The little conference that Joel Bruckenstein and David Drucker are cooking up in La Jolla, Calif. may be the biggest technology conference ever held on behalf of RIAs.

The Technology Tools for Today [T3] conference will run Thursday through Saturday of next week at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. It closed registration with about 425 attendees, including more than 250 RIAs and breakaway prospects. That’s up from 327 total attendees last year.

The size and momentum of T3 have convinced many people that it has become an important fixture on the advisory landscape.

Franchise event

“T3 has become the one franchise event in the industry that is solely focused on technology,” says Timothy Welsh, president of Nexus Strategy LLC of Larkspur, Calif. “Joel and David have done a fabulous job at carving out that niche and owning it.”

The T3 exhibit hall is sold out but there are still about 50 spots available for advisors who want to walk in, says Bruckenstein, who is the founder and a managing principal of the event. It runs Feb. 17-20.

The conference cost $250 for early registrants and $475 for the latest ones. Both Bruckenstein and Drucker are authors of books, and consultants to financial advisory firms that need help with technology and practice management.

The conference is intended to help advisors get ahead in improving their practices with better applications of technology. It also serves as a summit for technology firms to discuss ways to learn from each other, better integrate and work together.

LPL Financial

Almost since inception five years ago, T3 has drawn some of the big RIA custodians like Fidelity, Schwab and TD Ameritrade. Last year it added Pershing. This year LPL Financial is part of the event for the first time as it shows off its hybrid RIA platform.

Other companies that will exhibit for the first time include: Quantuvis Consulting, RedBlack Software LLC and Mimeo. Quantuvius has an online marketing tool; RedBlack makes rebalancing software and Mimeo does printing on demand.

But despite a good list of sponsors, there is a decidedly grass-roots, revenge-of-the-techies air that animates Bruckenstein’s descriptions of T3 over the telephone on a Thursday afternoon.

“Technology didn’t get the consideration it deserved at regular industry conferences,” he says.

Nighttime slot

As publisher of Virtual Office News, Bruckenstein got regular gigs speaking at advisor events over the years. His sessions regularly got bumped out of prime times into sub-prime times. The one conference moved him from a good time to a nighttime slot.

“That was the final straw,” he says. “It showed how they felt about about technology and other tech vendors felt the same way. They were being charged full freight [to exhibit] and two-thirds of the clients [at those events] were not prospects.”

Bruckenstein strives to make T3 a place where vendors have pure prospects and where participants are encouraged by the low cost. This means holding it at venues that are a bit off the beaten convention path and making it largely a no-frills affair. “We don’t serve filet mignon,” he says. [He almost apologizes for holding this year’s T3 at the posh Hilton in La Jolla but says he happened to reserve it last March when conference centers were offering fire sale rates.]

The no-filet mignon approach is fine with Greg Friedman, president of Junxure, and industry-leading CRM software company and also president of Private Ocean, an advisory practice with $650 million of assets in San Rafael, Calif.

Not a party

“It’s not a party; it’s not that kind of conference,” he says “It’s very focused. That’s why we keep going back.”

He adds that Junxure benefits from being in a place with such a high concentration of technology companies. The conference is as useful for integrating with other firms as for developing advisor prospects.

Despite the roll-up-your-sleeves atmosphere, Bruckenstein says T3 doesn’t have a geeky feeling to it. RIA firms tend to send the owner and perhaps a younger, more tech-savvy employee to the event.

IBM's Elaine Lennox will bring the concept of cloud computing down to earth
IBM’s Elaine Lennox will bring the
concept of cloud computing down to
earth

An additional draw this year is a keynote speaker, Elaine Lennox, IBM’s vice president, Dynamic Infrastructure. In this role, she leads IBM’s strategy for how clients can reduce costs, improve service levels and manage risks, by better use of technology.

She will try to explain what exactly cloud computing is and how it will aid financial advisors in years to come.

Advisors moving to a MAC

Here are just a handful of the other session subject matters at T3 that caught my eye:

1. Webinars and blogging
2. Smartphones
3. Google
4. Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Schwab on the same panel discussing their technology
5. Three advisors talking about how they moved their businesses onto MACs
6. What’s new in planning software
7. How to do due diligence on technology
8. Two young Texas Tech students talking about what they believe their elders need to do with technology for advisors