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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?

5 Summer Sales Jobs

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

So here lies the opportunity! It’s quite likely that you’ll have a bit more spare time on your hands over the next while; the question is how will you use this time? We all know how hours and days can just get “lost”; where you get to the end of the day and realise you actually haven’t done a whole lot that day! It can be hard to keep your focus when there’s not the pressure of constant phone calls and emails and achieving deadlines to meet client expectations.

It’s easier to keep focused though when you have a plan. So what sort of things might be in that plan for the summer months? Here are a few ideas;

Arrange to meet your key clients

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

Revisit your LinkedIn presence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update your CRM system

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

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

Develop a plan of attack for the rest of the year

Plot out how you’re going to approach the final four months of the year, from when everything “gets back to normal” on 1st September. Who are the prospects / clients that you need to contact in plenty of time before “pensions season”? What will this contact consist of? How are you going to get these prospects to engage on the subject of pensions, and equally importantly, how will you ensure they engage with you? Which other clients need to be contacted, either for a regular review or indeed because you’re aware of a change in their circumstances?

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

Take a holiday & recharge your batteries!

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

Photo Credit: flickr

4 Financial Adviser Videos that really work!

Financial advisers often raise the question of the effectiveness of video marketing. Some see it as a vanity project, as an expensive activity that yields very poor results. And sometimes that is exactly the case! But certainly not always…

Video offers a number of great opportunities to financial advisers. First of all, it offers a different, engaging medium to communicate an important message – maybe an overview of your business, your financial planning approach or indeed different aspects of your client proposition. Some visitors to a website prefer clicking on a video than reading paragraphs of text, so video gives you the opportunity to hang on to that visitor to your website a little longer.

Also, YouTube is now the 2nd most frequently used search engine in the world after Google, so video also offers great opportunities as an entry point to your website from searches.

However quality is critically important where video is concerned. To produce a good video takes a lot of time and effort – careful scripting, a lot of thought about production including the location, use of graphics, the cast, the right music etc., and the key messages to be communicated. And all of this to produce a video that should be kept really brief – the preferred length for most videos is no more than one to two minutes.

There are lots of examples out there of average (or worse!) videos. However, here are 4 examples of videos that I believe work really well. I picked from advisers outside of Ireland only, to avoid any accusations of favouritism! I’ve also gone for four very different approaches that hopefully give you a sense of what can be achieved through this medium.

 

Does your Wealth Manager talk too much? (UK)

This video (click here) is the first in a series of four videos produced by Yellowtail Financial Planning in the UK, setting out the benefits of working with a financial planner as opposed to a wealth management company that is selling their own investment solutions.

It’s worth reading their thinking behind the video and the production of it, which can be found here. I’d also encourage you to watch the others in this series too which can be found on their website. What really works for me in these videos is the excellent script, the clarity of the message and the gentle irreverence of the videos – this firm gets a great message across without taking itself too seriously! It all just works really well.

 

The Latte Habit (US)

This video is very different. This video was developed by Michigan Financial Advisors Corp. and centres on a simple message of small amounts of money adding up. Again the script is excellent, the video is kept tight (approx. 2 minutes) and the graphics are really easy to watch and well produced.

To view this video, click here and this will bring you to the company’s video gallery. When you get there, just click on “The Latte Habit” (and then give it a few seconds to load). This one is the best of the videos on that page – some of the others are also worth a view though.

 

Meaningful Money (UK)

Do videos take a lot work to produce? Well this is the guy to ask, a UK Certified Financial Planner by the name of Pete Matthew of Meaningful Money. I’ve provided a link here to Episode Number 288 (!) in his series of videos. He covers a very broad range of financial topics in his videos, one topic in each video and shoots them in a wide range of different locations, many in very scenic spots. He even has a sponsor of his videos now!

What I like about these videos is his commitment to the medium, the range of topics covered which really give him the opportunity to demonstrate the breadth of his expertise and again, that he obviously doesn’t take himself too seriously while getting serious messages across.

If you want to see more in this series of videos, click here and you will see that each item in the main navigation bar leads to a range of videos.

Plan4Life (UK)

This video is a bit longer than the optimal length, but what I like about it is the refusal to succumb to the old adage of “Never work with kids or animals!” This video looks at each of the stages in our lives and the financial objectives of each of them. And using kids to make the video in the process.

What I like about this video is the focus on financial objectives and again, a business not taking itself too seriously in the process. Click on the link here to be taken to this video.

Click on the homepage of this site too – they’ve a nice introduction video to their business using graphics rather than people.

 

And finally, one other video with nothing to do with financial services! You may have seen it already, it was made about 18 months ago, but it’s a great demonstration of how a serious message can be delivered in an engaging fashion. It’s a safety video by Metro trains in Melbourne, Australia that has started a whole cult of copycat videos, online games etc. and has already been viewed by more than 80 million people! Now that’s viral!! Be careful, the tune will stick in your head for ages too…

 

Have you seen any other excellent videos by Financial Advisers? Come on, don’t keep them to yourself, please leave links to them in the comments below!

How does a Financial Broker rank higher on Google searches?

Many financial brokers see an effective Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy as the Holy Grail. Consumers search for a financial broker. You appear at the top of the Google search results. The consumer clicks on your website, likes what they see and picks up the phone to you. Oh, if life was only that simple!

The first point you need to realise with SEO is that you are actually pitching the quality of your website to Google rather than the consumers. At the end of the day, Google’s success as a search engine is dependent on them delivering the best results for the search term that is input. If you search for a product or service and the results don’t deliver what you’re looking for, eventually you’ll start to use a different search engine. So Google constantly move the goalposts, by developing new algorithms to ensure the most relevant results are delivered.

Long gone are the days where you simply loaded your pages with the keywords that you wanted to be associated with (pensions, investments, protection etc.). In fact in the early days of search your content didn’t need to make any sense, it just needed to feature the keywords lots of times. These day are thankfully long gone!

So how do you climb the Google rankings today?

 

Set your pages up correctly

This is not the be all and end all any more, but still important. You need to ensure that as pages are added to your website, that they are structured properly. This is usually made easy now by in-built SEO packages but some of the main features to ensure are

  • Your URLs (web page addresses) must be relevant
  • You must use the correct Headings structure
  • You need to give the page a relevant title and description for search results

 

It’s all about content

Content is the juice behind an effective SEO strategy. Original, relevant, fresh content regularly published through a blog / news section on your website is central to successful SEO. Remember that Google want to point searchers to the most relevant websites. Relevancy is achieved by demonstrating expertise and authority in the keyword area, on an ongoing basis through the production of a consistent stream of quality content. Establish yourself as a voice to be listened to and a thought leader in the keyword area, and Google will reward you by lifting you up the search rankings!

 

Social media activity is key

Once you produce great content, the next step is to get it out in front of as many eyes as possible. So lead people to your content, using all the routes available to you. These are primarily via email marketing and also via your social media channels.

Google reward you for this when your network then endorse your content by “liking” it, commenting or better still, by sharing the content with their own network. Google are paying increasing heed to content being shared by 3rd parties, as they view this as an endorsement of the quality and authority of the content.

 

Don’t ignore Google+

Most people don’t want to hear this as the last thing they want is yet another social media channel to manage. However Google+ is not going away, it is slowly but surely gaining in relevance as a channel. One of the main reasons for this is the weight that Google gives to activity on Google+. Sharing content on Google+ and gaining endorsement from a wide number of followers will really help your performance in search results.

 

Establish your Google+ Authorship

Google have introduced a new feature on Google+ called Authorship. It enables you to establish yourself as the confirmed author of your content. To do this, I reckon the best way for most financial advisers is to talk to their web developer who will be able to set this up for you.

The benefits of actually doing it are twofold. First of all, it helps your performance in search results as it is another positive indicator of your credibility as a relevant voice and secondly, it improves how your search results are displayed. Rather than a simple results line, it will display your photo and name too. This in turn may well help your chances of your link being clicked – compare the difference in the 2 links below.

Search results

 

So, as you can see, improving your ranking in search results is no longer simply about stuffing your content with keywords. Google is full of smart people and we also need to be smart to gain their approval!

I hope some of these points help you in improving your search results. If you’ve any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below.

Why updating your website blog is worth the effort

A frequent question I’m asked by financial brokers when they are updating their website is; “Do I really need a blog section?” They know what lies ahead of them… the pressure to regularly post new content fills them with dread!

Well first of all, it shouldn’t! It’s not as difficult as it seems, once you are organised! But that is a topic for another day – the purpose of this piece is to set out why it is actually worth the effort.

 

Fresh content is key for SEO

Google keep changing the rules in relation to Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and for a very good reason. They want to ensure that their search engine stays well ahead of their competition and to achieve this, they need to ensure that the most relevant results are displayed when a user searches for something.

There is a whole load of factors that make websites relevant, and as a result these sites appear high up in the search results. These factors include (among a number of other factors) the likes of;

  • The structure of the web pages, titles, names etc.
  • Links to the site
  • The amount and recency of content on a website
  • The external references to the content – what others are saying about it.

The last two points are the relevant ones for us here. Posting fresh content to your website is key and the easiest place to do this is through your blog as there are any number of topics that you can write about. Once you write the content, then the aim is to share it with the world via social media and hopefully get people commenting on it – all of this will help your SEO efforts.

 

It helps your own knowledge

This might sound a bit strange but bear with me… Committing to completing a blog (say once a month even) is a challenge. You have to identify topics and then write about them. To do so, you’ll often look for ideas, inspiration or new angles and you’ll do this by researching the topic on the web. This inevitably opens you up to reading new content and gaining a deeper understanding of the topics.

This is a huge benefit of regular writing. If you are regularly researching, you start to find really useful reference points that help to keep your knowledge bang up to date in relation to your areas of expertise.

 

It gives you a voice

Completing your blog gives you an outlet to demonstrate your expertise to the world! It gives you an opportunity to identify a topic of potential interest to your audience, write knowledgeably about it, post it to your blog and then share it out through your various channels (email, newsletters, social media).

While the chances are that at that very point in time, your audience may have no immediate requirement for the product or area of expertise in question (even though this does happen sometimes!), what you’re trying to do is to plant a seed so that when the topic comes on their radar, you become a natural choice for advice on the matter. In any event, regularly posting and sharing content keeps you on your clients and prospects’ radars in relation to all financial advice matters. And let’s face it, that’s a challenge for all financial advisers today – how to provide ongoing value and justify ongoing remuneration. Well this is one part of doing that.

 

It helps you identify “hot topics”

Regular updates to your company blog help you here in two ways. First of all, also as a result of your research before writing, you’ll begin to identify emerging themes about which you can begin to lead your audience.

Secondly as you post content to your site, your website analytics give you some tremendous insights into the particular subjects of interest. You can zero in on the types of topics that are driving traffic, where this traffic is coming from and how engaged reader are by the subjects. You start to get a sense of what your audiences want to hear about from you and this of course should then find it’s way through to your client proposition.

 

It demonstrates that you’re up to date

As potential clients research financial adviser websites, one of the biggest turn-offs is out of date content and websites that are obviously not kept up to date. What does this say about the adviser? Are they up to date in their knowledge? Will their service reflect the lack of care taken with the website?

On the other hand, a consistently updated blog demonstrates the opposite. It shows you have an opinion, the latest knowledge and your finger on the pulse. They’re more likely to pick up the phone to you!

So make it a goal in 2014 to keep your blog updated. It will pay dividends in many ways!

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.