I started working with T3 co-founders David Drucker (now retired) and Joel Bruckenstein in the early years. They had a PDF newsletter that we emailed to people. plus they were writing articles for the industry trade publications, speaking on the topic of technology and applied practice management at NAPFA and FPA events and so forth.
People started asking them to do a small conference or summit that would bring together the best and brightest in the financial services industry to problem solve and share ideas related to being paperless and virtual.
Their book, Virtual Office Tools for a High Margin Practice, came out in 2002. So I guess it was 2004 when the first conference was held – but it was more like a summit or a retreat and less like a conference, and it wasn’t called T3 (that came later). All the pioneers and innovators were there at the first summit. It felt like a tribe. Deena Katz. Harold Evensky. Bob Veres. Julie Littlechild. Richard Sincere. Bob Clark. Evan Simonoff. Mary Malgiore. Sheryl Garrett. Bob Curtis. Deborah Fox. Plus, a handful of companies that were promoting a product or a solution. I was a bit in awe of the people who made the trek.
In the early years, it was pretty basic when it came to meeting space, accommodations, and food. There was a pretty tight budget. Not a lot of frills. Lots of “let’s go dutch” dinners. Once, when we were in Miami, a little white mouse kept scurrying around the lobby so that became the running joke. Someone said the shower head burst off and hit them in the head one morning so that became a running joke, too.
Going paperless was a big theme in the early days. Companies that specialized in helping advisors to digitize (scan) their paper files were really interested in sponsoring the events.
In the early years, like most conferences, the expectation was that product/service providers would stand in their booths and convince advisors to buy their stuff. But I guess it was about 10 years ago, as the numbers grew, that we began to see that people were thinking of what was then known as T3, Technology Tools for Today, gatherings as a “water cooler opportunity” – you could just hang out, share ideas, pick brains, concur up crazy ideas, and break bread together. Everyone left feeling better. Less alone. More connected.
Innovations and mergers started happening as a result of the T3 gatherings. The watering hole became a place where people would connect one year then announce a major deal the next year. Case in point, when Envestnet bought Tamarac and announced on day 1 of the T3 gathering that the ink was dry.
Fast forward to today. It’s not often you find such a rich environment for everyone in the financial planning / wealth management ecosystem to talk about challenges, collectively envision and work toward a better future. It doesn’t really matter if you are on the “sell side” or the “buy side” — in fact, many attendees are both.
Advisors started cooking up solutions for their own practices then deciding they should offer those solutions to the larger financial planning and wealth management ecosystem. Examples: Greg Friedman / Junxure. Kevin Lozer and Roger Pine / Holistiplan. Michael LeCours / fpPathfinder. Andrew Altfest / fpAlpha. So sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s who milling around in the exhibit hall and sessions when it comes to categorizing whether someone falls into the “advisor bucket” or the “solutions bucket.”
Of course, custodians and IBDs started to pay attention and support the gatherings. I remember one year where Fidelity brought a “robot on wheels” and it would roll up and talk to you via an iPad that served as a face/speaker. People were stunned. But in reality, I think, there was someone with a joystick behind a curtain controlling the interactions – not driven by AI like we have today where GPT-4 will apologize to you if you call it out and/or tell you it’s not human and does not have feelings.
There was a lot of excitement from tech companies and advisor / innovator chameleon innovators about T3 being an event for them to meet their peers, share roadmaps and discuss partnership / integration possibilities. This has long been the case and I believe it will continue to evolve.
Here’s another fresh take from two RIAs who attended T3 for the first time in 2023 – Bridget Grimes and Katie Burke, co-founders of Equita Financial Network (www.EquitaFN.com), who now lead a network for other women advisors:
I think it’s important for other women advisors to see other women advisors and, well, women in general, participating at and commenting on the event. It’s not all nerdy, boring techie stuff. And in 2023 we saw a wide array of sessions and exhibitors that did not fit the traditional tech company mold. Case in point: Clint Arthur and Celebrity Entrepreneur. I imagine more than “just” advisors would be interested in his mastermind programs.
Sure, it was mostly tech stuff, but here and there Joel and the conference planning team threw in a little surprise. For instance, Bob Curtis, who received the T3 Lifetime Achievement and Innovation in Technology award, and proceeded to hold the audience captive as he walked across the stage barefoot, in khaki shorts, topped off by a sequined jacket that reminded me of something from the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Bottomline: When I think back about the 2023 T3 Conference in Tampa, one word comes to mind: community. And I expect the 20th anniversary celebration to epitomize that word and embody the spirit of all that has led up to this big and important milestone.