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Letting your communications drift

So you finally decided to start sending out a regular email newsletter or regularly updating the blog on your website. Well done to you! The first issue of your newsletter is full of promises about your new newsletter keeping clients and other contacts informed and educated. And then the newsletter delivers this in spades! Roll on to a month or two later and the next edition is due to go out. You’re busy, it’s the middle of pensions season and the markets are in turmoil. You just about manage to cobble the newsletter together, everyone moaning about not having enough time. And then that’s it, the next edition never see the light of day…

Unfortunately this happens a little too frequently among financial advice firms. So apart from a bit of a gnawing sense of failure within your own firm, what messages does letting your communications drift say to your audience?

You don’t have an opinion

Your clients and prospective clients want to hear your opinions about current events. Whether they are about how they should (or shouldn’t!) react in the current market turmoil, your views of any changing legislation that will impact the personal finance world or indeed developments within the life and pensions market. Your opinions may reassure investors, allow you to demonstrate your expertise and show that you have your finger on the pulse.

Of course if you’re not sending out these opinions, exactly the opposite applies. And then your clients don’t know where you stand on these topics. And of course then there is the very real risk that they will find their way on to the email database of another Financial Broker who provides them with this expert opinion all of the time. Who will they want to deal with – the person with their finger on the pulse or the person without?

You’ve run out of ideas

Of course email newsletters also offer you the opportunity to educate your clients and prospects. You can remind them of the value of getting advice from a Financial Broker, set out the benefits of having a risk appropriate investment portfolio, remind them of the importance of having the right income protection plan in place and how to ensure that their legacy on death is not a worrying tax burden for their loved ones.

But then when you stop, have you demonstrated all that you know, that you’ve shown the breadth of your knowledge? So what about the topics that are worrying your clients that you haven’t covered? You don’t want them thinking that maybe you just don’t have knowledge in that particular area…

At the end of the day, your clients can be a rich source of content ideas. Ask them for topics that they would like covered and then write about them!

You just don’t care

Of course this is the real worry… that your clients will think that you simply have lost interest and don’t really care about your marketing and your business. That you have simply slowed down a bit and are coasting…Of course this will set off alarm bells in their heads about your approach to your wider business, your clients and their personal financial affairs. Are you just punching in time there too?

At best, your clients might just see all of this as a bit unprofessional – starting a marketing initiative that you’re unable to continue. Is this how you want them to view your business?

StepChange provides content to Financial Brokers who don’t have time to write it themselves and a newsletter service to manage the whole process of sending out regular fully personalised and branded communications to your clients. And we’ll deliver these on time, every time!

Networking

6 Steps to better Networking

Networking is a really important business activity, but it’s one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner with somebody talking endlessly about some mind-numbingly boring topic. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a Financial Broker!

So what can you do to make it easier and more effective? After all, if it actually works and helps you generate new clients, you are much more likely to continue to do it.

Recognise that it isn’t easy

It isn’t easy… but it isn’t easy for anyone. So while you might think that it’s so easy for certain people, that tends to be because they’ve worked really hard at becoming good at networking.  However, while some people might appear to find it easier than others, everyone at least has a common purpose  – they are there to build connections. So approach it from the point of view that at least everyone has the same goal and are open to talking to you.

You must have a strategy

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be standing in the traffic if you want to get knocked down! But it’s not enough to wander blindly into a networking event without a clue of how you’re about to approach it. This starts before the event where you try and get a handle on who is likely to be there. Are there lists of attendees available in advance? Can you check out who members of the business group / conference attendees are? Once you’ve an idea of who will be there, you can start thinking about who your preferred “targets” are. And then you can start doing some quick research on them through their website and LinkedIn profile. And this research will hopefully come in very handy later…

Be a first mover

Don’t just head for your pals and spend your night in deep conversation with them! By all means, if they are in a group of people that you want to meet, take the opportunity to get introduced into the group. But be active and make the first move to start conversations. Others will thank you for this and it also gives you the opportunity to guide the conversation.

Be interested

And this is where your research comes in really useful! If you can show a level of interest in the people you meet – some knowledge of their business, some connections you have in common, it might even be that you know about some quirky interest of theirs, this will ease them into the conversation as you are opening the door for them to talk about themselves. And then be interested because your interest in them will come back in spades. They will naturally want to reciprocate and turn the conversation towards you, which of course is then your opening…

Hone your own pitch

When you get over the initial chit-chat and move on to talking about your reason for being at the event and what you have to offer, this simply must be interesting and must grab their attention. At the end of the day, they will be talking to many people that day so you must be in some way memorable. If you are pitching your wares, paint pictures of solutions, not saying why you’re such a great financial planner. Let people see how you will solve problems for them and enrich their lives in some way.

Follow up brilliantly!

Then when all the hard work is done, make sure you take the final step. Contact people after the event saying how it was great to meet them and thanking them for their time. Connect with them on LinkedIn and if you send out a company newsletter, suggest that they be added to the circulation list. Send them information if this makes sense. If there’s a favour you can do for them, maybe there’s someone else you can introduce them to – well then this is even better.

So yes, networking is not easy. But hopefully these few thoughts might make the task a little less daunting for you!

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?

Do you want your Marketing to Work? Get the Brief right!

Many Financial Brokers are now starting to turn their attention towards 2015 and as part of this, some are reviewing their marketing material.

There are probably two ways to approach this. The first is to appoint a marketing professional (cough, cough – such as myself!) to remove the headache and to deliver the particular project for you. The alternative approach is to roll up the sleeves, write the content and arrange the design and production yourself. Irrespective of which path you decide to follow, I suggest that one of the main determinants of success is the quality of the brief that you give to anyone who you engage in this process, such as a consultant, a graphic designer, advertising or PR agency etc.

This might not appear to be the most exciting topic in the world, but if you don’t want to waste your marketing budget, it’s a really important process to get right. So what should a strong marketing brief contain?

Clear Objectives

First of all, you need to set out in crystal clear fashion what are the objectives of the particular marketing project. Are you looking to raise brand awareness, to sell a product or to educate etc.? Don’t assume that any 3rd party involved in the process will instinctively know what you trying to achieve. Instead, remove any doubt and set out clearly your objectives.

Target Audience

Who are you trying to reach with your marketing communication? Think about this across a range of demographics;

  • Males or Females
  • Age groups
  • Geographical areas
  • Socio-economic groups
  • Occupational groups or sectors of the economy

The clearer you are about who your communication is aimed at, the better the chances of it actually getting picked up and noticed by that group. Because people will engage with it if they believe that it is specifically aimed at them.

Tone of voice

Think through the tone of voice that the audience are likely to best connect with. Should the communication be written in corporate style language or should it be written in informal “folksy” language? This needs to be considered carefully as the wrong tone of voice will immediately alienate the audience.

Their current perceptions of the product or service

It is always a good idea to capture the current perceptions of the product or service that is being marketed among the target audience. If you can clearly demonstrate that you know what the audience think of your product today and build your message from this position, this will help to build your audience’s engagement.

The desired perception of the product or service

This is where are you trying to get to. Is it a position of the audience seeing improvement, in building greater levels of trust, in seeing you as the best in the marketplace? Be realistic about your desired perceived positioning and then capture it clearly so that everyone understands where you’re trying to move the audience to.

Clarify the benefits of the product or service

These are obviously required, but spend time capturing these in detail. There may be an “angle” in one of the more obscure benefits that a creative person might spot as a great hook for your target audience. So list these out and explain in detail why the target audience values the benefits.

Design

First of all and similar to the tone of voice, some design styles will land better with your target audience that others, so clearly identify whether you are looking for a sophisticated, corporate design or something less formal and potentially even humorous for example.

The other area to consider in relation to design is the linkage back to your own brand. Provide all of the necessary assets – your logo and contact details are obvious ones. But also provide any colour schemes that you generally use and of course if you actually have brand guidelines, provide these.

Audience Reaction

The next question to consider is what you want your audience to think and feel as a result of your communication. Should they be enlightened? Should they be scared by some stark facts you’ve put out there? Should they be questioning their existing approach to the problem at hand, maybe questioning the approach that they are currently taking to their investment portfolio?

Calls to Action

And finally, what do you want the audience to do? Are you aiming that they will ring you, or visit your website or download some information? Maybe you’re looking for them to sign up to a newsletter or other communication? It’s really important to be crystal clear in your call to action, to give yourself the very best chance of success.

These are the areas that will make up a very strong brief for a 3rd party working on your behalf. Put the time into getting the brief right, it will pay back many times over in the long run.

Adding lots of value to your clients? Tell them about it!

A lot of advisers today are really starting to effectively demonstrate their value to new clients in their initial meeting. Using powerful presentations or other marketing material, they are setting out their advice processes and how these processes are really valuable to the clients.

However many advisers still struggle with reminding their clients of the ongoing value that they are adding, year after year. They’re providing great ongoing advice, adding value to the clients throughout the year but the clients just don’t seem to see it – they don’t realise the value added… So how can you keep reminding your clients of the tremendous value that you continue to add?

Here are two ways that I think are really important.

Have brilliant review meetings

This is a very obvious one, but there are some financial brokers who consider it a “win” if the client says they don’t need a review meeting! The review meeting going ahead is certainly not a win. Yes it might give you an extra few free hours, but the opportunity cost of reinforcing your value is significant.

Of course there is the “hard yards” in review meetings of reviewing a client’s portfolio, getting up to date values and potentially even writing a short review report. But this is balanced with the business opportunity of potential top-ups, a review of protection benefits and policies and new financial products needed. However the real opportunity to demonstrate your value on an ongoing basis to clients rests outside of the traditional review meeting agenda. Why not take a little extra time and set out for your clients some financial benefits that you’ve delivered to them such as;

  • The growth in actual euros of their investment portfolio
  • The tax saved as a result of their pension plan and any other tax efficient policies
  • The actual money saved in euros and cents as a result of a protection review you carried out previously.

 Now your ongoing fee / trail commission starts to look very small! However there’s still a lot more you can do at these review meetings to demonstrate further value to you clients.

  • Help your clients with their household budgeting. Trust me (as a consumer), this can add huge value to your clients!
  • Talk to them about their broader financial needs where you don’t provide the solutions. You can add value by tapping them into your network of solicitors (for their will or enduring power of attorney), tax advisers (tax advice) or accountants. Now you’re the person pulling all of the strings!
  • Obviously if you carry out future cashflow planning with your clients, this is an exceptionally valuable exercise every year.

Client Calendars

There are lots of activities that you carry out on behalf of your clients during the year. The challenge is getting them to notice the work that you’re doing on their behalf and then reminding them about it in an engaging and memorable way. One of the ways that you can do this is by providing your client with their own calendar of your services every year. Obviously you would create a nicely presented version of this, but the main content for your key clients might look something like this, if presented at the end of each year;

  • January: Client newsletter,
  • February: Investment rebalancing
  • March: Annual Review Meeting, client newsletter
  • April: Investment seminar, update on major market movements
  • May: Investment rebalancing, client newsletter
  • June: Golf outing
  • July: Client newsletter
  • August: Investment rebalancing, meeting with your accountant
  • September: Half Year check-in, client newsletter
  • October: Budget update, tax deadline review
  • November: Investment rebalancing, client newsletter
  • December: Christmas lunch

Now the client sees you working for them throughout the year, not just at a single point in time at the review meeting

If you’re delivering both of these supports in a structured and engaging way, how likely is your client to start arguing over your trail commission?

How do you get more PR Coverage?

With the huge attention being focused on social media these days, some of the more traditional marketing tools can get forgotten. Which is a terrible shame, as many of them continue to be extremely relevant for Financial Brokers today. One of these is coverage in local or national newspapers.

PR coverage is still an excellent medium for brokers. Many of the national newspapers and indeed some of the local papers still have widely read personal finance sections, with some very credible business journalists covering a range or topics that regularly feature in the advice given by Financial Brokers. These journalists are constantly on the lookout for original news stories and thought provoking opinion pieces, and there is a relatively narrow cohort of financial brokers who help them fill their columns, gaining really valuable coverage for themselves.

So how do you break into this group and establish yourself as a valued source of content by journalists? Well here are a few thoughts…

Think of the Readers

Don’t see PR as a sales route. That’s not to say there can’t be subliminal sales messages in there. But a journalist won’t react to an advertisement for your business! It needs to be “newsy”. Your pitch for coverage needs to be about a development in the market that will affect consumers, the impact of changes in legislation on consumers, maybe a new angle for consumers to consider about their personal financial affairs. Or maybe you’re about to hire a big team of advisers – now that’s a good story too!!

Know the journalist’s preferences

So you have a story that you’re very sure is interesting to the population at large. The next critical step is to point it in the direction of the right publication and individual journalist. Many a mistake has been made by just picking up the phone to the first national journalist that comes to mind. Unfortunately this may result in your story being taken and then given only a tiny feature, if at all.

Instead, start reading the business columns carefully yourself. Get a feel for the type of content that individual journalists write about and also use from outside sources. This should help you decide who offers the best opportunity of you achieving the coverage that your story deserves.

Make your story unique and interesting

Your news story or opinion piece needs to have a novel twist to it. It needs to pique the readers’ interest. You also have to make sure that it’s timely; it can’t be old news! So spend time working on communicating the real difference in your story – as this is your hook in getting the story placed.

Then add some colour to your story. Include some quotes from the leader / public face of your organisation  – these should be written in a conversational style, as if they were actually spoken and recorded.

Finally, think about the placing of your story. Are you going to issue a blanket press release and hope that a few publications will pick it up and use it? If so, your story had better be extremely strong! The alternative is to give the story to a single journalist, and aim to get them to cover it extensively as they were given exclusivity with it.

Be concise

No matter what, keep your story brief. Have a clear headline that will encourage the journalist to at least scan your article. Then get to the point quickly. Journalists are not going to have the time to sift through padding to get to the nub of the story. Help them get there quickly!

Make it Easy for the story to be carried

Once a journalist is interested, you then want to make it as easy as possible for them to use the story. Have ready any other information that they might want. Start by providing them with a short bio of yourself and your company. Make a photo available too – if this is a little bit unusual or quirky, all the better! Be available also for interview at a time of the journalist’s choosing as they might have some follow-on questions. Make sure to include all your contact details.

Be resilient

How do you best pitch a story to journalists? There’s no doubt that building up relationships over time is extremely important. At the end of the day, this is where a PR agency will add value, as they will have already built up strong relationships with the relevant journalists and know how best to approach them. But that’s not to say you can’t do it yourself… you’re just going to have to be willing to put in some hard yards, building up relationships with individual journalists. And this might take time, so resilience is needed! But there are many Financial Brokers who have proved that this can be done!

A journalist may not bite now – but if your name keeps cropping up in front of them in relation to interesting stories or angles, you just may be someone they’ll contact when they’ve a slow news week.

So “traditional” PR can play a really important role in your overall marketing mix and can really help you to become recognised as an expert by your clients. It takes a lot of work, but if successful will deliver a really valuable dividend.