Digitalise your business processes

As an important element of the research completed for Brokers Ireland on “The Evolution of the Broker Market 2030”, we identified 12 areas to be considered by Financial Brokers to help prepare your business for the changing market environment. In this next instalment, we look at the importance of digitalisation.

As Financial Brokers will seek to scale up and/or take cost out of their businesses, developing more efficient and effective processes will be critical, with digitalisation at the heart of your improvements.

The COVID pandemic showed what can be achieved through digital adoption. Almost overnight Financial Brokers moved their meetings to remote meeting platforms, a move that had been dismissed previously as never being acceptable to clients. Today, many clients prefer the efficiency of remote meetings. Also, very quickly the ability to use digital signature technology was accepted by providers and rolled out by Brokers, again aiding efficiency.

But there’s a long way to go and for most Financial Brokers, these technology improvements need to be developed at an industry level. The advice process improved hugely with the introduction of cash flow planning technology, but the reality is that there has been only marginal technological enhancement over the last decade.

But this does not give Financial Brokers a free pass! Every process, from prospect engagement, client onboarding, your advice process, your ongoing customer support processes and right through your ancillary business processes should be regularly reviewed and digital improvements sought. By utilising solutions already within your customer relationship management (CRM) system and those available from product providers, there are many opportunities to develop more effective processes and increase engagement with clients. These digital enhancements may include things like:

  • enabling contacts to submit partly pre-qualified enquiries and to book meetings in your diary
  • using digital factfinds and application processes
  • regular reporting to clients on policies and performance via your CRM system
  • enabling clients to self-serve through client portals
  • utilising email software for client newsletters and other updates.

Financial Brokers themselves identified compliance as their biggest challenge of the future. This always requires ongoing care and attention. Within this, GDPR is a challenge for Brokers that could become more significant in the future. Customer data requests could become a significant overhead, with excellent standards in relation to filing of information and emails etc. making these easier to manage.

Taking account of growth ambitions and achieving efficient scale within a business, outsourcing is an alternative model to in-house resources. In either case, Financial Brokers will recognise that their value is in front of clients, and that is where their time needs to be spent. While it is prudent to seek to achieve efficient scale through recruiting for key support roles, there is likely to also be growth over the coming years in third party outsourcing of services such as paraplanning, compliance, marketing etc.

 

Action points for you

  1. Examine every process within your business, identify areas for improvement and put a plan in place to achieve them.
  2. Examine efficiencies in the advice process across your business, and identify where digitalisation can play a role in an improved client experience at potentially lower time / cost.
  3. Maintain a highly structured approach to compliance.
  4. When you are clear about the efficient scale you wish to achieve, evaluate each individual process in terms of remaining in-house or not.

 

Build successful partnerships with other professionals

As an important element of the research completed for Brokers Ireland on “The Evolution of the Broker Market 2030”, we identified 12 areas to be considered by Financial Brokers to help prepare your business for the changing market environment.

 

In this latest area, we consider the role of business partners and potential introducers. Partnerships with accountants, solicitors and tax consultants have been an area of opportunity for Financial Broker businesses for many years. The reality is though that these have typically been ‘one-way’ relationships, with the partners acting solely as a source of referrals for the Financial Broker business.

There is now a move globally towards financial advice businesses coming together with other professionals to provide a full suite of professional services to clients. In some cases, these are having a broad range of professionals (Financial Broker, solicitors, tax consultants etc.) under one roof: in other cases through third party partnerships. This trend is likely to continue. According to a PwC survey of 2,100 small businesses in the UK,[1] 53% of small businesses are seeking connected digital services – effectively a ‘one stop shop’. While this survey was predominately about general insurance and digital behaviours, it flags the desire of businesses for ease of doing business across a range of services and highlights the importance of professional partnerships.

Teams of advisers will specialise in problem-solving, and Financial Brokers will align with other professionals to deliver a complete solution to the complex lives and challenges of clients.

Something that is important here is that Financial Brokers have the required level of confidence in your own capabilities as peers of the other professionals. This is what you are – their peers. As a profession, you are now highly qualified, have expertise in an extremely valuable area for clients and can transform the lives of your clients through your advice and recommendations. You almost certainly add as much if not more value than the other professionals – now you just need to truly believe in the value you are adding.

As you strive to build an effective partnership network, there are a few steps to consider taking. These begin with being able to clearly articulate your value to other professionals and develop a clear ‘pitch’ based on this value proposition. Then you should commit to actively building a network of professional partners through networking, content marketing and social media platforms such as LinkedIn.

Once you start to construct your network, it is beneficial to build in a structured feedback loop with regular meetings, to keep professionals engaged and working collaboratively with you. Finally, it will also be helpful to develop a set of case studies and seek partner and client testimonials that demonstrate the value that you add in your relationships with other professionals.

 

Putting these steps in place will help you to build a network that will support the future growth of your business.

 


[1] PwC Global Digital Small Business Insurance survey, 2017

Different strokes for different folk

As an important element of the research completed for Brokers Ireland on “The Evolution of the Broker Market 2030”, we identified 12 areas to be considered by Financial Brokers to help prepare your business for the changing market environment.

We now consider the third action identified, which is that a “one size fits all” offering won’t meet the needs of many of your clients, or indeed of your business itself. It is likely that Financial Brokers will need to have different service propositions or service packages for different groups of clients. Higher value clients will expect a premium level of service and engagement, which will entail more time and cost inputs from the Financial Broker. At the same time, it will not be viable to deliver this premium service in a profitable way to all clients.

When there is only a single service level on offer, clients who are generating more revenue for your business simply subsidise those who are lower value clients. This situation is very attractive to your low/no value clients, while being unfair and unattractive to those clients who are more valuable and the drivers of your business.

There must be a better way… and that is having different service levels to suit different groups of clients. For the more valuable clients, Brokers will need to offer a range of financial planning, advice and support services, along with ongoing ‘hands-on’ guidance. These are the types of services that the research identified as being important to and valued by your clients. For clients who are generating little or no revenue for your business, a lower level of service is likely the only viable option for your business. Such a lower-level support packages will probably entail some form of a hybrid offering with little time spent by the Financial Broker him/herself.

Of course, designing your service levels with reference to the value of clients is only one potential route. You may decide that clients can be grouped by other dimensions – factors such as the age of clients might be appropriate too.

Picking up on this age theme, consumer research gives some clues as to how services might be delivered by Financial Brokers in the future. As an example, in research carried out for Brokers Ireland in June 2022, clients of Financial Brokers were asked how they see themselves planning their financial future going forward. Of those aged over 55, 78% see this continuing through face-to-face meetings. However, this falls sharply through the age groups, with only 34% of those aged 25-34 seeking face-to-face meetings.

Also, consumers across all age groups who currently don’t use the services of a Financial Broker identified lower costs as the dominant factor that would encourage them to use a Broker in the future. Among the younger cohort, better advice apps and online meetings are also very important factors. Financial Brokers who want to operate in these target markets will need to devise lower cost offerings that require lower cost inputs by themselves.

Financial Brokers need to carefully consider such findings, examine every aspect of their service and client engagement proposition, and then devise service packages to suit the different group of clients. This will require you to pick apart each individual element of your service and client engagement, for which different levels of service will be offered and then identify the appropriate level of service to each individual service package. Once you have identified which service package fits best for each of your existing clients, and you have target numbers for future clients at each service level, you then need to review your capacity and capability to deliver. How many clients can you actually deliver a premium service level to, in a way that will demonstrate how much you value those particular clients? Your capacity to deliver is key – otherwise you can end up in that awful place of over-promising and under-delivering… Challenge yourself, but always with a healthy dose of realism!

The purpose of differentiated service levels is to provide more value to those clients who provide more value to your business. Or to be able to provide services to different groups of clients in ways that they want to be serviced. While at the same time ensuring that your precious resource, the time spent by you and your team looking after your clients is allocated optimally. Clients are happy… and so is your bottom line.

Never forget the importance of building trust

Trust. It sits at the heart of a financial broker’s business. It’s that magic ingredient that you can’t survive without, but unfortunately you can’t just go out and buy it, or even simply ask for it. It can only be earned by what you do, and by what other people say about you.

Every year, I review the very insightful Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual, highly credible review of trust that has been carried out for 23 years now and across 28 different countries. They announce the results each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The full results for Ireland in 2023 are available here and are well worth a look. Edelman looks at trust in each of the countries (one being Ireland) and examines trust across different sectors and industries.

Two graphs in particular caught my eye this year.

 

Economic Optimism

The first is in relation to economic optimism and whether people believe they will be better or worse off in 5 years time. Maybe after Covid, the ongoing war in Ukraine and the recent cost of living crisis, it really is no great surprise that every country (with the exceptions of Sweden and China) sees a reduction in optimism since 2019. The levels of optimism have really fallen away in the developed world, and this is seen in the results for Ireland. Only 31% of Irish people believe they will be better off in five years time and this should definitely be a concern to policymakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low trust in financial services

As can be seen from the graph below, Financial Services is one of the least trusted industry sectors in Ireland – a fact we simply cannot ignore. What is also worrying is that trust in the financial services is declining from an already pretty low base. Of course we need to consider how broad the financial services sector is, and how every scandal in one corner of the sector tarnishes everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But this is a very important finding for all financial brokers to consider. While the poor level of trust applies to the sector as a whole and is no way reflective specifically of financial brokers, it underlines the challenge faced by all industry participants in building trust with potential clients. The situation is likely very different with your existing clients – if they didn’t trust you, they wouldn’t stay with you.

However the challenge is about appealing to all those people out there who maybe are looking to interact with the sector for the first time, or in a different way. They are sceptical of the financial services industry, and potentially this might include financial brokers. How do you appeal to people you meet for the first time, who may often be starting out with a sense of distrust and scepticism? This cannot be ignored by you, and your first task on meeting a prospective client is to face this issue head-on and start building trust…

It all starts with having a clear and compelling client value proposition, which is a clear, concise and compelling articulation of how the factors that are important to the customer are satisfied by you.

 

What is your business proposition?

To start to build a positive picture, leading to confidence in your ability in the eyes of prospective clients and ultimately to building trust, it’s worth considering the lessons of Simon Sinek, the famous author of “Start with Why”. Yes you need to be able to clearly define initially what it is that you do, so that clients can see the outcomes that they can expect. You then need to be able to communicate this effectively to clients. However it is difficult as a financial broker to stand apart from the crowd in terms of what you do, as many of you deliver similar services.

However when you can set out in an engaging way how you work with clients, now you’re starting to get somewhere. When you are able to demonstrate the processes that you use, how you deliver advice, how you will serve your clients throughout their financial lifetimes; you are now in a strong position to start building durable trusted relationships. Potential clients will take a lot of comfort from understanding what they can expect from you, and this comfort in working with you will enhance their trust.

The real magic though in building trust is when you can clearly (and of course credibly!) communicate why you do what you do.  This will demonstrate your real reasons for being a financial broker, your passion for what you do and ultimately your desires to deliver a really top quality proposition to your clients. And when you can communicate this effectively, this will build trust like nothing else.

 

In a future article, we will look in more detail at some of the actions you can take to help you build a trusted position in the eyes of all of your current and potential clients.

 

The Financial Broker market in Ireland today

We were delighted to be asked by Brokers Ireland in 2022 to complete an extensive research project to develop a future-facing view of what the Financial Broker sector will look like in 2030. The primary purpose of the research was to inform Brokers Ireland as to how they can shape their objectives and support services to consolidate and grow their positioning as the leading representative body for Financial Brokers in Ireland, and indeed as the voice of the sector.

A secondary piece of work was also commissioned to extract the key learnings from this report, with a view to helping Financial Brokers prepare your own businesses for the future.

The research methodologies included focus groups with Financial Brokers, interviews with senior executives from product providers, interviews with other service suppliers to the sector and interviews with experts from five developed markets outside of Ireland – namely the UK, USA, South Africa, Australia and Canada. This was further supplemented by structured consumer research and online survey research carried out with Financial Brokers. Extensive desk research was also carried out to build out a comprehensive view.

Over the course of the next year or so, we will share the key findings from this research, beginning below with a piece about the advice market as we see it today.

 

A market in rude health

Financial Brokers in Ireland are the dominant distribution channel and source of financial advice and personal financial products for consumers in Ireland. When investment-only business is excluded, the channel currently commands an estimated market share of 74%. This is a significant increase on the Financial Broker market share that had fallen to 54% before the financial crash in 2008. Financial Brokers have demonstrated your resilience and value to consumers over the last 15 years.

The overall personal finance market in which Financial Brokers enjoy a commanding position has been very buoyant in recent years. The market experienced growth overall of 23% in 2021, which continued with further growth of 23% in the first half of 2022.

 

The changing role of the Financial Broker in Ireland

While the core role of Financial Brokers as the primary source of expert and independent financial advice in Ireland continues, several factors have fundamentally changed the business models for many of you. These changes have been largely positive and have enabled you to grow more sustainable and valuable businesses. They include:

  • The growth of trail commission as a mainstay of the remuneration model of Financial Brokers.
  • The negative deposit rates (that are currently inching upwards again), offering good opportunities to Financial Brokers to offer better saving and investment alternatives.
  • The growth of financial planning as part of a deeper service proposition.
  • The impacts of COVID, which resulted in Brokers embracing process improvements in the shape of remote meetings with clients, the use of digital signatures etc.
  • The upskilling of Financial Brokers in the form of professional education qualifications and the use of technology in areas such as future cash flow planning.

The general opinion among interviewees is that Financial Brokers simply have a better value proposition than other channels such as banks, direct sales forces and online providers. Your personal touch, your independence and your comprehensive offerings enable you to stand apart. The resilience and adaptability of Financial Brokers was also remarked upon on numerous occasions by interviewees. A recurring theme was that the future of Financial Brokers constantly seems to be threatened by some external force, but you continue to manage hurdles in your path, survive threats that you face, and ultimately thrive.

 

The Financial Broker market globally today

Generally, across the world, the independent financial adviser markets are in rude health. Several common themes emerged in relation to those markets today.

  • Reaching the non-advised community is the biggest challenge facing the sector globally.
  • There is an ongoing drive for increased proficiency and upskilling globally within the profession.
  • The older age profile of advisers and the challenge of bringing in new blood is an ongoing concern in all markets.
  • The enormous and disproportionate burden of regulations and compliance requirements that are faced by often “micro-businesses” is a significant issue for the sector.
  • All markets are experiencing an ongoing drive for increased transparency for the benefit of consumers.

Next month, we will set out a summary about the expected evolution of the market over the next 7-10 years. Following that, in each of our subsequent newsletters, we will share one of twelve action areas for Financial Brokers to prepare your own businesses for 2030. These action areas are also contained in an information guide that Brokers Ireland have produced for Financial Brokers.

We hope you find this research interesting and thought-provoking.

Lessons from other industries

Going back to my days in college, I can recall a number of the key marketing principles that were ground into me; 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 brokers today, the principles that I find myself returning to more and more to address your challenges 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.

There are also valuable lessons to be learned from how these principles are applied in other industries… but more about that in a minute.

 

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 broker market in Ireland?

Many financial brokers 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 focusing 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 with specific propositions, while offering a different proposition to other groups of clients. Some are even offloading their lower value clients to only 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, savvy advisers are taking that final step of actually positioning their business and their communications to appeal directly to their target markets, even at the risk of alienating other potential customers.

 

What can financial brokers learn from other industries? 

The best examples come from the airline industry. They make it very obvious that high value passengers get a superior service, they certainly don’t apologise for it! Apart from very noticeably “turning left” on entering the plane, we see 1st & business class passengers enjoying benefits such as;

  • A pick up service to bring them to the airport
  • A fast track route through the airport
  • Waiting in a private lounge
  • An airline official at their beck and call to manage any issues that might arise
  • A shuttle service directly to the plane so that they don’t have to wait at all
  • Planes are sometimes even delayed to wait for a late 1st class passenger!
  • And then you’ve all the on-board perks!

Now who wouldn’t start to feel a little special?

There are similar stories of exceptional services offered to loyal users of some of the world’s leading hotel chains – room upgrades, limousine services, free laundry, sourcing tickets for high demand events as well as in-room food and drink services. All to make you feel that bit special.

So what can a financial broker take from this?

 

Develop your service packages

Develop service packages for your business that reward clients depending on their value to your business. Make your high value clients feel really special, reward them for trusting you with their money by giving them a truly rewarding client experience. Build a moat around them and pull up the drawbridge from your competitors by providing a second to none service.

Let your mid-tier clients feel valued by your business, while at the same time making them aware that there is lots more you can do for them (if they are willing to pay for it).

And of course your no/low value clients will begin to realise that it’s a business you are running and that they don’t have 24/7 access to you. If they want access to superior service (ongoing advice from you), they pay. The same as when they book a flight or a hotel room.

 

Do you know which of your clients should turn left and which ones should turn right?