Not Who You Think by Michael Zebrowski, Chief Operating Officer, eMoney Advisor

When asked to identify their most formidable competition, most advisors point to the advisor with the fancy office, lots of back-office support, fully integrated technology, and the book-of-business torn from the society pages. While such advisors do pose a threat, they probably are not enticing your clients so much as the computers those clients have on their desks.
The digital era has transformed the investment landscape, including the way in which clients manage their financial lives. More and more comfortable with online services for education and information, clients are intrigued by how well technology can help them organize their financial worlds, and they are migrating to direct-investment platforms, such as Fidelity Brokerage Services, LLC, The Vanguard Group, Inc., Charles Schwab & Co, and TD Ameritrade, Inc.
This trend is probably more pronounced than one might imagine:
• According to Cerulli Associates, Inc., direct-investment platforms grew from $2.6 trillion in 2008 to slightly under $3.7 trillion in 2010. This increase represents a two-year growth rate of 19%.1
• In contrast, the growth rate for the traditional channel, over the same period, was only 14%. Cerulli ranks direct-investment platforms as the second biggest distribution channel after the wire houses.2
• This direct platform growth happened organically and did so in spite of a lackluster market. In 2000 eTrade and TD Ameritrade had combined assets in the $53 billion range. In 2011 they accounted for nearly $426 billion in assets.3
Growth Drivers
There are a number of factors driving the growth of personal financial management platforms, including investments made in some key areas:
• Advertising and Marketing. With nearly $1 billion a year spent on advertising and marketing combined, self-directed investment platforms have become media darlings.4 No matter what information your clients seek on the Internet, they are likely to come across an ad or sponsored material from a personal financial management provider. The same goes for watching television, reading magazines or books, or driving on the highway. Direct-investment platform ads are everywhere. With so many dollars fed by personal financial management providers into both new and old media channels, no wonder anti-advisor headlines such as “Financial Advisors Are Biased, Study Finds”5 are on the rise.
• Education. Successful personal financial management sites have incorporated “research amenities” and robust client educational materials. When a consumer enters a certain section of the website, educational content appears. Users do not have to search for more information. It is just a click away.
• Technology. Personal financial management sites are focused solely on the consumer. Made as simple as possible, they are straightforward, intuitive, and interesting. They make trading easy and inexpensive.
• Client Service. While the sophistication of the support is debatable, one point is irrefutable: “help” is waiting in the wings 24/7. Many of the top self-service investment platforms have made enormous investments in call-center infrastructure to ensure that financial professionals are available at all times to answer customer inquiries.
The increase in personal financial management systems is a trend to watch. Clients, however, will always need financial advice. Their desire to work with a knowledgeable professional, someone who can help remove obstacles and keep them on the path to fulfilling their goals, will endure. As life gets more complicated, the need to work with a trusted financial professional will only increase.
The content above is from Michael Zebrowski of eMoney Advisor has not been produced by Brinker Capital, nor does Brinker Capital make any claims or warranties to its accuracy. Views expressed are those of Michael Zebrowski of eMoney Advisor and do not necessarily reflect those of Brinker Capital.

SOURCES:
1 Osterland, Andrew. “Advisers blind to threat of direct investing, study shows.” Investment News.
February 21, 2012.
2 Ibid.
3 Pew Research, 2010.
4 The Nielsen Company, 2009.
5 Berlin, Loren. Huffington Post. March 27, 2012.

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