6 financial apps I use all the time

Every summer I give one of these articles over to the subject of apps that I use all the time. This year, I’m taking a slightly different slant on it, and am looking only at apps that I use in my financial life. These cross over both my business and personal lives, as some of the apps are used in both.

I’ve excluded my online banking app from the list below as everyone has different banking relationships. As it happens I bank with Ulster Bank and I think their online banking app is excellent – it is extremely easy to use and has a number of really clever services within it such as accessing cash from an ATM when you don’t have a card with you etc.

So here goes on the big 6 apps that I use regularly.

 

1. Curve

I started using Curve about 12 months ago. It is effectively a bank card, linked to an app on your phone. What is clever about it is that it becomes an umbrella card for all of your other cards, both debit and credit cards, giving you access to all these cards using your single Curve card. I hate a bulky wallet and as a result of Curve, I only now need to carry one card – my Curve card. Using the app, you choose the account / card that you want your transaction to apply to (e.g. personal debit card, personal credit card, company credit card) and you can change this in seconds between transactions. It also has a natty feature that if you forget to apply a transaction to the correct credit / debit card, when using your Curve card, you can “go back in time” and reapply a transaction to the right account later.

Details of all of your cards are not stored on your Curve card which is important if it falls into the wrong hands. Also you get immediate notifications (if you want) every time the card is used (which is a great security feature), and you can block your card yourself via the app too.

 

2. Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformational effect on the financial management side of my business. I now have real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses. My accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business, I’m saving hours every month with this software and have much better information available to me.

Specifically with the app, a great overview of business bank accounts, invoices and purchases is provided. I’ve full view of my outstanding invoices in the App and other important information. I now have all the information I need, and the time spent on “the books” is now a fraction of what it once was.

 

3. Expenses

I use this app to manage my expenses. When I pay for something in cash and want to be refunded by my business, I simply photograph the receipt and let the app get to work. It extracts the information from the receipt (supplier name, amount, date etc.) and updates Xero, so that everything is accounted for. It’s not always 100% correct so needs to be monitored, but it does the lion’s share of the work. It also recognises similar payments and “learns” how similar bills should be treated.

The days of filling out expenses sheets are long gone. The app is also very effective where there are multiple team members submitting expenses and makes the whole process of authorising expenses much easier.

 

4. Stripe

I’m a relatively recent user of Stripe and this came about when an adviser recently asked me could he pay me for a service by credit card. This prompted me to go looking for solutions. Literally an hour later I had a Stripe account set up (which receives credit card payments) that was fully integrated into Xero. So now I can receive payment on any invoice by credit card, and my accounting system knows about it. The Stripe app is great, providing notifications when money is received and giving me all of the information I need to manage this new form of payment.

 

5. Revenue

Am I serious? Yes I am! I think the Revenue app (RevApp) is great, allowing you to log a whole range of expenses throughout the year (health expenses etc.) which makes completing your tax return very easy. You can also log a whole range of other tax relievable expenses (e.g. the home improvement tax relief scheme) and you can get lots of useful information about your tax records.

 

6. Bloomberg

Completely different to all of the others as this is one I use for information only. It provides great information on the markets when I’m simply looking for a snapshot over a particular time period. I find their business news notifications to be really good – they tend to be very interesting and are not so frequent that they become annoying. I’m particularly enjoying their daily Brexit Bulletin – but this is turning out like a movie car crash in slow motion…

 

These are my “go to” apps. Why not try one or two of them out and see if they can make your life a little easier too.

What makes some financial broker websites world class?

Creating a world class website is within the reach of financial brokers. The secret to it is to follow some simple guidelines, put a lot of work into creating excellent content and then pay a very high level of attention to the detail. If you’ve a fairly basic website or one that hasn’t been revisited in a while, here are some tips that can help you get there.

 

Keep it Simple

The days are long gone of auto-loading videos, animated graphics and the latest technical fads. The best websites today are ones that guide the user quickly to what they want and communicate in concise, engaging content.

 

Make it Easy to Navigate

Don’t make the user have to “work out” where to find the information they are seeking, make the navigation as simple as possible. The main navigation bar, which should always be at the top of the page and not down the side, is really critical. It is through this that most users will enter the site from the homepage, so think this through very carefully. Think very carefully of what to include on this, as it typically will only cover 5/6 site areas. And then consider very carefully what you are going to call each section. Use standard terminology that makes sense to people, such as About / Our Services / Contact Us / News or Blog.

 

Focus on Financial Planning

I look at a lot of financial brokers’ websites. Probably the biggest bugbear that I have is the lack of focus on financial planning. This is the extremely valuable skill that you bring to your clients, helping them identify their financial objectives and then finding and implementing the best solutions to help them achieve those objectives.

However many websites talk only about financial products. This makes you appear as a hard-edged salesman, selling the latest and greatest products, not doing justice to your skill at all. I strongly suggest that you develop a very prominent, specific section in your website about financial planning and explain the value that you will bring to clients.

 

Reduce your Content

Long explanations and technical details about every product available will just bore users. Explain in very brief, clear language the services that you provide. An alternative approach is to identify some client personas and set out (again in brief, clear language) how you meet the needs of these different personas.

 

Use Visuals

Using images is great. There are literally millions of stock images for sale that you can use. However if you really want to stand apart, spend a bit of money, hire a professional photographer and get some original imagery. This can be a real wow factor!

 

Commit to your News / Blog section

This section is for regular and relevant blog entries that educate users and demonstrate your expertise and these play a number of valuable roles. First of all, they draw people to your site after you share a link to a useful article you’ve written. This of course in turn opens up the possibility of the user finding out more about you and the services you offer.

Also search engines (like Google) love fresh, original content. In fact new, authentic content that engages users and in turn is endorsed by them through sharing it, liking it or commenting is one of the most important drivers of bumping you up the search results. This is of course on top of the value that clients and prospective clients will get from knowing that you are a financial broker with a finger on the pulse and demonstrating your expertise and ability to solve their problems.

 

Show Authenticity

Client testimonials, particularly where the name (and better still a photo) of the client is included, are a very valuable asset. These give you credibility, as do links to any reviews etc. Having a social media presence also adds credibility, so have clear links to your LinkedIn profile and other social media assets. Obviously then make sure your social media profiles are of the same high standard!

 

Have Clear Calls to Action

Users will come to your site for a range of different reasons. Some may be simply browsing around, others may be looking for specific information, some may want to buy and may be looking for your phone number. Try and appeal to all of them by having a range of Calls to Action. The last group are easiest – make sure they can easily see your phone number without having to go looking for it! For the others, have Calls to Action that will enable them to stay in touch with your business, even after they leave the site. Do you make it easy for people to connect with you on LinkedIn from your site? Make it easy for them to subscribe to your newsletter. Maybe offer an online Chat facility to answer their questions there and then.

 

Mobile is Key

More than half of searches happen now on mobile devices. Your site simply must be responsive, ensuring that it is easy to read on a phone or other device. People today have lost patience with having to “pinch” the screen to go looking for the information that they want – this results in a terrible viewing experience. Responsive sites alter the screen layout to suit the device on which it is being viewed – a “must have” today.

Also in relation to mobile, if someone is looking at your site while out and about, very often they are simply looking for contact details. So again make sure your phone number is very visible.

 

For some financial brokers, these changes will mean a few hours work. For others they might mean a new site. For everyone though they are worth it. Research of financial brokers is happening more and more online so you want to make sure you are demonstrating why you are the best choice for prospective customers!

 

How important is SEO for financial planners?

SEO – Search Engine Optimisation is a marketing tactic that divides opinion among financial planners and advisers. Some believe it is almost the holy grail and a critical part of the marketing mix, others don’t see it as important at all.

First of all (and just in case…), what is SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimisation which effectively means getting your website to appear as high as possible on Google rankings for relevant search results.

How important do I think it is? Actually I don’t think it’s very important at all for financial planners. And I don’t say that lightly… but I say it for a few reasons. SEO is a critically important marketing tool for providers and sellers of many products and services, but I’m just not convinced that the provision of expert financial plans and advice is one of them. There are a few reasons why I think that SEO doesn’t belong as a core part of a financial planner’s marketing mix.

 

Do your target market clients make contact as a result of a web search?

Yes some people may make contact with you as a result of a Google search result, but from my experience they are rarely the type of client that financial planners are really looking for. They are not people seeking to build a long-term valued relationship with you (which is your target market), instead they tend to be looking for a transaction, and usually a discounted one at that.

 

What is the purpose of your website?

Most financial planners want to have a very informative and credible presence on the web. If an existing client refers a potential new client to you, your aim is typically that your website will demonstrate your credibility and professionalism. This is very different to building a website with the aim of generating leads. It’s important to understand what you’re trying to achieve, as this needs to clearly come through in the structure and content of your website. I firmly believe you are better off writing with your target audience in mind, seeking to establish that credible presence, rather than writing to appear at the top of search engine results.

 

 SEO is great for location-based services. How important is that for financial planners?

SEO is of course an extremely powerful tool for many businesses. For example, if I had a bike shop in Howth, I would want to appear at the top of the Google ranking when people search for buying bikes and parts in north Dublin. Those buyers will either want to buy online or will want to travel a short distance to the shop. SEO is great for location specific businesses.

How important is location for financial planners? You definitely don’t want to be driving to the four corners of Ireland, but at the same time most planners tend to have clients from a relatively wide geographical area – a county maybe, a province for some and for others maybe two centres of their own location and Dublin.

 

You need an expert in your corner for SEO

There is lots that you can do to get your site fit for purpose yourself to help you in the Google rankings. Talk to your web developer for a steer on what you can do in terms of indexing the site, correct page titles, use of keywords, tagging your images etc. However this really is only the start of it…

One of the challenges is that clever people keep “gaming” the system to get their website higher in the rankings than they deserve to be. So Google keep changing the rules and you need to understand technically what Google are looking for, if you want to be at the top of the rankings. Did you know that the speed your website displays on mobile devices is becoming an important factor in your ranking? As is the quality of links to your website and what people are saying about your business. It’s a minefield and you need specialist help.

 

Get ready to produce a stream of fresh, original content

This is probably the biggest challenge. If you want to appear high in search results, a minimum requirement is for lots of fresh, original content being uploaded on your site. And regularly means just that – weekly or more frequently than that.

Is that worth the effort for you? Do you have the time? I suggest that maybe your time, energy and money is better spent elsewhere.

 

Yes, SEO is a great tool for certain businesses. However for financial planners, I think that your energy and budget is better spent elsewhere.

My 5 most important apps

In my annual look at the Apps that I get most value from in my business, I’m mainly going back to some old favourites, while also mentioning some apps that I’ve started to find irreplaceable over the last 12 months.

Here are the five most important apps that I use in my business today – I use these every single day and across a range of devices – my phone, laptop and desktop.

 

1. Xero

I was introduced to Xero, an online accounting system a couple of years ago. It has had a transformative on the financial management side of my business. I now have real-time profit & loss statements, balance sheet and a host of other useful reports that are available at the press of a button. All my invoicing and bank reconciliations are done through Xero, as is management of expenses. My accountant and I can both view the up to the minute real time information about my business, I’m saving hours every month with this software and have much better information available to me.

Specifically with the app, I now simply photograph my receipts and they are automatically added to my accounting records.  I’ve full view of my outstanding invoices in the App and other important information. I now have all the information I need, and the time spent on “the books” is now a fraction of what it once was!

 

2. Feedly

Feedly is an app that I use all of the time in seeking out useful content from the web to share, and indeed for content ideas to write about. It uses the little orange buttons that you see on many websites with 3 white lines in them. These are RSS (Really Simple Syndication) buttons, which enable you to have content sent to you as it is uploaded on the web – this might be from a blog, a news feed etc. However (thankfully) you’re not sent an email every time something is uploaded. Instead it is sent to Feedly, which gathers all of these articles in one place. It is like a magazine rack for online articles, waiting for me to go through them.

I can then flick down through hundreds of articles in minutes, reading only the headlines, dipping into an introduction or indeed the full article if I think it is actually worth reading. And I can mark them all as “Read” very easily as I go along, ensuring those particular articles don’t appear again. I’ve categorised the different feeds into groups, which can further speed up the process too. The benefit of Feedly is the time it saves me in getting through huge numbers of articles.

 

3. Pocket

And then there’s Pocket, which is my scrapbook of articles that I’ve “cut out” and saved for later. As I see articles of interest on the web or that come through to Feedly, some catch my attention to be read later when I’ve a bit more time on my hands. With 2 clicks, I put them in my Pocket and can also tag the articles for different purposes – it might be to share out later, to rewrite with my perspective, maybe to help me develop a new angle for my proposition etc.

I can then go back into Pocket when I want to carry out an activity and simply click on the article that I’ve saved for that very purpose. It’s all very easy and it means you don’t lose great articles that you’ve read.

 

4. Hubspot Sales

Hubspot are one of the leaders in marketing automation systems, which help you to better manage your sales and digital marketing activities. They offer a range of different priced packages. My introduction to Hubspot was through a product called Sidekick, which is now part of a wider Hubspot Sales package. The purpose of this (desktop) app is to alert me when someone opens an email that I’ve sent. It is fantastic in helping me to time when to follow up an email that I’ve sent. For example, I might have sent a proposal 3 or 4 weeks ago and suddenly see the recipient opening the email again. Might be worth a follow-up call while I know the recipient is considering the proposal again.

The broader Hubspot Sales package now includes a range of useful services – integration with a CRM package, you can save email templates, you can set up automated email follow-ups, allow clients to book available meeting slots and a range of other services.

 

5. Unroll.me

This is a great free app. I’ve ended up subscribed to lots of blogs, email newsletters and other regular communications from businesses and clubs etc. With all of these sources now sending out more and more emails, I was losing a lot of time through being distracted by these emails, which were pinging in throughout the day. Unroll.me has been a great solution to this problem. First of all by using your email address, Unroll.me identifies and lists all of the frequent communications you are subscribed to. It then gives you 3 options;

  1. To keep receiving the emails as before into your inbox
  2. To unsubscribe from individual communications – you’ll be amazed how many you’re happy to get rid of. Hopefully not this one though!
  3. To add the communications to a “rolled up” email. This takes all of the emails that you request to be rolled up, and presents them to you in a single email at a time of your choosing each day. If an individual email catches your attention, you can then just click through to the original. So now rather than getting maybe 30-40 emails each day, now I read one email while having my morning coffee

And there are others… I think Apple Pay is fantastic – it just doesn’t make the cut as it’s not a business app. But it’s great now to pay for items with my phone, rather than go digging for cards or cash. This also works really well with Apple Wallet, which is a great store for tickets of all sorts.

Are there any others that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear about them.

Have you some spare time over the summer?

It’s that time of year again… The weather will (hopefully) be great and everyone is trying to spend a bit more time outdoors. The downside is that business may be getting just a little quieter for the next month or two.

So here lies the opportunity! It’s possible that you’ll have a bit more spare time on your hands over the next while and rather than sitting there thinking about the beach, how will you use this time? It can be hard to keep your focus when there’s not the pressure of constant phone calls and emails and achieving deadlines to meet client expectations. I suggest you either go to the beach (rather than think about it), or put the time into driving your business forwards.

If you want to put the time into your business, it’s easier to keep focused when you have a plan. So what sort of things might be in that plan for the summer months? Here are a few ideas;

 

Arrange to meet your key clients

This is a great time of year for catching up with key clients, outside of your advice process. This is not a business meeting; it’s a game of golf, a coffee, an early pint – whatever works best for them and you! This is an opportunity to show your interest in their business and lives without looking for anything back in return. The cost is small for both of you as you probably both have the time to meet. However there is real benefit in it for you, as the client will appreciate your interest without it being an “advice” or “sales” meeting.

 

Revisit your LinkedIn presence

I rate LinkedIn as a very important tool for financial planners and brokers. When prospective clients are researching you, they’ll check your company website and your LinkedIn profile. It’s really important that you’re putting your best foot forward through both of these.

In relation to LinkedIn, there are 2 areas to concentrate on over the summer.

The first is your profile. Go through your profile section by section. Are there areas that you can expand the information a little to make it more engaging? Are there new areas that you can add to your profile? Are there clients that you could seek recommendations from? All of these will provide prospective clients with richer information about you, hopefully making them more inclined to actually do business with you.

The second area is expanding your network of connections. There are 3 ways of doing this;

  1. Check the “People you may know” section to identify people suggested by LinkedIn.
  2. Check the connections belonging to your existing connections. Are there people here that you should seek an introduction to?
  3. Search for people using the search bar at the top. There are new people joining LinkedIn all the time. They just might not have found their way onto your LinkedIn radar as yet.

And then when you find people that you want to connect with, remember to personalise every invitation. Don’t just use the default LinkedIn invitation.

 

Update your CRM system

Rather than wasting an hour or two mindlessly surfing the web, set yourself a target to review the records of a set number of clients every day within your CRM system. While you may have all the data in the system to meet your compliance requirements, now is the time to populate some of the softer information that can help you build really rich relationships with your clients. Information such as;

  • Their stated life aspirations
  • Their financial goals and objectives
  • Their communication preferences
  • Their interests and hobbies
  • Wider information in relation to their families

 

Develop a plan of attack for the rest of the year

Plot out how you’re going to approach the second half of the year. Who are the prospects / clients that you need to contact in the next few months? What will this contact consist of? How are you going to get these prospects to engage with you?

While you have a bit of time, put a structured plan in place with clear actions and dates to make sure these contacts then happen.

 

Take a holiday & recharge your batteries!

The most important one of the lot! Nothing helps you get your focus and your energy back better than a well earned break. I hope you and your family have a great holiday and enjoy the summer!

Is your website punching its weight?

Financial brokers today recognise the importance of having a really effective website. After all, it’s the first touch point that many consumers have with your business. If you’ve a fairly basic website or one that hasn’t been revisited in a while, here are some tips that can double or more the effectiveness of your website!

 

Make it Easy to Navigate

Don’t make the user have to “work out” where to find the information they are seeking. Make the navigation so simple that a complete technophobe will find their way around it! The main navigation bar, which to my mind should always be at the top of the page and not down the side, is really critical. It is through this that most users will enter the site from the homepage, so think this through very carefully. Think very carefully of what to include on this, as it typically will only cover 6/7 site areas. And then consider very carefully what you are going to call each section. Use standard terminology that makes sense to people, such as About / Our Services / Contact Us / News or Blog.

 

Focus on Financial Planning

I look at a lot of financial brokers’ websites. Probably the biggest bugbear that I have is the lack of focus on financial planning. This is the extremely valuable skill that you bring to your clients, helping them identify their financial objectives and then finding and implementing the best solutions to help them achieve those objectives.

However many websites talk only about financial products. This makes you appear as a hard-edged salesman, selling the latest and greatest products, not doing justice to your skill at all. I strongly suggest that you develop a very prominent, specific section in your website about financial planning and explain the value that you will bring to clients.

 

Reduce the Amount of Content

Yes, this is not a typo! Obviously this may not apply to every website, but in the main, too many of them are packed out with superfluous content. While it might please you seeing lots and lots of pages with long explanations and technical details about every product available, frankly the user will just get bored. And boredom is fatal on the web as the user just leaves your site.

Use your Google Analytics to identify your poorly performing pages from where people are leaving the site. You will often see that these are long technical pages. Either shorten them or get rid of them!

 

Update your News Section / Blog regularly

This is one of the most valuable areas of the site for a number of reasons. I’m not talking about taking a newsfeed from some online source or sending links to other people’s content. This section is for regular and relevant blog entries that educate users and demonstrate your expertise and these play a number of valuable roles. First of all, they draw people to your site after you share a link to a useful article you’ve written. This of course in turn opens up the possibility of the user finding out more about you and the services you offer.

Google loves fresh, original content. In fact new, authentic content that engages users and in turn is endorsed by them through sharing it, liking it or commenting is one of the most important drivers of bumping you up the search results. This is of course on top of the value that clients and prospective clients will get from knowing that you are a Financial Broker with a finger on the pulse and demonstrating your expertise and ability to solve their problems.

 

Have Clear Calls to Action

Users will come to your site for a range of different reasons. Some may be simply browsing around, others may be looking for specific information, some may want to buy and may be looking for your phone number. Try and appeal to all of them by having a range of Calls to Action. The last group are easiest – make sure they can easily see your phone number without having to go looking for it! For the others, have Calls to Action that will enable them to stay in touch with your business, even after they leave the site. Do you make it easy for people to connect with you on LinkedIn from your site? Make it easy for them to subscribe to your newsletter. Maybe offer an online Chat facility to answer their questions there and then.

 

Mobile is Key

More than one third of searches happen now on mobile devices. Your site simply must be responsive, ensuring that it is easy to read on a phone or other device. People today have lost patience with having to “pinch” the screen to go looking for the information that they want – this results in a terrible viewing experience. Responsive sites alter the screen layout to suit the device on which it is being viewed – a “must have” today.

Also in relation to mobile, if someone is looking at your site while out and about, very often they are simply looking for contact details. So again make sure your phone number is very visible.

For some Financial Brokers, these changes will mean a few hours work. For others they might mean a new site. For everyone though they are worth it. Research of financial brokers is happening more and more online so you want to make sure you are demonstrating why you are the best choice for prospective customers!

Image courtesy of angus campbell king