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.

What’s Your Headline? by Beverly Flaxington @BevFlaxington

Gaining exposure through publicity, social media and PR can be very fruitful for financial advisors. In too many cases, an investor does not know how to go about finding an advisor to talk with about their investments – so they may read about someone, or see a financial expert speaking, and decide to contact them. A robust PR and publicity strategy can be a great complement to other business-building efforts.
What’s the best way for an advisor to start a campaign, or infuse an existing campaign with new energy? First, it is important to determine your budget, and decide what exactly you want to do. It is awareness building? Is it positioning yourself as the obvious expert? Is it placing yourself where potential new partners and other industry professionals will see you?
Like any marketing or business-building strategy, it is critical to know – before you do anything – what you are trying accomplish, what forums are best for what you need, and what budget you can allocate to your efforts.
The next most important thing is to understand your positioning. What do you have to say to the media? What’s your publicity platform? What’s the headline you can use that will grab the attention of the people you are targeting and reel them in to learn more about you?
There are many things an advisor can do to get broader exposure. Be sure, before you commit to anything, that you get approval from your compliance department.
Some areas to think about if you want to embark on a broader publicity campaign could be:
Identify opportunities in your local area for press. Could you write a column for a local paper (online or in print)? Could you be interviewed on the local cable station?
Find timely information in the national press and make a comment about it – this can be done on your own blog, or by writing in to a columnist or sending out a press release.
Find opportunistic places for advertising. Broad-based advertising seldom works, but running an ad in the symphony brochure, or at a local play, or for some other event can get your message to a targeted audience.
If you have the time and can do your own radio show, there are many options on Blogtalk Radio and others to have your own show. Or, if you’d prefer not to have to manage your own show, find radio stations you can contact and pitch your ideas about why you’d be a great guest.
Be sure you have an updated LinkedIn profile. Periodically post new information to keep it fresh and interesting.
Consider having a Facebook page for your business. Post interesting information about local activities, or market news.
Scan the Internet for people who are writing and blogging about topics you care about. Post comments and link back to your firm if possible.
There are many ways to get your message out there more broadly. Remember to establish what you are hoping to accomplish, how much time and money you can spend, and what you’d like to see as a result. Then pick the tactics that work best for you.
Remember, though, your headline matters. Stay consistent with your messaging and reinforce your platform points and positioning every chance you get! Repetition matters a great deal in marketing.

Financial Services Dipped In Chocolate

The UPS delivery person rings the doorbell.  I mentally inventory recent online purchases and realize with delight that it’s something unexpected.

Before I even get to the return address label, large letters grab my attention:

PERISHABLE:  ONCE OPENED, CONTENTS MAY DISAPPEAR IMMEDIATELY.

Oh good, something yummy.

Then more lettering beckons me.

INSTRUCTIONS:  CLOSE AND LOCK DOOR.  HIDE BEHIND LARGE PIECE OF FURNITURE. QUIETLY OPEN BOX.  SAVOR AND ENJOY!

I am so glad that the kids aren’t home!  I eagerly tear open to find a package of succulent chocolate covered strawberries, which I ate before even reading the gift giver’s note.

How Chocolate-Soaked Fruit Relates to Financial Services

Because Shari’s Berries delivered a memorable customer experience, it is now my top gift choice—no matter what the occasion.

Shari’s Berries is an excellent example of how packaging can convert a gift-recipient into a lifelong customer.

Packaging is anything that your client sees, feels, reads or handles.  In the financial service realm, packaging can refer to your:

–                     Office environment

–                     Website

–                     Social media presence

–                     Staff interactions

–                     On-hold messaging

–                     Marketing materials

–                     Communications

–                     Presentations

–                     Educational materials

–                     Client appreciation gifts and events

Whether the impact is more subconscious than conscious, packaging makes a difference in defining your clients’ experience.  It is one of those things that is difficult to measure, but packs a punch.  One might even go as far as to say that your packaging differentiates you from the advisor down the street even more than your expertise.

When it comes to the delivery of your services, think about your packaging. Are your written materials crisp and clean?  Do you refrain from using investment jargon?  Is your website readable and engaging?  Do you respect clients’ time as much as your own?  Are you using their preferred communication modes, (e.g., texts, e-mails, or phone calls)? Are your social media messages relevant and helpful?

The key is to take action that will evoke favorable emotions.  If you want your clients to feel secure, make sure your reception area is calm and inviting.  Guests are expected, welcomed, and greeted with green tea perhaps.  You are well prepared for meetings, anticipate their questions, and provide take-away’s that reinforce your message and reflect well on you.

Packaging can be a point of differentiation in a crowded market.  If done well, it can

Is Cash’s Crown Askew?

Mobile applications are changing everything about the American experience, and money is no exception.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project recently released a report on the future of mobile money. One of the issues the study addresses is the extent at which mobile technologies facilitate financial transactions, and the speed at which consumers are adopting the technology.

Consumers are getting increasingly comfortable with the greater access mobile technology provides to their finances. Pew’s study shows that 21% of mobile phone users use mobile banking services. Those who use mobile banking services mostly do so to check account balances and review purchase activities.

The comfort level, however, seems to have its boundaries.

Consumers show reluctance when it comes to using their mobile devices to conduct financial transactions. In Pew’s study of mobile banking service users, only 12% used their mobile device to make payments.

While the mobile payment sector races to make the technology available and easy to use, consumer concerns about privacy and security stall its adoption rates.

Unlike cassette tapes that bumped 8-track tape players into oblivion, only to experience a similar fate when CDs were introduced, cash has demonstrated incredible resilience.

There was a time when merchants only accepted cash. Then came along checks. Next it was credit cards. Now, we are entering the mobile payment era, which will emerge as another form of payment that co-exists compatibly with its predecessors.

As mobile payments gain in popularity, cash needs to watch its back. It has already lost ground. According to an April 11, 2012 Rasmussen Report survey, 43% of Americans have gone a full week without using cash or coins as a means of payment.

While many argue that cash will always have relevancy in our society, its days as king are numbered.