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Will Financial Brokers be replaced by Robots?

Does it sound like a mad idea to you? Well it shouldn’t, there’s even a name for them now – Robo-advisers. The question is not if they’ll eventually have a role in the Irish market, it’s when will they have a role and to what extent will they disrupt the traditional advice models.

So for starters, what is robo-advice? It is using technology to carry out the advice process within an overall investment management proposition. It’s related to the advice part, not the management online of an investment portfolio, as that capability has of course been around for years. It’s suggested that there is a swathe of the population that may be disenchanted with the traditional advice model and want to be more in control of the process themselves, via the use of technology. It’s already making strides in other markets – for example a robo-adviser firm in the US called Wealthfront now has more than $1bn in assets after only two and a half years in operation. They’ve doubled their assets in the last 9 months.

The robo-adviser model works by the investor completing a series of questions on a website, similar to those that you ask at a meeting with a client – their investment objectives, age, time frames, assets, risk profile. The website then instantly runs a programme that produces an appropriately diversified portfolio for the investor, made up of passive funds and ETF’s. Once the portfolio is implemented, the other activities carried out by an adviser (rebalancing, annual reports etc.) are also carried out by the robo-adviser.

So are robo-advisers a real threat for financial planners and financial brokers or can they be ignored? Well the jury’s definitely out, so here are a few thoughts to help you make up your own mind.

Why you can’t ignore them

  • Cost: Websites can typically work for a lower price than humans. So robo-advice will be attractive to investors whose main aim is to reduce costs.
  • Convenience: Investors can get advice without leaving their desks, at a time completely of their own choosing.
  • Dissatisfaction with existing broker: Some investors are dissatisfied with advice they’ve got in the past. They see this as a preferred way forward.
  • Technology: The technology is (or at least appears to be) there now to enable people to get the advice they are looking for.
  • Attractive to younger investors: These models are potentially more attractive to younger investors who are happy carrying out many others aspects of their lives online. Will they view investment advice any differently?
  • Attractive to smaller investors: As financial brokers struggle to deliver their proposition profitably to investors with smaller funds, this may not pose the same problem for robo-advisers.
  • The missing link: The advice piece was the one area missing in terms of portfolio management. Robo advisers will enable investors to fully manage their portfolios online.
  • Scale: One of the biggest challenges for financial brokers is to deliver a top-class advice proposition to large numbers of clients. This is not a challenge for robo-advisers.

So is it game over for traditional financial brokers. To my mind, absolutely not! While there might be fewer arguments “for the defence” below, these are very powerful reasons.

Why financial brokers will always win

  • It’s all about the discussion: We only have to look at the risk profiling process. I think many financial brokers agree that none of the systems available are perfect, that the discussion between adviser and client is equally important to bottom-out the client’s real risk profile.
  • Tasks can be templated, but people cannot: We’re just not that straightforward as a species! Research tells us time and time again that the full personalisation of advice is a key requirement of investors.
  • When markets tumble: Who do you call for reassurance and advice when markets tumble? I call my financial broker, unless he’s got to me first! No such luxury with robo-advisers.
  • A major change in your life: Who will help you make sense of the impacts on your portfolio of major changes in your life – a death, a sudden and serious illness, loss of job etc. All of these need a friendly face to keep you on track. Robo-advisers don’t offer that.
  • It’s not all about portfolio growth: Financial brokers give so much valuable advice around the edges of a portfolio – they will consider the impact of taxes, inheritance planning and protection needs. All very valuable and not on offer from robo-advisers.
  • You can’t ignore emotions: Investing can make you feel exhilarated, angry, reassured, doubting! Financial brokers play a very important counselling role, one that robo-advisers will never play.

I for one can’t imagine being willing to pass on the value that I get from my financial broker. Yes the fees may be slightly higher than those available online, however I think they’re worth every cent in terms of the reassurance that I get, the opportunity to “run things by” him and the sense of having someone in my corner. I won’t be moving!

Do you view robo-advisers as a real threat or are they on your radar at all?

Segmentation, targeting & positioning – fundamentals of adviser marketing

Going back through the eons of time, I can recall a number of the key marketing principles that were ground into me time and time again; the importance of research and knowing your customer, understanding buyer behaviour and the role of the four P’s (product, price, place and promotion) among others.

However in my day-to-day work with financial advisers today, the principles that I find myself returning to more and more to address the challenges of advisers are Segmentation, Targeting & Positioning (STP). Many advisers today recognise the importance of these strategies as they attempt to make best use of their limited marketing resources, be they time or money or both.

Some definitions

So to start this 60-second marketing lesson, here is a definition of each, as set out by Philip Kotler, the grandfather of marketing education.

  • Market Segmentation: Dividing a market into distinct groups of buyers with different needs, characteristics or behaviour, who might require separate products or marketing mixes.
  • Market Targeting: The process of evaluating each market segment’s attractiveness and selecting one or more segments to enter.
  • Market Positioning: Arranging for a product (or service) to occupy a clear, distinctive and desirable place relative to competing products (or services) in the minds of target consumers.

What’s happening in the financial adviser market in Ireland?

Many financial advisers realise that a “one size fits all” proposition just doesn’t cut it any more. Either for the client who is looking for more than a generic service, or for the adviser who cannot profitably or successfully deliver the same service to all clients irrespective of their value, characteristics, needs etc.

As a result, many advisers are undertaking segmentation exercises, analysing their client bases and potential markets, most often by value. Others are also segmenting but by different dimensions – some are focussing on SME’s, others on specific professional groups.

A smaller number are then going on to specifically target sub-sections of their client bases and target markets at the expense of other groups – for example focusing all of their attention on clients of a certain value. In this case, some are even offloading their lower value clients to truly target their desired groups. Others are identifying specific occupations that they will target and also those that they won’t. And then sticking to this!

Finally, a relatively small number are taking that final step of actually positioning their business and all of their communications to appeal directly to their target market, even at the risk of alienating other potential customers.

Why STP is so important for financial advisers today

It’s this final step of having the courage to position yourself within a specific target market (or even a niche) that is a step too far for many advisers. They struggle with the thinking that while business might be quite tough today; it might actually be easier if you narrow your focus! How does this make sense?

If you offer a generic service to clients, they will recognise this. They won’t feel any particular connection with what you do, as it is not targeted at them. Instead if you have a clear target market and all of your communications are aimed with that group specifically in mind, the customers within that group will connect with your messages and are more likely to view you as a specialist who is out to serve their specific needs.

There are lots of very good financial advisers operating in the Irish market. At the end of the day, how are you going to stand apart from the crowd if you offer a very generic service?

Is a niche positioning viable in the Irish market?

My view is that it is 100% viable. Indeed you can build an extremely successful business based on a niche strategy! I’m not saying that it’s easy – you need to first of all very clearly and carefully segment your potential markets. You then need to decide the markets that you will target and have a clear strategy for building presence and scale in these markets. And finally you need to relentlessly build your positioning and re-affirm it time and time again.

I’m a believer and would argue that I practice what I preach in this area! There are 1,000’s of marketing consultants out there but not many that position their business specifically around meeting the needs of the financial adviser community. I’m really happy that I’ve pitched my tent there, attempting to meet the needs of a community that I admire and enjoy working with! Thank you all for welcoming me into your world and helping me to grow my business! I passionately believe that you can do the same within your chosen markets.

Do you have any views on this topic? Is a niche strategy viable? What are the challenges you face in running with this approach? All your comments as ever are very welcome.

Can you get more from your CRM system?

In the last year or two, there has been a significant upsurge in financial advice firms wanting to unlock the opportunities offered by CRM systems. For some, this has meant seeking to place it at the heart of their sales processes, for others their challenge has been to use it as more than a glorified address book. For others, they are now taking the jump from an excel spread sheet for the first time! It can be a very daunting task…

Here are a couple of thoughts to help you reap the benefits while minimising the frustration.

Understand what you want it to do

There are a number of industry specific CRM systems that many of the brokers in the Irish market are using today. These systems offer a very broad range of valuable features and offer functionality to help deliver many of the activities carried out by brokers every day.

But when you’re new to the system, the array of features can be quite bewildering and can leave you wondering where to start.

The place to start is not with what the system can do for you, it’s to identify how the system can help you address your own particular challenges. So you need to identify what these challenges are; do you need a system to help you in the segmentation of your client base, is to help you identify the right clients to contact at the right time, is it to track interactions with your clients or indeed is it to ensure you are delivering a more compliant business process?

Once you know what you want from the system, these are the areas to focus on with the system supplier rather than the 200 other features! Once you get comfort that the system can deliver what you need, then it just may be the one for you.

Capture hard and soft data

The record keeping aspect of the system is obviously very important, capturing all of the key information that you need to retain for your clients. Having this data in your system obviously makes it easier to retrieve information and indeed to use it again in the future. And your CRM system can provide a very useful audit trail in relation to your client interactions, which will assist you from a compliance point of view and may prove very useful down the road.

But it’s equally important to pick up and capture softer information about your clients that may not necessarily feature on your average factfind; the client’s financial goals and dreams (which should be central to your advice in any event), their aspirations for their family, their interests and indeed their likes and dislikes in relation to the method and frequency of communications. All of this information can make for a much richer relationship.

 

Talk to other users

Find out how others are using the same system. Ask your peers to even demo what they’re doing – from my experience, most advisers are only too happy to collaborate and help each other improve their business. Ask others at networking events about the features that they are using the most. Another route is through the excellent groups available to advisers on LinkedIn. There are a number of great groups (the PIBA, IBA & QFA groups come particularly to mind) in which you can pose a question with a good chance of getting some feedback from others.

Use all the time saving features

Ok, so now you’re up and running and using the system. Now is the time to start investigating how you can leverage the system beyond your initial aspirations. A good place to start is by investigating the many time saving features of the system. These will come in many forms. The capability of downloading data from providers will enable you to avoid a lot of the tedious initial data entry. Then look at the features that allow you to easily import data from for example factfinds completed online by your clients, which will save you or a member of your team having to type in the information.

Also consider how the system integrates with other systems that you use; capturing your client emails, quotation systems and any scanning and document management systems.

Get help in these areas. Getting help from an IT professional and/or the CRM system vendor will result in a lot less frustration and lower blood pressure!

Stay close to the vendor to leverage the full capabilities of the system

At the end of the day, nobody knows the system like the vendor so stay close to him or her! Give them feedback as they are always looking for ways to improve the system. Tell them what else you’d like the system to do, what you find difficult or “clunky” – after all, their main aim is to retain you as a user! Look for tips and help from them as to how you can better leverage the system. Show them how you’re currently using it and look for their advice as to how you might improve your usage of their system. Also, look for insights into where the system is being developed, as these developments could result in improvements to core parts of your business and advice processes.

Yes, starting to use a CRM system can be a very daunting experience. But it need not be. Focus on what you want from the system, seek help and then commit. The results in terms of saved time and effort, deeper insights into your clients and better business processes will make it all worthwhile.

What do you Measure in your Financial Advice Business?

At the end of the day for most advisers, there’s one measure that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance – profitability.

Until recently, many firms actually didn’t view profitability as their key metric; their main focus was on income. This was usually backwards looking, i.e. examining income in the last 12 months, or sometimes also looking out at the next 12 months. Many firms have now switched this focus to looking further forwards – based on their increasing trail commission and fee incomes, what is income forecasted to be next year / in 5 years time / in 10 years time? This now gives a real sense of the future health of the business.

While income is a very important metric, profitability tells a truer story of the health of the firm as it takes account of the expenses of the firm, and helps to better determine the future value of the business. Now this is what you (or other shareholders) are really interested in!

However there are so many factors that can impact your profitability, most firms will look to dig a little deeper to examine some of those factors that are impacting their profitability. Set out below are just some of the metrics used currently by different advice firms, that help them to determine the performance of key inputs to their profitability. Which ones might it make sense for you to start tracking?

 

Client metrics

There is a range of metrics that can be used to measure the success of your client activities. These include;

  • Number of clients: this can be measured at an overall level and also within segments of your target client groups.
  • Average revenue per client: this will give you a sense of whether you are building greater value into your propositions and whether you are reaching your ideal clients. Again this may be carried out at a segment level.
  • Average recurring revenue per client: this will give you a good sense of the future health of your business.
  • Number of new clients: always a good measure of whether you are growing as a business or not!
  • Client satisfaction: this will give you a sense of your likelihood to hang onto your clients into the future. Again this can be carried out at a segment level. The Net Promoter Score is a very simple but useful measure of client satisfaction.
  • Risk register: Are there problem cases that need to be monitored? If so, a firm oversight needs to be maintained, both in relation to the number of cases and progress of these cases towards a solution.

 

Staff measures

Again, there is a range of measures that you can use to ensure your staff are performing to their maximum potential;

  • Sales Performance: This may be based on volume, margin or other relevant measures.
  • Activity: This may be the number of new clients secured, first meetings secured, financial plans completed etc. It is always useful to get a good sense of the activity levels of each of your sales team.
  • Staff satisfaction: Similar to client satisfaction, this is important too! Are your staff happy and committed to the long term health of your business or are they just waiting for an opportunity to jump ship? Staff satisfaction measures can help you uncover these insights.

 

Marketing Metrics

Yes, most marketing activities can actually be measured! Here are a few that will help inform your marketing activities;

  • Contact data quality: This might be as simple initially as tracking the number of client email addresses you have secured. Email offers you a no cost method of getting marketing messages out to your clients.
  • Numbers and source of leads: Tracking the numbers and source of new lead is one of the best inputs into decision making around future marketing activities. If it worked before, it might be worth repeating!
  • Website analytics: Google analytics will give you a wealth of data in relation to your online marketing activities. For more detailed information in relation to how Google Analytics can help financial advisers, check out our previous article here. Google analytics can tell you;
    • The number of people finding your website
    • Where website visitors came from – Search terms, social media, directly accessing your website.
    • The content that attracts people to your site…. and also drives them away.
  • Social media interactions: Likes, +1’s, comments, Retweets! These terms are “Double Dutch” to some people, highly valued endorsements of your content to others!

There are of course many other measures available to be used within your business, these are just a few that are available to you. However the list is also potentially endless! For most advisers, the starting point is to identify a few metrics that you feel will make a real difference to your business, and then track them diligently.

There are many metrics that people use that are not listed above. Which ones do you find particularly useful? All your comments are welcome below.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/glitch_nitch/

What can Google Analytics tell Financial Advisers?

Online marketing tools have changed the game in relation to marketing by financial advisers. These tools offer a number of benefits; immediacy, better targeting, cost effectiveness and fantastic insights through the analytics available.

 

Most advisers are pretty clear about these advantages, however many still run online marketing campaigns without really leveraging the power of the analytics available. Now there’s no doubt that Google Analytics is a bit of a monster, there’s a huge amount of data available, to the point of it being a bit overwhelming! So here are some of the most useful measures available to you, to help you really maximise the potential of your online campaigns.

 

Some basic trends

The following measures can give you a good sense overall as to whether recent marketing activities are working or not, when you look at the trends over the period of the campaign and compare them to previous periods.

 

  • Number of visits: This gives you a good sense of whether your activities are increasing traffic to the site or not. The number of page views is another measure of this.
  • Number of visitors: Are your activities driving lots of visitors, or are the same people tending to return on multiple occasions.
  • New v Returning Visitors: Are you attracting high numbers of new visitors to your site for the first time, or are you mainly only attracting existing users back? This might suggest your marketing efforts are not reaching new audiences and need to be reviewed.
  • Pages per visit: Once people are landing on your site, are they having a good poke around (as you want them to do), or are they leaving quickly?
  • Time spent on site: Similar to the last one – is your content actually engaging the user to spend time reading the content or are they leaving quickly?
  • Bounce Rate: The big baddie… are people leaving the site from the page they entered without bothering to check out any other content?
  • Number of views on devices: This is becoming more and more important. Where are people viewing your website and as the number of views increase on phones and tablets, how does you site appear on these devices?

 

Once you get a handle on these, you’ll start to get a sense of whether your efforts are moving in the right direction or not. And then you can start to get into some really useful analytics…

 

Where visitors are coming from

The acquisition section gives you great insights into the sources of your traffic. Are most people arriving directly by typing in your URL, is your website address memorable? Or are they searching for your site in Google and if so, what keywords are they searching for to end up on your site? Once you know the keywords that people are searching, you can make sure that they are included in your website content and in any blogs that you write.

 

If your traffic is coming from social media, you can drill down and see which channels are delivering traffic. Is it the post that you are sharing on LinkedIn or is it your Twitter feed that’s driving your traffic?

 

And then when they get there…

The Behaviour section in your analytics gives you great insights into what people are actually doing when they land on your site. Apart from some of the trends mentioned earlier, there are other really useful insights to be gained in this section.

 

You can identify which pages people are entering your site on. This will help you analyse the traction your blog posts are achieving (or not). You can also see which are the most frequently viewed pages; this will give you a sense of the areas of main interest to the readers. Of course when you then overlay the time spent on each page and from where people are exiting the site, you start to get a real sense of where content is strong and where it is weak. You can then ensure that you have crystal clear “Calls to Action” on these high performing pages, giving you the best chance of turning these readers into enquirers and hopefully customers!

 

You can then run the reports across multiple dimensions for some really useful insights – find out where your traffic is coming from and also where it is landing. This might demonstrate the success of your blog for example, and the channels through which people are finding your content.

 

You can also set goals for your site – for example how many people are signing up for your newsletter or are downloading your brochure, and keep track of your progress against these goals.

 

Check out the spikes

The spikes in activity, either in visitor numbers or page views can be very revealing. When you dig into these, you will usually find that a marketing activity or other event is behind these spikes. This can give you really useful direction for future marketing activities – a campaign that you are thinking of running, where to attract future traffic to the site or the type of content to be writing. At a minimum, it may well give you some confidence that your existing approach is the correct one!

 

These are just some of the insights that can be gained from Google Analytics. I’d suggest you go in and poke around; you’ll be amazed at the valuable information that can be gained!

 

Are there any other particular analytics that you find useful? If so, let us know through the comments below.

5 zero cost marketing activities to complete this summer

With the explosive growth of digital marketing in the last decade, one important dynamic has changed. Marketing has shifted from being a bottomless pit in relation to your financial resources to offering many low cost or even zero cost opportunities. However the flip side of this coin is that marketing now draws on another scarce resource…your time.

With business possibly being a bit quieter over the summer months, you now should have a bit of time to dedicate to some marketing activities that will set you in good stead for a strong finish to the year. So here are 5 marketing tasks to complete over the next 5 weeks that won’t actually cost you a cent.

Update your Website

As part of my work with financial advisers across the country, I too often see great work going into the development of new and exciting marketing activities while ignoring one of the business’s main marketing assets, the company website. Yes I know that updating your website is certainly not the most exciting work that you can be doing, but it is very important. Perceptions of your business will be built, based on your website and there is nothing worse than out of date and poorly written content. So go through your website page by page, make sure there is no out of date content and look for opportunities to make the content more engaging for the reader. This is your key online shop window.

 

Review your LinkedIn presence

In a similar vein to the above, your LinkedIn profile is your most important personal digital asset from a business perspective. To my mind, a presence on LinkedIn is not optional for financial advisers any more, it is too important a marketing opportunity to miss. And it doesn’t cost a red cent.

Starting in next month’s newsletter, I’m going to do a series of 3 in-depth articles in relation to LinkedIn, covering the following;

  • Building a winning profile on LinkedIn
  • Using LinkedIn to build a valuable network
  • Using LinkedIn to add value and build your business.

So for now, get to work on improving your LinkedIn presence and then hopefully over the rest of the year, you’ll pick up a few more tips from the 3 in-depth articles.

 

Tidy up your data

There are 2 specific areas in relation to data that can add significantly to your marketing efforts. The first is to simply (but religiously) record where every lead comes from, is it from a referral, from a specific marketing activity or from whatever source. The importance of this is that when you look back a year later at where your leads came from, this data can hugely influence where you put your marketing euros and hours in the future.

The second area is in relation to email addresses. Spend some time over the summer ringing clients to ensure you have their current email address. Email is still an extremely powerful marketing tool, but can’t be carried out without email addresses. Lack of this valuable data is the single biggest blockage I come across, preventing advisers from carrying out effective email campaigns. I might be stretching it a bit but the cost of these calls is covered under your phone package!

 

Develop an introducer’s presentation

So many advisers recognise the enormous opportunity that strong links with potential introducers such as accountants or tax advisers can offer them. However many don’t give themselves the best chance of building strong relationships with these introducers.

This starts at the very first meeting with the potential partner. This should never just be a chat. This is one of your most important business meetings, where you are trying to convince the potential partner to entrust you with their most valuable asset, their clients. At the end of the day, the main reason many accountants don’t enter into partnerships with financial advisers is because they are afraid that as a result of having recommended you to their clients, that this will reflect back badly on them if something goes wrong between you and the client.

So you must be able to clearly articulate why you are the only adviser that they should consider working with and how you are going to actually enhance the partner’s relationship with their client, rather than potentially damaging it. The starting point for this is a professional, engaging presentation that clearly articulates your value proposition to both the introducer and to their clients. Work on this over the summer.

 

Hone your referral approach

Referrals sit at the heart of many advisers’ client acquisition strategies. Many “just do it”, without any thought to method or process. While this is fine if it works, there are ways to support your natural talent to improve your success rate. One way is to use the likes of LinkedIn to research your client’s network. Now rather than asking your client to refer “someone” to you, and pushing the work on to them to think of who and how you might help, instead you can suggest actual contacts that you would like to meet. This keeps you in the driving seat.

Also develop a series of case studies of innovative solutions you have designed for clients, portraying your value. Make your clients aware of these, with the aim of helping to trigger in their mind some contacts that your solutions / approaches might suit.

 

And one more…

Finally, if you want help with these or any other activities, I’d be delighted to talk through your challenges with you. And I’ll buy the coffee!

 

I hope these ideas help. Put a bit of time into your marketing activities over the summer, and reap the rewards over the remainder of the year.