Going Independent: Tech Series (Part 1) – Hardware

Making the move to an independent Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) or Broker Dealer is a big decision. Many of the technology choices that have been clearly dictated by your previous company usually must be replaced with tools that fit your new, independent practice. In this six part blog series, I will cover many of the technology decisions you’ll be faced with, all of which are exciting and can add a lot of value to your clients’ overall experience if you choose carefully.

Hardware Options

As with software tools like portfolio management and client reporting systems, you have a lot of options when it comes to the hardware you will use to run your business including the following (depending on your practice):

  • PCs/Laptops
  • Servers
  • Routers
  • Firewalls
  • NAS Drives
  • WiFi

In part one of this series, I’ll focus on PCs and laptops and what you should think about before laying out the sometimes large investments needed to purchase or lease this equipment. I’ll cover the other hardware you may need in a subsequent blog post so be sure to follow the Cloud PM blogs (click Follow in the bottom right corner).

Purchase vs. Lease

Depending on the number of people in your new practice, you may need to purchase a lot of hardware. In some cases, it will make sense to lease, not purchase, that equipment but I’ve found that this is somewhat rare. The benefit of leasing is you can avoid a large initial outlay and replace it with smaller payments over time. However, that comes at a cost. You end up paying more for the equipment over time due to the financing involved. Here is a great article from Entrepreneur.com that goes into much more detail and gives some examples. Due to the additional cost and the pace at which equipment is evolving, I would avoid leasing equipment unless you have a staff of at least twenty or more.

PC/Laptop Minimum Specifications

If you had the opportunity to purchase Windows based laptops from multiple manufacturers (Dell, HP, ASUS, etc.) and opened them up, you would find they are all using similar, if not exactly the same, components under the hood. Obviously, the same is true with Apple products. The commoditization of PCs and laptops means you shouldn’t worry too much about brand name. The one differentiator between brands, however, is support. If you’ve had a good experience with one brand versus another, stick with that brand but carefully weight the premium you might pay for support when things go wrong.

What is important in your purchasing process is to understand the minimum specifications to ensure the best possible experience with your new machine. Below is a guideline that will help you narrow your choices and be the most productive.

Processor (CPU)

CPU and RAM are two of the most important factors for providing a productive environment. Intel based chips are most common and come in a variety of speeds and configurations. Get the best CPU you can afford to ensure the fastest experience especially with large spreadsheets and graphing programs:

  • Intel I7 (Best)
  • Intel I5 (Good)
  • Intel I3 (OK)

Avoid laptops that are essentially mobile devices, like Chromebooks. They are running mobile chip sets which are fine for crushing candy or a lonely game of Solitaire but won’t be sufficient to run your business.

Memory (RAM)

Memory is like the space on your physical desktop. The larger the space (RAM) – the more things you can have open on it (programs). Buying the most RAM you can afford will ensure your applications don’t slow down when you have many things open at once. Most machines allow the amount of RAM to be increased if necessary. Keep this in mind if you’re on a budget but start to experience slowness.

  • 16 GB (Best)
  • 8 GB (Good)
  • 4 GB (Minimum)

Other Considerations

  • Monitor Screen Size – I find it hard to work on a single monitor let alone a small laptop screen. However, this is going to be a personal preference. Many of the business grade tablets have up to 15 inch screens which I find just too small for series work. Due to this, and the fact that there are really no complete tablet options for business currently (Surface Pro 4 comes close but doesn’t have built in 4G capabilities) I do not cover them in this post.
  • Weight – If you plan on traveling with your laptop, even a few ounces is going to feel like pounds after lugging it through an airport all day. Go for the lightest weight system without compromising performance (CPU and RAM).
  • Storage (Disk Space) – With the prevalence of cloud-based storage and the ability to sync files to your laptop or PC, a huge hard drive is less and less of a requirement. Larger disk space configurations may not be worth the extra weight. Solid state drives have no moving parts and are very light weight making them a good option for laptops.

Security

I’ll go into more detail regarding document storage requirements for books and records and the security features required therein in an upcoming blog. For now, let’s talk about how to secure your PC and/or Laptop.

  • Whole Disk Encryption – This security feature which comes standard in Windows 10 can also be turned on for Windows 7 (with a bit more work). Once enabled, you’ll be prompted to enter a password even before your operating system kicks in. This essentially decrypts the entire hard drive to make it usable. Imagine the benefits if your laptop is stolen – without this password it will make a great door stop but that’s about it.
  • Anti-virus Software – This is a must for laptops and PCs. They protect against “zero day” viruses, meaning the ones that were introduced in the last 24 hours. Therefore, it’s not good enough just to have it installed, it must be set to automatically update at least daily. Most common brands like McAfee, Bitdefender, Symantec, or Kaspersky will work great.
  • Strong Passwords – We tend to pick passwords that are easy to remember. Unfortunately, those are the ones that are easiest for the bad guy to figure out. Use passwords that are not based on dictionary terms. I like to combine word-like phrases that don’t make much sense and then replace some letters with characters like @!#& (no, I’m not swearing at you). For example, C10udPm_B@sk3ts (no, that’s not my real password, just an example).

Your RIA or Broker Dealer will have firm requirements around security. Be sure to work with your friendly compliance analyst to ensure you are protected and to take advantage of any discounts they may have.

Are you a PC or a Mac?

Some people are more comfortable (and therefore productive) in a Mac environment. Others are more familiar with Windows operating systems. Either system will provide the support necessary to run your business. The main thing to keep in mind, however, before making any purchasing decisions is whether there are any software requirements that will prevent you from using one OS or the other? For instance, LPL’s BranchNet will only run on Internet Explorer which forced many Mac users to install a virtualization software called Parallels just so they could connect to BranchNet.

If you’re more comfortable in a Windows-based environment, you’ll have to decide between Windows 7 and Windows 10. While Windows 7 has been the default OS for most enterprises for some time, it’s inevitable that they will eventually upgrade to Windows 10. Some of the things to consider, according to this article on CIO.com, are the following:

  • Is the software you’ll want to run compatible with Windows 10? The answer is generally yes but understand your software’s requirements before picking your OS.
  • Are you concerned with the privacy issues inherent in Windows 10? Microsoft is culling much more user information with this OS which might be a concern for you.
  • Are the additional security features in Windows 10 worth engaging with a fairly unfamiliar layout (unless you’ve used Windows 8) which is geared more toward touch screens.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a lot of considerations you’ll be faced with as you set up the hardware systems in your practice. Cloud PM focuses on financial advisors like you to ensure that they implement systems that will support their growth and their clients’ experience. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you with these decisions. Also, follow our blog as we continue this series, Going Independent: Tech Series, which will cover topics such as email, document storage, CRM and much more.

 

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