Teaching Moments: Help Clients Shake the Emotional Hangovers

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

While the I-make-a-decision-and-forget-about-it approach might have worked for Harry S. Truman, it does not describe the vast majority of today’s investors.

According to our recent Brinker Barometer advisor survey[1], only 22% of advisors clients embrace Truman’s philosophy. The vast majority of clients suffer from emotional hangovers after periods of poor performance. They let the poor investment performance impact future decisions. Sometimes, it is for the better. In fact, 31% of clients made wiser decisions after learning from poor investment performance. Nearly half of the respondents, however, claimed that emotions cloud the investment decision following poor performance.

Bergin_LiveWithDecisions_7.30.14Another recent study, led by a London Business School, sheds light on how advisors can increase satisfaction by helping clients make peace with their decisions. According to the research, acts of closure can help prevent clients from ruminating over missed opportunities. To illustrate the point, researchers simply asked participants to choose a chocolate from a large selection. After the choice had been made, researchers put a transparent lid over the display for some participants but left the display open for others. Participants with the covered tray were more satisfied with their choices (6.30 vs. 4.78 on a 7 point scale) than people who did not have the selection covered after selecting their treat.

While the study was done with chocolate and not portfolio allocations, behavioral finance expert Dr. Daniel Crosby says that it can still provide useful insights on helping clients avoid what Vegas calls, “throwing good money after bad,” and psychology pundits refer to as the “sunk-cost fallacy.”

“Many clients are so averse to loss that they will follow a bad financial decision that resulted in a loss with one or more risky decisions aimed at recouping the money. If you detect that a client is letting emotional residue taint future decisions you should counsel them to consider the poor performance as a lesson learned. This will allow the client to grow from the experience rather than doubling the damage in a fit of excessive emotionality,” Crosby explains.

[1] Brinker Barometer survey, 1Q14. 275 respondents

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Reach Out in Good Times and Bad

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

It’s no secret that clients like to hear from their advisors. In fact, failure to communicate is one of the top five reasons why clients become dissatisfied with their advisor. According to a Spectrum study, 40% of clients said they consider leaving when the advisor makes them do all the work (make all the calls).[1]

A recent study by Pershing, however, shows that advisors do make the calls—when they have bad news. Here are some of the key findings when it came to communication choices.

  • 58% of the advisors contacted clients during market downturns, yet only 39% reached out to discuss market gains.
  • 68% of advisors reached out to clients when personal investments declined, while only 53% initiated contact with the client in instances when personal investments increased in value.[2]

Bergin_Reach Out in Good Times and Bad_6.19.14How News is Delivered
The telephone is the most frequently used communication vehicle for both good and bad investment performance news. A quarter of the advisors surveyed used email and face-to-face meetings to communicate market losses, while 58% of the advisors picked up the phone. The only type of communication that happened more frequently in person than any other message was in the area of education. 52% of advisors said that they scheduled face-to-face meetings to educate clients while 48% did so over the telephone.

“No News is Good News” Applies Better to Weather than Client Relationships
Communication work is fundamentally about two things: trust and relationships. Good communication can strengthen relationships and deepen trust while poor communication can have the opposite effect. The “no news is good news” approach many advisors seem to take is problematic for a few reasons. It robs the advisor of the opportunity to score relationship-building points. It also increases the risk of clients feeling neglected. Finally, it makes it more difficult for the advisor to identify opportunities proactively because they become somewhat out-of-touch with what is happening in their clients’ lives.

[1] http://www.onwallstreet.com/gallery/ows/client-switching-advisor-top-five-reasons-2681390-1.html

[2] The Second Annual Study of Advisory Success: A New Age of Client Communications and Client Expectations, Pershing.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Implementing Technology

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

You don’t necessarily need the most cutting-edge technology to get to the top of your game. According to a recent study, you can start by leveraging the technology you already have.

Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services’ 2013 RIA Benchmarking Study reveals that high-performing firms—those in the top quartile for growth, profitability and productivity—focused on smart technology and adoption, not getting the latest and greatest. These high-performing firms focus on optimizing their technology in three areas: portfolio management, service, and client reporting.

Here are ten steps you can take to make sure you get the most from your technology.

  1. Make adoption a priority. Commit putting in the time and effort to learn how best to maximize all of the system’s features. If you can’t do it yourself, make someone else in your office accountable.
  2. Plan. Learning a new software program is like learning a new language. It’s hard to know where to start. Your technology provider should be able to give you an implementation guide to show you the steps to follow, and milestones to hit.
  3. Set aside time. If you don’t carve out time on your schedule, it isn’t going to happen.
  4. Network. There are relatively few programs out there that haven’t already been tried and tested by others in similar positions as yours. Talk to everyone you know who has gone through the implementation process and find out what they did and what they wished they had done better.
  5. Gather resources. Request an inventory of the training your technology provider makes available. Once you know what they have for support materials, you can choose the format that best matches your learning style.
  6. Optimize Your TechnologyGet names and numbers. You need to have key information handy in a few different areas. Know the software name, version number, and license holder so that when you call or go online for help you can be sure you are asking about the right program. Also know the names and numbers of customer support persons at your technology provider.
  7. Troll the internet. Use social media find online user groups or other social media sites that could provide helpful implementation hints. For example, there may be a LinkedIn User Group already established for the purposes of optimizing your software.
  8. Monitor progress. Perform periodic self-checks to monitor your progress towards the goals set in your implementation plan.
  9. Celebrate incremental success. Even if you haven’t learned everything there is to know, make note of how the technology improves your efficiency. Success is a powerful motivator and will prompt you to plow through your learning curve.
  10. Provide feedback. Software engineers constantly strive to innovate. If there is something you don’t like about your program or would like to see handled differently, let them know. You may just have a function named after you in the next version!

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Why Some Fizzle, While Others Go Viral

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

Have you ever wondered why a silly email gets passed around the office, yet you can’t get a client to forward an interesting article you wrote to a colleague? Does it frustrate you that sports fails get millions of views, yet you’ve only had two people view your LinkedIn profile in the last 20 days? Ever wonder why your tweets don’t get favored, shared or retweeted?

The New Yorker’s recent article, “The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate You,” takes a stab at solving these mysteries.

The article, which cites studies conducted by two Wharton professors, reveals the common characteristics of widely shared stories. These stories or messages typically evoke an emotion from the reader, with happy pieces faring better than sad. They also create a social currency and make the viewer feel “in the know.”

Shareable stories also typically have memory-inducing triggers. They are easy to pass along because they can be found and retrieved.

Gone ViralThe final predictor of whether a story will go viral is the quality of the content itself. The Holderness family rivaled Santa himself in spreading holiday greetings because their “Christmas Jammies” YouTube video was so well done. Otherwise, over 13 million people would not have invested the 218 seconds to watch.

So before you make your next LinkedIn post or tweet something on Twitter, make sure the content you are providing is relatable to your followers and will elicit a response. Then you can begin the journey of becoming a social media influencer and setting yourself a part from the crowd.

Tech Talk: Adding Value Through Technology

Brendan McConnellBrendan McConnell, Vice President, Business Administration

I recently participated on an advisor technology panel at the 2014 FSI OneVoice event in Washington, D.C. One of the topics of conversation highlighted the number of new technologies available and what technology an advisor should consider adopting. It starts with creating a solid technology foundation.

Financial services, not unlike most other industries, is a competitive landscape where it can be difficult to separate yourself from the pack, so to speak. There are a lot of skilled institutions and personnel promoting similar products and services. Embracing the right technology is one way to differentiate yourself. Adding technology to your practice can be disruptive, but a firm with the right appetite for change finds success in transforming the customer experience. Let’s look at a few tools and concepts you should start considering adding to your business.

Adopt a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System
CRM systems are designed to help you manage your business more strategically and efficiently. They serve as the ecosystem where all relevant business data exists—from client contact information and account data, to prospect opportunities and service requests. Your CRM is the hub around which all other technology revolves. Most CRMs are now offered as cloud-based technology, giving you access anywhere on any mobile device and eliminating the need to support the technology infrastructure. The cloud delivery also makes CRM much more affordable. Use CRM systems to automate workflows and eliminate those time-consuming, manual procedures. Set up alerts so that you know when a new proposal is run or an account hits a specific threshold. Have emails proactively sent to your clients when a service case is completed or for an anniversary or birthday. Time is your most valued resource, add more of it through a properly implemented CRM system.

Adopt a CRM SystemIf you are currently using a CRM, your future technology choices should include an evaluation of integration with your system. Think of your CRM like a power strip that all other technology plugs into. This will provide you with a simplified infrastructure with one source and a single log in. If you are shopping for a CRM, take a look at your current core system, software, and platforms and find the CRM that will integrate best with your existing technology. If you follow this strategy it will eliminate the siloed technology approach, which often leads to inefficiencies.

Improve the Client Onboarding Process
As important as embracing technology is to your internal processes and procedures, it’s vital for enhancing the client experience. This is where you prove to the client that you add more value than simply serving their investment needs. A recent Fidelity RIA Benchmarking survey found that 77% of high-performing firms were focused on using technology to enhance the customer experience and satisfaction.

Client onboarding, for example, is an area worth the technological investment. Tools that allow for pre-population of forms, applications that allow secure, electronic signatures, using CRM data to customize templates—all of these enhancements create a unique and personal experience for the client. And we all know the adage “a happy customer is a loyal customer.” In addition, a paperless workflow technology can provide a tremendous amount of efficiency and process standardization that can help reduce resources required (time and money) and help eliminate mistakes.

Customization is KeyProvide Customizable Client Reports
What about the ongoing servicing of existing clients? Client reporting, much like the onboarding process, helps enhance and maintain successful relationships. Each one of your clients has an investing objective that is personal to them. You need to be able to provide them with a custom report that shows how they are measuring against their goals rather than trying to fit them into a predefined template. The one-size-fits-all model is no longer going to meet your clients’ expectations for the evolving world of goals-based investing.

The driver behind successful adoption of technology for any practice is internal participation. You must have buy-in within your organization or practice. Whether a one-man show or a team of 20, everyone has to commit in order to maintain a culture of innovation. With proper adoption of technology, enhanced client experience and satisfaction will be within reach.

Trust, but Verify

John CoyneJohn Coyne, Vice Chairman

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the 2014 FSI OneVoice conference in Washington, D.C. on a panel centered on issues related to both liquid and traditional alternative investments.  Our nation’s capital proved to be a great venue for the discussion as it called to mind the signature quote that Ronald Reagan used in his discussions with the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify.”

As the former chief compliance officer here at Brinker Capital, I was impressed by the thoroughness of the due diligence process outlined by the audience of compliance gatekeepers during their discussions about the products circulating through their companies in both the liquid and illiquid space.  It was clear that while they maintain excellent relationships with their product sponsor partners (no, they do not treat them like the evil empire), they have really elevated their game, particularly in understanding the advisor/investor motivations in determining the appropriateness of a particular investment.  It is clear that many eyes are on the investment decision as it winds its way through the Broker/Dealer pipeline.

Financial Services InstituteFSI is providing the type of farsighted stewardship that recognizes that the product manufacturers, custodians, Broker/Dealer’s and the advisors must have a common communion around the needs of the client.  Events like the OneVoice conference demonstrate that their fostering and encouragement of an effective dialogue among all these parties creates the best potential for success.

Taking care of the client…the Gipper would be proud.

Happy Holidays from Brinker Capital

Brinker Capital Executive Chairman, Chuck Widger, provides commentary on Brinker’s investment strategies in 2013, headwinds and tailwinds we will face in 2014, and his thoughts on the the current state of emerging and frontier economies.

Happy Holidays!

12 Holiday Card Musts

Sue BerginSue Bergin, @smbergin

You probably covered holiday cards in Client Communication 101. The holidays provide an opportunity to show clients you are thinking of them, and appreciate the role they play in your life. It’s important not to approach this as a “bah-humbug” type of task

Even though it may be a tedious task to undertake during the year-end crush, holiday cards are an important marketing and brand-building tool.

Here are a dozen things to consider when selecting your card:

  1. Display-worthy. Your holiday card is one of the most on-display items you’ll send to your client. After all, no matter how satisfying their investment performance, they won’t tape a recent statement to the wall. Yet, business owners hang the holiday cards in their lobbies. Company employees display them on their desks or in their cubicles. Retail clients put them along a mantelpiece, place them on bookshelves, and some even win a coveted spot on the refrigerator door. Keep the display aspect in mind when selecting your card. For example, horizontally-oriented cards tend to fall over more easily than their vertical counterparts. If it keeps falling down, it is a nuisance and will end up in the trash faster than a fruitcake.12.3.13_Bergin_HolidayCards
  2. New year, new card. Even if you have a stockpile of cards left from past years, fight the urge to use them. If you absolutely can’t resist, then only send last year’s card to new clients. Current clients just might remember, and reusing a card sends one of two messages: you are too cheap to buy new ones, or you are lazy.
  3. Awareness. Unless you know for certain of the religious holidays your clients celebrate, stick with a “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” message.
  4. Quality. There are a tremendous number of low-cost, do-it-yourself options out there. Use them cautiously. Make sure the output reflects your professional standards.
  5. Test the system. If you are using an automated system, make sure it works. Build enough time into your process so that you can generate test cards to make sure the process works (quality check addresses, salutations, signatures, postage, etc.).
  6. Destination. In most instances, you’ll want to send the card to your clients’ homes. Exceptions can be made for centers of influence and corporate clients and contacts.
  7. Old-school charms. Modern conveniences like electronic signatures and address labels hint of a mass-mailing campaign. They may seem impersonal. Take the time to hand sign each card. For bonus points, write a personal sentiment.
  8. Respect the sanctity of the time. If your standard practice is to ask for referrals every time you communicate in writing with clients, consider taking a break on the holiday card. You don’t want to leave the impression that you’re simply trying to drum up business.
  9. Timing. The later the card, the more competition it has for your clients’ attention and display space. To stand out, start early.
  10. Spice it up. Anyone can pick up store-bought cards, or pull from the standard greetings in the online templates. The result is a forgettable and insincere greeting. Be creative and design something distinctive. Take the time to select a design and message that reflects your brand.
  11. Be inclusive. Forget about selectivity. Dive deep into your CRM. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of a game of card tag whereby you scramble to get a card in the mail for someone who has sent one to you.
  12. Get personal. This is an opportunity to connect with clients on a personal level. Give details about favorite holiday memories or the traditions you hold dear.

12.3.13_Bergin_HolidayCards_1

Financial Advisors Finally Confident in U.S. Economy, Q3 Brinker Barometer Finds

We have the results of our third quarter 2013 Brinker Barometer® survey, a gauge of financial advisor confidence and sentiment regarding the economy, retirement savings, investing and market performance.

For the full press release, please click here, but in the meantime check out the infographic below for some of the highlights:

BrinkerBarometer3Q2013_WebFINAL

Will Advisors Get to The Promised Land?

Sue Bergin,Sue Bergin@smbergin

The maturation of the baby-boomer generation turned into a bit of a “promised land” for advisors.  New products, services, specialties and strategies were devised better to serve this massive market.  Advisors, along with the rest of the financial services industry, eagerly waited the fees, commissions, and product sales that would naturally flow as boomers prepared for, and transitioned to, retirement.  Everyone was ready, but will those who were promised ever even reach the so-called promised land?

In an article (subscription required) published in Financial Planning, “Advisor Threat? Wave of New Online Services Incoming”, Charles Paikert reports the influx of venture capital and clients flocking to the online advisory space. Many of the services who have staked a claim on the promised land are getting clients before advisors even get in the door.  Financial Guard is an example of a service offered directly to individual investors/employees.  It provides advice and recommendations to employees on their 401(k) portfolios.

10.30.13_Bergin_PromisedLandWhile these services are arguably tapping into a segmented market, it is important to note the increase in their popularity.  However great the rise, it does not diminish the experience of working directly with a financial advisor. Let’s take a look at some of the applications and services with a presence in the online world:

  • SigFig, a mobile application that tracks, organizes, and makes recommendations on financial assets garnered $50 billion in assets managed in just nine months after the app launched.[1]
  • In February 2013, online investment company Betterment had amassed $135 million in assets under management, investing on behalf of 30,000 users.[2]
  • Online wealth management firm Personal Capital amassed $120 million in assets under management, 75% of which came in the first quarter of 2013.  The firm continues to add $20 million to its platform monthly.[3]
  • Jemstep, which provides recommendations on retirement goals, has attracted 10,000 users and tracks approximately $2 billion in assets.  It has only been up and running since January 2013.

These new entrants are a prime example of what late British author and psychologist Havelock Ellis had to say about the promised land—It always lies on the other side of the wilderness.


[1] TechCrunch, “Financial Planning App SigFig Crosses $50B in Assets Managed Though the Platform,” 1/14/13

[2] Pandodaily, “With 135 million in Assets Under Management Betterment Lures Two Key Hires Awa From Traditional Finance.”  2/12/13

[3] Pandodaily, “Wealth management isn’t for old farts anymore.  Personal Capital uses technology and design to spice up a boring topic.”  4/11/13