Unanticipated consequences

By Ed Morrow

Intl. Assoc. of Registered Financial Consultants

As you are reading this, I am headed for Taipei and the ceremonies of the International Dragon Awards, where I will present to Chinese-speaking financial advisors, agents and managers of companies and offices serving the Asian public. Last month, I was featured in an article in Popular Financing, the largest consumer magazine published in China. The readers were trying to understand if the failure of U.S. institutions was permanent or a temporary aberration. Should they save more or continue to enrich their lives with the fruits of modern commerce -- clothes, cars, computers and several cell phones.

The interconnection is also political and media related. What happens in Germany affects the markets in Hong Kong and New York -- and the retirement accounts of everyone in between. How do you stay current? Where do you get your news? How can you tap into accurate views in order to shorten your personal research by properly digesting the events and trends?

The solution?

I don't have the answer, of course. I have found that the pretty, smiling faces on TV are often distorting the news and cutting out the relevant facts, constantly trying to tell me how I feel and what is important, as if some 25-year-old actor really understands their historical and economic significance or how more mature persons will eventually react to these calamitous events.

How about the tube?

TV does not give you the time to evaluate. It swiftly marches on to new topics, as if to say, "Been there, done that, told you what to think and now on to another issue -- and of course, a message from one of our sponsors on some new expensive product the absence of which will make you a social pariah..."

So I've been reading various magazines and journals, some of which I do not always like, but which offer facts and views that are challenging. There is also a lot of good stuff on the Internet. The problem is how to winnow out all the junk. I know that "greenies" would not like this, but often I print an article, so I can read it more easily, and leisurely reflect on the topic, rather than be distracted by blinking messages.

Is print dead?

No, but it is morphing into publications that focus on a narrower range of topics. Is TV dying? No, but it is changing. I don't think the digital format is a secret plot to create channels to spy on us, but it will bring a far more enriched form of distribution -- one that will challenge your senses and your subliminal mind.

Media of the future

I received a phone call from Dennis Wielech, who happened to use a very ancient computer system at the same time that I did, back in 1969. It was called the KeyPact, and it fit into a hard-shell Samsonite briefcase. The KeyPact terminal was capable of scanning about 68 pieces of data, converting preset numbers into sound. The first eight digits were for identification and billing, while the next 60 were numbers that related to solving a financial problem or measuring the taxation of certain moves.

The early users, such as Dennis and I, would carry the terminal to a prospect's home or office, enter the 60 digits, dial an 800-number to connect with a giant IBM 360 in Atlanta, and receive an audible tone. Then we would place the prospect's phone handset into a rubber acoustical coupler and press a button to scan the numbers. The Computone Systems (based on mathematical models developed by the actuarial firm of Bowles, Andrews & Towne) would recite numbers in a robotic voice: one, seven, four, etc. We would feverishly copy them onto a pad that was formatted for the particular problem. Then we'd show the results to the prospect and write much larger insurance or investment applications.

With this tool, I increased my production four-fold and gravitated into financial planning. So I am forever grateful to the KeyPact for helping me to realize the power of computers and the need for and the ability to deliver comprehensive solutions. I also realized that when I brandished a computer-generated conclusion, it was accepted with great credibility. I became "as smart as IBM."

But Dennis reacted very differently. He was concerned about the limitations of the data and the voice. Why couldn't the airwaves send both data and sound at the same time? Why should you have to plug your KeyPact into an electric wall outlet and then insert a wired phone into the ill-fitting coupler? Why not just do everything in one small unit? No wires, all on the Ethernet. Just as I did not stop with the KeyPact and simple illustrations transcribed onto pre-printed pads, Dennis did not stop his creative mind. He developed the tool we all use today -- the mobile cell phone. Every unit in the world employs some of the 3,000 patents that were granted to Dennis and his associates.

And he has not stopped with that success. He is now developing three dimensional TV. You say, "That cannot be. It isn't possible to create a three dimensional effect on a flat screen." You might have also said in 1970 that nobody could ever build a telephone that has no wires, weighs a few ounces and contains all the computing power and color display of an iPhone or BlackBerry. But what about head-mounted displays (another of Dennis's inventions) that create a personal visualization environment?

Back to the problems of the world. They are nothing. We have solved them before and we will solve them again. The fertile mind of inventors will create solutions to challenges we do not yet even fully understand. We will overcome doubt and manipulation -- and so will your clients -- with your guidance.

We are truly fortunate to be able to help so many, and to deliver real value in this world. In the midst of this growing complexity, our clients need ethical, caring and competent advisors.