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There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about how tablets are going to replace laptops, and how the desktop computer is essentially dead.

Recently, the head of Apple said the new iPad Pro would replace laptops going forward. The introduction of this new $1,100 tablet got me thinking: Would it be possible for a brand-new advisor to forgo Apple’s expensive near-laptop tablet, and instead start a practice with a low-end Android tablet costing $100 or less?


To test this thesis, I looked at all of the back office administrative services that an advisor and his team have to perform. This includes using email, the phone, Microsoft Office and client relationship management software, as well as faxing, printing and copying.

I also wanted to test whether it was possible to spend only $100 (and not $100 in addition to the cost of a smartphone, desktop or laptop). After scanning the major technology online stores, it was relatively easy to find a decent Android tablet for around $100.

In fact, I saw several tablets for just over $70, which would leave an extra $20 for a small wire-
less keyboard.


There are many free and functional email services available, but I decided on as my base for three reasons.

  1. Most people who’ve created an Outlook or Hotmail address now use it to log into their Windows 10 machines.
  2. Generic email domains, such as Yahoo and Gmail, have less of a business feel.
  3. There’s a free Microsoft Office Outlook app for Android.

For those who of you who still want to use Gmail, it’s the default email app in Android and it works perfectly fine.


Most people have an existing mobile phone with a data plan, but it’s not necessary. An app called Fongo will assign you a free local number in your area. It runs off of a Wi-Fi connection and will work with almost any tablet or smartphone. More importantly, it includes basic voicemail. The app even offers the ability to text other phones (though the text option costs about $12 a year).

The app only works when you have Wi-Fi, but remember that, up until about 15 years ago, you could only make work calls from one area: your office. Wi-Fi is now available in thousands of areas. Even better, Fongo also allows you to forward your number to a different number, and it allows you to import and export phone numbers so that, if you ever get an actual cellphone, you can keep the same number.

Microsoft Office

I use the free Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Android. I used to be a big proponent of Google Drive, due to the free word processor. The reality, though, is that people are used to receiving Word and Excel documents, so it makes things simpler to create these documents directly using the free Microsoft Office apps on Android.

I also use OneDrive to store these documents and Evernote to store websites and emails (see AE, January 2015 and April 2015). To test writing and editing exclusively from an eight-inch tablet, I wrote this article on my tablet, primarily using the Swype keyboard microphone to dictate. Then I edited it using the onscreen keyboard. (I was tempted to use my wireless keyboard, but I was trying to keep the experiment as pure as possible.)


There are a couple of excellent choices for free client databases. The first is called Insightly, which is free for the first five users of an account, making it ideal for a brand-new advisor. It has robust project and task managers, so you can enter processes, procedures and tasks generated after a client meeting in the client’s history.

The second option is Podio, which has a more basic configuration but has templates that can be downloaded from the Android app store at no charge. These templates include project management, task lists and client databases. I use the paid version of Podio: it’s only $7 per user per month, and allows you to have unlimited storage space as well as more comprehensive customer support. But, the free version is still effective for the lone advisor.

Fax, print, scan

Any aspect of our business that deals with the handling of paper tends to fall down in terms of this low-cost strategy. However, it’s not as bad as you would expect.

The use of an app like CamScanner or Office Lens allows you to take a picture of a signed document, turn it into a PDF and email it. Many head offices now allow documents to be uploaded, rather than faxed. But if your dealer still prefers faxed correspondence, then services like allow you to upload documents and fax them.

Still, it’s probably better to borrow the printer at your branch office. Another alternative is to get a $100 all-in-one printer and set it up at your house.


It’s unlikely that anyone who is starting a business does not already have a laptop and smartphone. However, this project has shown me it’s easy to set up a simple, comprehensive system that does not cost an arm and a leg.

Don’t Fall for email fraud

A major phishing scheme has tricked several companies into relinquishing tax documents that exposed workers’ incomes, addresses and Social Security numbers.

The swindlers behind the tax scam are exploiting human gullibility, rather than weaknesses in computer or Internet security. They have targeted company payroll and personnel departments, in many instances with emails claiming to be requests from the company CEO asking for copies of worker W-2s.

The schemes are so widespread that the IRS sent a March 1 notice alerting employers’ payroll departments of the spoofing emails. The IRS said it has seen a 400% increase in phishing and computer malware incidents this tax-filing season.

–Associated Press

by Kevin Cork, CFP, president of and a best-selling author