Doug Fritz: The Surfing CTO

Written by: John Swolfs | Chief Content Officer at Advisor Circle

If you’re on the boardwalk at the Future Proof Festival this September and can’t find Doug Fritz, founder of technology consulting firm F2 Strategy and a former wealth management chief technology officer, look out in the water. He’s probably surfing. 

Doug operates out of Santa Cruz, California, the other “Surf City USA,” so it’s only natural that the longboarder would draw from surfing terminology, like swell, tides, waves, wind and the impromptu “board meeting,” at various points in our conversation. He’s not the only surfer in wealth technology, but he may be one of the most eloquent when it comes to explaining the parallels between surfing and advisor technology.

In both worlds, it turns out, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.

Future Proof: For people who aren’t familiar with surfing, they might look at the ocean and think, “Well, there’s a wave that hits the shore every so often, so that means that there’s surf. And it can’t be that hard to stand on a massive 9-foot platform, so I’m going to paddle out.” But there’s a lot more going on in surfing, just like there’s a lot more going on with advisor technology. How would you describe the similarities between advisor technology and surfing?

Doug Fritz: Let’s start with what surfing looks like from the land. You walk down to the beach and everyone’s standing around, looking at the surfers in the water. There are waves and the surfers catch one every so often. You feel like you could just jump in the water and join them. 

Surfing looks like this blissful thing. Surfers don’t appear to be doing a lot of thinking. They don’t appear to be doing a lot of calculation and preparation and activity. But it’s an all-encompassing activity, even if it looks like you’re just out there, stoned with your feet in the water.

There’s so much that actually goes on, in terms of preparation, activity, discipline and an awareness of surroundings. The best surfers have knowledge about the ocean and winds and tides and currents, the ocean floor, who’s around you and the other surfers’ abilities and what you should expect them to do versus what you are going to do.

FP: How does that relate to advisor technology?

Doug: It’s similar to the experiences that advisors have with technology. They experience technology as a consumer or a professional, which builds expectations around technology. It’s like standing on the beach. 

There’s a vast difference between seeing something that looks easy versus being good at it and doing it. There’s so much more depth than most people appreciate. 

It’s not uncommon to hear advisors or presidents of wealth management firms get really frustrated with their technology. They’ll point out that they can pick up their phone and book a reservation to Paris in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, it’ll take an hour to answer a client’s question about their money. 

But advisor technology is like surfing. You have to practice it, to get good at it. A lot of people just sit there, waiting for the perfect solution to drop into their lap. To make life easy. There are a lot of vendors out there convincing you digital’s easy—and they kind of all suck by the way. 

Digital isn’t easy. It takes discipline. You have to get your data right. You have to think about experience. About workflow. When will your client be online? What will that experience look like? What if something goes wrong?

It takes way longer, and way more money, to make great technology. You have to pick the things that you’re great at and make sure they’re aligned with your mission and what people expect from you. 

FP: The surfing analogy isn’t over yet, is it?

Doug: It’s not. You need to focus on what matters. It’s like the tides and swell direction. I’m a longboarder. What do I care about? I care about the tides, because the great longboard waves are going to break on reefs at low tide. They’re going to break for a longer period of time than a beach break. 

The beach break’s going to break no matter what. But a great longboard wave is only going to break during a certain part of the day, when the tides and swell direction are right. 

It’s intentionality and focus.

It’s a good correlation to surfing. Technology and surfing are both harder than they look. And if you focus on a couple of things, you’re really going to make your experience better.

FP: There could be another comparison. You describe the role of Chief Technology Officer as a lonely position. When you’re out there surfing, it’s just you, alone. Is that a fair parallel?

Doug: A wealth management CTO has to be really good at two things: gaining the confidence of the executive team on the business side and getting the most out of the technology. You’re trying to serve two different worlds. 

The best CTOs have to have a business mind, understand the wealth management industry, and also how to push vendors and negotiate contracts. 

You end up sitting between two worlds, which is what makes it really lonely. You’re the only one in the organization that has all that information—and all the accountability that comes with information security and making sure vendors deliver on their promises. And you’re left to translate it yourself and get that information to other people. 

You’re not necessarily competing against other CTOs. In fact, the CTOs that we work with are phenomenally collaborative. It’s a support group. It feels more like group therapy than anything.

To correlate it to surfing, when you’re out there, you’re by yourself. What happens on your watch is going to be on your shoulders. And there’s a ton of people watching. But there’s camaraderie between CTOs. It’s like a line up of CTOs. 

FP: I really hope you’ll find some time to catch a few waves at Future Proof.

Doug: We talked about that. We talked about doing a “board meeting” in the morning, where we rent some surfboards and paddle out in the morning. I’d love to do a fintech “board session.” 

FP: In addition to surfing, what are you looking forward to at the Future Proof Festival? 

Doug: It’s going to be different—not one giant commercial for a few firms. I’m excited to hear about innovation that’s actually happening. Three or four years ago, conference attendees talked about innovation as if it was this undeniable, easy-to-achieve thing that anybody can do. That got disproven quickly.

There are firms out there doing some really cool shit. Finally, there’s evidence that firms are growing through their use of technology. They’re making good technology decisions. I want to meet the people working in those firms. 

Register for the Conference here.

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