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

Gain Access and Build Trust

Sue BerginSue Bergin

A training manual from a decade ago may have highlighted the importance of mapping your traits to one of three communication styles: aggressive, passive or assertive. Awareness of your own communication style helps you understand how others perceive your interactions, and allows you to adapt your approach with clients who have different styles.

While the advice is still relevant, there is another communication style to consider—mobile.

The mobile communicator believes in access. He or she should be accessible to clients 24/7, and vice versa.

Advisors with a more aggressive communication style should be able to alter their style when working with passive clients, but they must also demonstrate flexibility to move across the mobility spectrum.

Spectrem Group recently reported that 55% of high-net-worth clients use mobile devices to correspond with their advisors.[1]  Most mobile devices offer a variety of communication methods including telephone calls, text messages, e-mails, video chats, and social networking.  How do you know which is the best to use with which clients?

1.19.13_Bergin_GainAccess_BuildTrustThe answer is quite simple. Don’t make assumptions. Find out if the clients want their appointments confirmed via text, e-mail or a phone call. Do they want newsletters and routine correspondence delivered in their mailbox at home, or their inbox? Would they prefer Skype sessions in lieu of face-to-face meetings? Is the landline number you have on file in service, or are they exclusively mobile users?

Adjusting to your clients’ communication method of choice will win you favor in a highly valued category. According to a recent survey, clients are more forgiving of poor investment advice from their advisor than they are of poor communication skills.

25% of the survey respondents indicated inaccessibility and unresponsiveness as the top reasons for lack of trust in a financial advisor. Coming in a distant second, at 13%, was poor investment advice. The third most prevalent reason for losing trust in a financial advisor was the lack of a personalized approach.

As with behavioral nuance, you must learn to respect other styles and adjust accordingly. By using your clients’ preferred communication methods, you will gain efficiency and build trust.

Budgets Get an Extreme Makeover

Sue BerginSue Bergin

The tight economy and some hip personal financial management tools have done the impossible.  They’ve made budgets sexy.

No one ever used to admit that they liked to budget.  Creating a budget was tedious and uncool; sticking to it was even harder.  Thanks to recent technology, however, budgets are being seen in a new light. Today’s economy has made it necessary for more Americans to know, with certainty how much money they have coming into and going out of their household.  As consumers delve into the budgetary process, they are realizing it isn’t nearly as overwhelming and time consuming as they may have thought.

A recent study showed that most Americans follow a spending plan. Nearly half (48%) say they “loosely” follow a budget.  25% “strictly” adhere to their budgets.” Only 27% say they have no budget at all.

Household income is the primary determinant of whether someone will commit to the budget discipline.  36% of those who earned under $30,000 annually followed a budget faithfully.  Only 18% of earners whose salaries exceed $75,000 a year were as vigilant about the budgetary process.

Personal financial management sites such as Mint, Betterment, MoneyDesktop, Yodlee and PNC Virtual Wallet have given the budgeting process an extreme makeover.  They’ve simplified the budgeting process, brought it to life, and even made it fun.  Financial planning software such as the offerings by eMoney Advisor and MoneyGuidePro includes budgeting tools that make it easy for financial advisors to offer an insightful analysis to their clients on how to maximize savings and create user-friendly budgets.

The key innovations that have revolutionized the budgeting process are account consolidation, aggregation and automated expense characterization.  Once accounts are linked and tracked in many of these services, the expenses are automatically pulled in, categorized, and updated regularly.  This simplifies the task of routine budgeting and offers huge relief when it comes time to preparing mortgage and loan applications.

The transparency these services offer into actual spending habits may also be behind the positive ranking survey participants gave to inquiries about their financial holdings.  Nearly half (47%) claimed to know their checking and savings account balances, and 48% have a “rough idea.”  Only 5% say they “do not know”.

When it comes to spending, 36% say they can calculate the “exact amount” while 58% has a “rough idea” of what they pay out each month.  6% had “no idea.”

Innovative technology offers a gateway to help clients become more mindful about spending.  Until a website or mobile app comes along that effectively prevents people from overspending; however, the face-lift offered by technology is simply cosmetic.[1]


[1] Survey statistics mentioned are from CashNetUSA, September 5, 2012

The Seven Deadly Mobile Phone Sins

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Prospects have always looked to attire, office location, furnishings, and framed degrees to get a sense of an advisor’s expertise. While those things are still influential in shaping perception, they are often trumped by the role technology plays in making an impression.

Technology can make you look smart. It gives you access to more information and helps you deliver better service. You can perform research in minutes that used to take you days. You have access to answers and can get those answers to clients quickly. Technology makes you appear progressive. You may have insights into the next cool trend that the client or prospect is eager to learn about.

Turn Off Your PhoneOn the other hand, technology can tarnish your image. Commit the seven deadly mobile phone sins, and you may leave clients with the wrong impression of you.

The Seven Deadly Mobile Phone Sins:

  1. Taking a call or returning a text or e-mail during a meeting with a client or prospect.
  2. Checking your cell for anything other than an update on the client’s portfolio.
  3. Making your digital device the star of your pitch.
  4. Leaving your headset in your ear during any client interaction. It’s distracting.
  5. Taking your device with you during a meeting break. It implies that your return will be delayed because you are too busying doing making a call, returning an e-mail, Tweeting, checking a sports score, or any of the other gazillion things you can do on your phone.
  6. Blaming technology as the reason you failed to respond to an inquiry. Clients buy the “my system crashed” excuse as often as a teacher buys “the dog ate my homework” excuse. Even if it’s true, they just won’t buy it.
  7. Forgetting to shut off or mute your device. There is little more distracting during a meeting than a constantly ringing or vibrating phone.

Phones Will Be Ringing by, Sue Bergin

For many advisors, the phone lines seem to simmer down just a bit during the summer months.  That is about to change, however, according to a recent survey conducted by Edward Jones.

In mid-July, 2012 Edward Jones interviewed 1,010 U.S. adults to determine the issues that will impact investment and savings decisions the most. They found that 90% of Americans plan to change their investment strategy in the next six months. 

The election was sited as the most significant reason for driving strategy changes.

39% percent of respondents indicated that the election was, again, the most significant reason prompting investment and savings changes.  The next most significant factor was healthcare costs, representing 30% of those surveyed.  Global economic issues were prompting 20% of the respondents to consider investment strategy changes.

96% of people earning more than $100,000 a year were the most likely to say that they will make changes to their investments and savings.[1]

Take advantage of these final few weeks of summer by proactively scheduling investment review meetings. This will give you more control over your calendar in the fall, and help you prepare for the discussions that will inevitably occur.

Newspaper Lampshades, Designer Cartoon Strip Handbags and the Savvy Advisor by Sue Bergin

Newspaper Lampshades, Designer Cartoon Strip Handbags and the Savvy Advisor
by Sue Bergin

Why is it that old letters from a strangers’ estate sale made into wallpaper is suddenly the “in thing” in interior design? Why would anyone in her right mind walk around in a dress that is made to look like yesterday’s newspaper? Are people really turning old, used books into cell phone docking stations? And, Dooney & Bourque’s comic strip handbags? What’s up with those?

These are all examples of what marketing and communication firm JWT calls “Objectifying Objects,” when it describes one of the top 10 trends for 2012.

According to JWT, as objects are replaced by digital and virtual counterparts, people will be drawn to the physical and tactile facsimiles.

Savvy marketers are catching on to the fact that digital messages are getting lost in the atmosphere and that “objects,” like good old fashion snail-mail, may have greater impact.

According to JWT, marketers spent nearly 25% less on direct mail campaigns in the years from 2007 to 2009. In 2010-2011, the pendulum swung. Digital mail began to see single digit gains. In further proof, JWT sites that the U.S. Postal Service projects marketing mail will rise 14% by the year 2016.

The bottom line is this. A single scrawled note on handsome stationery could make an even greater impression than a steady stream of tweets. This could explain why, despite the paperless wave and skyrocketing mobile and tablet sales, U.K. retailer John Lewis reported a 79% year-over-year increase in writing paper sales in mid-2011.

The allure of the handwritten note is best summed up by the best-selling author, Neil Pasricha, in his wildly popular bog, 1,000 Awesome Things:
“(T)he biggest reason why getting something handwritten is great is because it’s just so darned rare. I mean, for most people, you’re more likely to see Halley’s Comet crash into Big Foot while he’s riding the Loch Ness Monster than to actually get a full-blown note from a friend.
So I say treasure those handwritten notes, when you get ‘em, if you get ‘em. And if you don’t, there’s a pretty easy way to start receiving them. Man, just send a couple.”

1. http://www.jwtintelligence.com/2012/07/snail-mail-renaissance-write-home/

2. http://1000awesomethings.com/2008/11/14/895-getting-something-with-actual-handwriting-on-it-in-the-mail/

Your Parents’ and Children’s Annoying Communication Habits Can Help Improve Client Relationships by Sue Bergin

Do you have someone in your life that has a cell phone, but refuses to turn it on? For me, it’s my parents. It doesn’t matter if my 76-year-old father is riding his Harley Davidson through the Blue Ridge Mountains and no one has heard from him in three days. We just have to sit tight until he gets sick of camping and checks into a hotel. Then, he’ll call us. We can tell him to keep his phone on until we are blue in the face. We can buy him an unlimited calling plan for his next birthday. It isn’t going to make a difference. The phone is for emergencies only. As long as he is ok, it stays off.

Have you ever threatened to take away your daughter’s cell phone because they won’t pick up your calls? You don’t understand why she doesn’t take your calls when she knows it’s you, and she knows you want to reach her. She doesn’t understand why you have to talk to her when you can just send a text. She probably doesn’t want her friends to know she must actually talk to her parents. She definitely doesn’t want her friends to hear how she talks to her parents. She would much rather you text her. That way she can whine in private. On the contrary, you’d prefer to hear her voice so that you can better gauge the situation.

With varying degrees of aggravation, we have learned to conform to communication preferences in our personal relationships.

When it comes to your relationships with clients, however, you want to avoid communication frustration. Recognize that clients have their pet tools, and demonstrate a willingness to communicate with them according to their preferences, not yours.

Ask clients how they want their appointments confirmed. Do they want a text, e-mail or a phone call? Would they rather your newsletters and routine correspondence come in the mail to their home or office, or would they rather have them e-mailed. Would they prefer Skype sessions to face-to-face meetings? What is the best number to reach them? Are they among the 33% of American’s that have chucked their landlines in favor of cell phone service?

Keep in mind, communication frustration is a two way street. A client you’ve worked with for years could now be tossing out your newsletters, when he or she used to pour over them. It isn’t because they no longer value your insights, but rather they read their “news” online. You won’t know this until you ask about their preferences. Maybe it is during the intake process, or the annual review, or even a midsummer survey. The key is to get ahead of the issue before it becomes an issue.

Using your clients’ favored communication methods is as much of an offensive play as a defensive play. You become more efficient and eliminate some frustration in your day. You also ensure that you never unwittingly earn the label, “that annoying caller/texter/e-mailer/snail-mailer/Skyper/or Facebook messenger.”

http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/business-brains/one-third-of-us-households-chuck-landlines-now-use-mobile-only/20746

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.

Advisors and Their Election Concerns

If you asked 100 advisors to identify their clients biggest retirement savings concerns, and you are likely to get at least half dozen or so answers.  If you asked the same group how our nation can pull out of our current economic malaise, and one answer would drown out all others.  There must be an administrative change

In May, 442 advisors shared their thoughts and concerns about the on the impending presidential election by participating in our Brinker Barometer online survey.

70% of those surveyed indicated that four more years of an Obama Administration is their biggest concern.  Advisors were asked to rank election concerns in the fourth quarter of 2011, and only 56% at that time ranked an Obama re-election as their top concern.

Following in a distant second to the fear of a continued Obama administration is the fear of “a divided congress” at 18%.  Romney winning the election only instilled fear to 5% of the respondents, and a growing Tea Party influence made 4% squeamish.

According to the advisors surveyed, 2012 will not only be a “will the best man win” election, but a “will the best man to fix the economy” election.

When asked for the indicators that might improve Obama’s re-election potential, 63% of the respondents thought lower unemployment rates might help the most.  40% however, thought that lower unemployment rates would be of no help whatsoever.

Ninety-six percent of respondents said the candidate with the most effective plan to fix the economy would claim victory.  Four percent believed that fixing the healthcare system is the best route to Pennsylvania Avenue.

To read more about advisors thoughts on the upcoming election, along with their predictions for the Republican candidate running mate, Click here.

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.