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Be the Hub of your Client’s Financial Affairs

I was recently helping a very progressive financial advice firm in Cork with their marketing planning. As part of the conversation, we discussed value added services that advisers can offer today and indeed I got talking about my relationship with my own financial adviser.

I see my financial adviser as the hub of my financial affairs. My accountant does a very solid job in terms of the production of accounts and ensuring I pay my taxes on time and basically don’t break the law! But I really see him in a transactional / compliance capacity.

On the other hand, my financial adviser provides a broader range of value to me. Yes, he has of course developed my financial plan and ensured I have the right investments, retirement planning and protections in place – I’d expect no less! But he also guides me in relation to much broader financial-related issues and I’ve found this a bit unexpected and extremely valuable. He’s now the go-to guy for me in relation to my broader financial affairs – he’s the hub of my financial world.

Having been the beneficiary of such value-added services, I’ve identified below a few areas in which you can add value to your clients beyond the preparation of traditional financial plans and beyond the products that you recommend to your clients. Why bother with these? To build your client’s appreciation of the value that you can bring and to make you the first port of call when changes in their circumstances arise.

Budgeting

I’m starting with an easy one that is often overlooked by financial advisers as not needed by clients because “everyone does it”. I disagree! People tend to do personal budgeting in a very unstructured fashion, usually in their heads. The opportunity is here for financial advisers to bring templates to their clients and help them structure their budgeting and examine all of their day-to-day spending.

Apart from the value that the exercise brings, for married clients it is a great way of engaging the spouse too in the overall process, as their spending is equally important in the overall picture.

Future Cashflow Planning

I refer to this a lot, but only because I see it as such as a valuable service offered by some financial advisers. It certainly isn’t appropriate for every client, but is hugely valuable to those who are suitable. The reason for this is simple. Traditional financial planning focuses on the starting point (as identified within the factfind – where you stand financially today) and the end event (death, investment maturity date, retirement date).

Future cashflow planning focuses on every year between now and your death, highlighting times of particular financial challenge to you in the future. Knowing the challenges that you will face, gives you an opportunity to plan to overcome them.

Tax Advice for Individuals

Business owners and professionals will usually have an accountant. Most PAYE workers probably don’t. That doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit from tax advice; some want help in completing their tax returns, some want general tax advice. There’s a growing trend internationally of financial advisers moving into this space, in fact some financial advice firms are now employing accountants or tax advisers to provide this service and other tax advice to clients.

Now this approach is not going to be for everyone. At a minimum though, you should have a relationship with a good tax expert that you can plug your client into. The benefit for you is that it’s another demonstration of your value, as you are the catalyst for your client receiving the broader solutions needed.

Financial advisers also play a very valuable role in helping clients prepare for later in life and indeed end of life through retirement planning and life assurance solutions. However there are a number of other ways that you can help your clients prepare for these latter years, again helping to position you as the hub of their financial affairs. Some of these areas can also potentially bring you into contact with your client’s adult children, an important target market for many advisers.

Advice about Bank Accounts

Neither my bank manager nor my accountant spoke to me about having multiple signatories on my bank accounts, both personal and business accounts. But my financial adviser did. This is very practical advice, ensuring that in the event of my death or loss of capacity, that my wife would be able to access my money without jumping through all types of legal hoops…

Enduring Power of Attorney

This is a legal document that can be set up by a person during their life when in good mental health. It allows another specially appointed person to take actions on their behalf should they become incapacitated through illness in the future. This prevents assets being frozen and going under the control of the courts and allows the person acting on your behalf to make a range of personal care decisions on your behalf.

Anyone who has been through this situation, needing to access the assets of a relative who has lost their mental capacity (e.g. to pay for their care) will know the value of having an enduring power of attorney in place. It can be incredibly frustrating being unable to carry out simple actions on the person’s behalf without it.

At the same time, many people also draw up a “Living Will” which captures their preferences in relation to areas such as end of life care, their preferences in terms of resuscitation etc. when close to death.

A financial adviser won’t set this up. However they can be the catalyst for it happening through setting out the benefits of it to their clients and guiding them to put it in place. The adviser may even be able to refer them to a solicitor who will carry out this work with the client.

A Will

Again this is an area where financial advisers can guide their clients to ensure that they have a will in place to ensure their assets are distributed as they intend on their death. A simple process usually carried out with a solicitor.

These are some areas that financial advisers can help or guide their clients through. They add real value to your relationships; way beyond the product solutions you advise clients about and put you firmly at the hub of your client’s financial affairs.

Are there any other areas beyond products in which you advise your clients?




image courtesy of Flickr / David Hunter

LinkedIn for Financial Advisers – Part 2: Building up a valuable network

 

In this second of three in-depth articles about LinkedIn, we take a look at best practices in building a strong connection base and set out some tips for financial advisers to develop a valuable network. This is a really important step in actually using LinkedIn to deliver value, the subject of the final instalment coming up in a few weeks time!

 

LinkedIn will help you!

To start building up your network, take all the help that is available. The bigger and better our LinkedIn networks become, the more we will use it as a platform and the more valuable LinkedIn as a company will become. So LinkedIn help you broaden your network in a number of ways.

First of all, you can download your email contacts into LinkedIn. This is very straightforward if you use Gmail, it can be a bit trickier to download directly from Outlook. An alternative is to download your contacts from Outlook into a .csv (excel) file and then upload this into LinkedIn which will then identify which of your email contacts have LinkedIn profiles. This saves you going searching for each of them individually. You then have the option of inviting each of these email contacts to join your LinkedIn network.

LinkedIn will also identify from your profile your school, college and previous employers. Using this, it will suggest alumni and ex-colleagues that you can consider connecting with.

On an ongoing basis, LinkedIn will examine your connections and your 2nd & 3rd level connections and will suggest people for you to connect with. This is extremely useful, in fact many people express to me how impressed they are by the intuition of this feature! This is on your homepage and well worth checking out regularly.

 

Think what you’re trying to achieve!

At this stage, start thinking about why you are going to all of this trouble. At the end of the day, you want to build up a valuable network of connections that ultimately may be helpful to one or both of you in a business context. You are looking to connect with clients, potential clients, business partners, introducers etc. And this works both ways – sometimes you are the client! Through your network, you are looking to provide value to your connections and/or indeed receive value from them.

So does it make sense if the lion’s share of your connections are other financial brokers? There is definite benefit in connecting with other advisers who you collaborate with or bounce ideas off for your mutual benefit. However I think that competitors should make up the minority of your connections, particularly where neither of you in reality will be looking to add value to each other. LinkedIn is not a glorified address book, it is far more valuable than that! But more about that in my final post on the subject of LinkedIn….

A question I’m often asked is, “Should I accept every connection request?”

There are many different views on this one. My own approach is to accept connections where I believe that there is some chance, even remote of one or other of us providing value to the other. I also consider how the approach was made, whether I think the person wanted to connect with me or was just spamming out invitations – see the section on manners below.

Groups are another rich source of potential connections as they offer opportunities to interact with people with common interests, challenges etc. Add value here and you will quickly build up a broader network.

If you have accepted connections in the past that you now want to remove, LinkedIn have made this very easy. You can now break the link with a connection, and the good news is, they are not even aware that you’ve done so. However, if you want to re-awaken this connection in the future, you will need to re-invite them to connect again.

 

Have a process to grow your network

It is really important to have a clear process for growing your network that you then carry out consistently. I think it’s all about striking while the iron is hot! After you have met someone who you would like to have in your network, you should straightaway check if they are on LinkedIn and if so, look to connect while you are still fresh in their minds. Once connected, you have opened the door to a value adding relationship in the future, even if you don’t see them again for some time. I encourage advisers to set aside even 10 minutes a day to reflect on who they met in the previous 24 hours, and then connect with them.

 

Don’t forget your manners!

My biggest bugbear with LinkedIn? This is when I receive a connection request where I don’t know the person, just receive the bog standard invitation request and I get a sense that the person was just spamming / firing out connection requests in all directions. So I’ve a few rules…

  1. Never send out the standard LinkedIn connection request. Personalise every invitation, even if it is just a reminder of where you met, a suggestion to meet for a coffee or some general business observation. The point is to show the person that you want to connect with him / her and are not just trying to drive up your connection numbers. Yes, this is slower as you have to send out each connection request individually, but definitely worth it.
  2. It is ok to look to connect with people in your connections’ networks, after all this is a key benefit of LinkedIn and what makes it tick! However there is a way to do it. As an example, let’s assume I’m connected to Joe who in turn is connected to Sam, who I don’t know. I want to connect with Sam to build a business relationship. Yes I can go directly to Sam and say why he should connect with me etc. However there’s a strong chance that he may just ignore me, as he doesn’t know me. Instead, do what you do offline. LinkedIn has a facility by which I can go to Joe and ask for an introduction to Sam. This is very powerful. Now Joe is doing me a favour (which I hopefully can reciprocate) and now Sam is much more likely to connect, both as a favour to Joe and also because of the professional approach used.

These are just a few thoughts on growing your network. In my final post on LinkedIn coming up in 2/3 weeks time, we get to the real meat of this series – using LinkedIn to add value.

If you’ve any thoughts on growing your LinkedIn network, please feel free to leave 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.

Double your impact through co-marketing your financial advice business

You may be putting a lot of effort into a number of marketing activities but still wishing that you could reach out to a wider audience than that currently available to you. So how do you do this? Well one of the ways may be through co-marketing.

Co-marketing is where you find a business that provides a complimentary service to your own, one that is aimed at a similar target market. For financial advisers, this more than likely will be an accountant, a tax consultant, a legal firm or some other form of business consultancy. You then agree a programme of shared marketing activities that will be aimed at both of your client bases, promoting both of your brands. The ultimate aim is to increase each partner’s sales opportunities with the other’s clients.

How is this different to how many advisers currently work with, let’s say accountants? Well from my experience, most existing relationships currently operate in a one-way direction. The accountant refers a client; the financial adviser sells a product and may compensate the accountant. Co-marketing is different. It is shared activities.

So why would you do it? As stated in the title of this article, you can first of all significantly increase the reach of your marketing efforts by opening up your marketing activities to your co-marketing partner’s clients. This shared activity also gets both you and your partner onto the radar of a whole new group of clients. Also by partnering with another strong brand, this will reflect positively on your business and give you added credibility. So obviously it is important to find the right co-marketing partner!

Once you find the right partner, what sort of activities can you roll out together? There is a wide range of potential activities and here are some that might be the easiest and quickest for you to implement together.

Shared content

The first area to collaborate on is sharing content. We all know the effort that goes into writing newsletters, blog articles or other expert pieces. Co-marketing is a great way to get this content to a wider audience. Post each other’s content on your website & in your blogs as guest posts. Give each other a “guest corner” on your newsletters, increasing your exposure. This will make each of your website blogs or newsletters more engaging, will reduce the struggle for new content for both of you and will hopefully also result in some new client enquiries from your partner’s clients.

Videos

If you use video on your website, co-marketing offers a great opportunity to move away from the monologues that so often feature on sites. Pick a topic that is relevant to both organisations’ propositions and have a discussion about it. Apart from being a different and more engaging format, this approach will also increase the breadth in which a topic can be covered, hopefully resulting in some enquiries from clients.

Seminars

Client seminars are a great form of co-marketing as they offer a whole range of benefits. First of all, you can examine a topic from different angles. For example, an accountant might talk about pensions as one important strand of tax planning while you might discuss different pension investment strategies. One topic can very seamlessly segue into another.

Seminars also offer the opportunity to actually meet your partner’s clients, as you will both invite clients to the event. Both of you get exposure to new potential clients with the opportunity to present to them…and impress them.

Of course another benefit is that you’ll share the cost of the seminar!

A joint brochure

A number of advisers that I’ve worked with have developed corporate brochures and then try and encourage any accountants who refer business to them to hand out the brochures to their clients. While this makes sense of course, unfortunately the brochures are unlikely to stay right at hand in the accountant’s office…. However if the brochures have a shared message and feature your co-marketing partner equally prominently, they have a good chance of gaining pride of place in their office too.

Co-branded sales propositions

While this one will definitively take a little bit more work, the potential rewards are very significant. This is where you develop an actual sales / advice proposition, delivered by both parties and demonstrably packaged as a single proposition. For example, it might be a wealth transfer proposition in which the partner would bring their tax / legal expertise and combine this with your advice in relation to life cover for inheritance tax purposes, ARFs etc. This offers a very clear demonstration of your partnership in actual practise and can directly result in actual revenue for both parties.

These are a few ways in which you can co-market successfully. Are there other activities that you’ve carried out that have worked well for you, maybe an event or a particular campaign? Please share your thoughts below!

How to succeed with B2B sales

Financial advice firms today recognise the significant benefits that accrue from having a rich client base of companies. Whether they are large corporates or SME’s, companies offer fertile ground for advisers as they can open up a wide range of opportunities to advise not only the company, but also the individual directors and the employees about their financial needs. But what skills or attributes does it take to widen your companies client base to open up these opportunities?

B2B selling requires a different skill set than that needed to successfully advise consumers.  This article attempts to identify those skills needed. Hopefully they will help you re-awaken some of your own dormant skills or indeed might help you if you are hiring someone to develop your business client base. Also, excellent account managers working for product providers, promoting their products to financial advisers, also demonstrate these attributes.

So what does it take to build up your corporate client base?

 

Research capability

Good B2B salespeople will never approach a potential customer without carrying out detailed research of the company. While it might be ok (but certainly not preferable) to meet an individual and know little about them, this won’t work with companies. As there are so many rich sources of information now with websites, LinkedIn profiles and company reports available, you need to use them! As you set out to impress a potential company, you had better be able to confidently articulate how your proposition will be an excellent fit to meet their needs. To do so, you need to know their business.

 

Be a good listener

However I’m not suggesting in the previous section that you arrive with your pre-prepared solutions to the company’s problems because you’ve first of all got to find out what they are. Don’t dive into solutions! You need to start with strong questioning and close listening to ensure that the solution you eventually propose will address the right problem. Lots of “Open” questions needed here!

 

Ability to interact at multiple levels

Financial advisers who are dealing with business clients will typically begin a corporate relationship through CEOs, business owners, finance directors or HR directors. These people will share some common characteristics. First of all they usually have pretty good knowledge of their financial services needs as they will have covered the subject areas previously or indeed will have researched the areas themselves. Secondly they have very little time on their hands and they don’t suffer fools gladly! So if you want to be successful, make sure you are on top of your game when it comes to your advice proposition and product knowledge and get to the point – be professional and business-like at all times.

However this is not about being high-brow. If you gain a business client, you need to be able to engage with people right throughout the company, to empathise and build relationships at all levels of the organisation. Your relationship with the company will ultimately fail if you get on great with the finance director but no one else wants to do business with you. So deal appropriately with everyone throughout the company.

 

Be a problem solver

Company clients will expect you to make their lives easier, to add value both in terms of financial benefits for them and also in terms of addressing any problems quickly. They will expect you to proactively address any issues they might have with any financial institution and to solve these problems quickly and effectively. So basically you need to be more than a salesperson. You need to be a service agent too who will add value to the relationship on an on-going basis. If they feel that they have been left to manage issues themselves, they will question your value and ultimately replace you.

Corporate clients will expect you to be resilient, to manage stressful situations and then to come back looking for more problems to solve!

 

Use technology and innovative solutions

Business clients will typically use technology in many areas of their business to help them reduce cost and improve efficiency. They will expect no less from you. They will value access to key information online and the use of technology to make on-going servicing easier. And they will expect you to continue to seek out more innovative solutions for them, both in terms of your actual advice and product propositions and also in terms of your service to them.

The best financial advisers dealing with B2B clients realise that this area is not just the responsibility of product providers but an area in which they can actually differentiate themselves.  I’m seeing this in systems being used by advisers to identify the emotional factors influencing individual investors, risk profiling tools, fact finding tools and of course CRM tools.

 

Highest ethics and integrity

Most companies place huge store in their reputation and actively seek to have a positive impact on their employees, customers and community. While this is of course the right thing to do, they also recognise the benefits they gain through better engagement with these groups, which ultimately will yield financial benefits. As an example, Corporate Social Responsibility programmes are very important processes within a lot of companies today.

The last thing these employers will want is to introduce an adviser who doesn’t share these aspirations. So never let your high ethical standards slip.

These are some of the characteristics I’ve seen in the best B2B salespeople I’ve encountered in both financial advice firms and in life companies. I hope they describe you to a tee!

Are there other characteristics? Please feel free to leave comments below.

The Power of Partnerships

It’s now 6 months since I left corporate life to join the ranks of the SME owners, helping financial advisers and insurance brokers across the country to develop revenue generating marketing and business development strategies.

One area of the market that has very pleasantly surprised me in the market has been the proliferation of all kinds of partnerships that advisers are utilising to help develop their businesses. Yes, advisers continue to gain tremendous benefit from the support of the life companies, who are working closely with their distribution partners to drive business development and other business support activities. Advisers are also benefiting from the important support activities of the broker representative organisations. However it’s the more informal partnerships and wide use of external experts that I’ve found a bit unexpected!

 Increasing Market Reach

My biggest surprise has been at the amount of collaboration going on between advisers themselves. Advisers are realising that they can’t be everywhere and all things to all potential clients, and are instead partnering with other advisers to address market reach challenges. How is this actually playing out on the ground?

Well first of all, there are a number of excellent advisers with nationwide propositions but without representation in every corner of the country. These brokers are maintaining a truly nationwide presence through collaboration with other advisers in those area where they don’t have a presence. What’s the result? Satisfied clients receiving an excellent, prompt service.

I’ve also been very impressed by some advisers not trying to be “all things to all men” and referring clients seeking specialist advice in certain product areas to other more specialist advisers. Obviously they are ensuring this is a “two-way street” to the benefit of both parties by each offering specialisation that the other doesn’t offer! Both win, as of course do their clients who receive the very best possible advice! The days of feeling threatened by another adviser to the expense of missed opportunities have been replaced by trust in each other to mutually develop profitable futures for all!

Of course the more traditional partnerships with business introducers such as accountancy firms, solicitors continue to abound with great success by many advisers.

 Business Proposition Development

One of the main reason that I set up StepChange was to help advisers to develop a bespoke business proposition and then to help them reach clients in a structured and creative way. If I had a Euro for every time I was told “but brokers don’t invest in their businesses” I’d be a wealthy man! Thankfully this most definitely has not been my experience. There are numerous different ways that progressive financial advisers are partnering with external service providers to help bring their business forwards.

As I mentioned above, advisers are working with specialists such as myself in developing their business strategy, addressing sales and distribution challenges and of course marketing. Often, it’s to take a fresh, new look at their overall business proposition, sometimes to address a particular commercial or marketing challenge. Advisers can’t be skilled in every single area, sometimes it makes a lot of sense to call in the experts! Certainly I have experienced ambitious financial advisers willing to invest in order to improve their commercial propositions.

Another example of partnerships at work, is where financial advisers are developing a truly unique client proposition by working with experts in developing a bespoke investment proposition. This is enabling them to communicate a well-developed and unique proposition to clients and helping them to stand apart from other advisers. It helps them to communicate their independence and still enables them to access the best funds available in the market. The expertise of their investment partners also adds a deeper level of credibility to their propositions.

Yes there’s a cost in each of these partnerships. However the benefits of more clients being reached, with a bespoke proposition, and then being effectively communicated with to enable deeper relationships far outweigh these costs.

 Business Efficiency

The final area is where some advisers are investing in partnerships to make their businesses more “fit for purpose”. This is demonstrated in areas such as compliance support, technology support, customer service and staff training. Again, there are a vast range of external partners with deep knowledge of our market available to financial advisers.

Yes, times are tough and income is very hard-earned by financial advisers today. However I’m seeing a fine cohort of ambitious financial advisers out there who are looking at a brighter future by investing in external expertise to maximise the potential of their businesses. They are seeing short-term costs being negated by both short and long term benefits that I think will help them to be the winners of the future.