along with me.

By the time Skype came along, I had moved away from the video conferencing idea. I used Skype several times to appear on television shows (mostly in Canada) but I did not like the connection or how it looked on my computer.

Then I found a Skype television. Mine happens to be a SONY Bravia (which costs about $1,000) but there are several brands. It was simple to set up and suddenly I was video conferencing on a 50-inch screen with perfect sound.

I felt like a news anchor on CNN or Fox. I could talk to a person on the screen like they were in the room with me.

I then asked my baby boomer Facebook friends how they used video conferencing.

Former Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry is the managing partner for the law firm of Hargrove, Madden. That firm, which specializes in estate and tax planning, seems to be the embodiment of John Watt’s vision. They have an “online practice” that combines the use of internet, expertise and video conferencing.

Along with expanding their reach, they use video conferencing to save money. Newberry told me that when interviewing several attorneys for an office in another state, they conducted the initial interviews over video conferencing. They saved thousands of dollars they would have spent in travel costs.

Scott Neal, a fee-based financial planner in Lexington, is another who has embraced video conferencing in a big way. Neal, whose extensive background in accounting led him to the fee-based planning concept, has a partner in Louisville, a city with a similar background. They meet online daily and have staff meetings over video.

Video conferencing is not a new technology. But being able to do it easily and efficiently, with good quality, is new to me. It opens up new ways to communicate and grow my business. I am technologically hip for someone who grew up with slide rules and before personal computers, but there are gaps in my ability to use complex equipment.

Now communicating around the world is as easy as picking up a television remote.

A couple of decades after John Watts described it, the Financial Services Shockwave has finally arrived.

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Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond (Ky.) Register. Contact him at don@donmcnay.com.