January 24th, 2020 · 9 min read
Today, successful independent financial advisors understand that in order to compete with other RIA’s and larger firms, win deals, and retain clients, one of the major things they must do is innovate their brand experience.
A brand is more than just your logo, your website, a pamphlet or any single physically tangible item. The way your clients feel after leaving their first interaction with you, that’s your brand.
The way they feel the 50th time they interact with you is simply a deeper experience of your brand, and generally speaking, your brand is your client facing communication, your onboarding process, the way clients receive digital information, it’s the conversation with the advisor, and the smell of your office. Your brand is an experience and should be treated as such if advisors wish to understand how to build legacy.
Marketing is everywhere. Obviously it’s in your advertising and other prepared communications, but it’s also in your demeanor, in how you answer the phone — and most decidedly in all the subtle, interrelated aspects of the overall experience you provide your clients and prospects.
That’s a view Eric Clarke, CEO of Orion Advisor Services, expressed at a recent Chalice-sponsored discussion panel. He cited the need to provide “an incredible client experience” as “an extension of your brand” as the second most important aspect — after “a well-defined value proposition” — to achieving success in wealth management.
Giving clients an exceptional overall brand experience — another way of saying you’re being good, kind and considerate to people you rely to make a living — is a sturdy foundation from which to innovate. It’s a pivot point that keeps you comfortably close to home at times when you feel compelled to stretch to bring new ideas to realization. It’s a shelter in times of trouble and uncertainty.
Most of all, says Clarke, it’s an incentive to make the effort to see things from your clients’ perspective.
When you take the time to understand your clients on that level, you quickly realize that consumers are awash in generally positive, and sometimes quite sophisticated, client experiences. This is especially in the realm of consumer-tech. In this view, the experience you provide clients as an RIA representative should match in quality, and perhaps in delivery mode, anything on offer by the likes of Amazon or Netflix, which consistently provide “best-in-class experiences,” according to Clarke.
With the rise of algorithm-fueled financial planning, “robo” advice, and the inexorable march of digitalization across almost all facets of business, wealth-management clients expect interfaces that are intuitive, informative, and interactive, along with access to alternative strategies for everything from wealth preservation to making sense of crypto currencies.
In turn, advisors must continue their education to understand and effectively respond to their clients’ shifting needs. Humanity is still humanity, but technology has changed the way we interact with each other and with things, and at root, it’s all a function of communication. Just consider the different ways clients consume B2C communication. Besides face-to-face and phone, there’s print, email-delivered blog posts, text updates, social-media posts, and the audio-visual components of sign-up pages and, of course, websites.
Is there an easy and efficient way for your clients to request information and provide feedback? Is there, in other words, a way to optimize communication? In terms of one single thing you can do now and forever, no. But in aggregate, the effective client communications you conduct now, along with strategic improvements you make along the way, can get you much closer to the mark.
Along these lines, do you regularly work with colleagues to put yourself (and them) in the client’s shoes to get a better firm-wide understanding of how your onboarding processes feel? Are they embracing or alienating? Do they make you feel appreciated or commoditized? In the midst of it, do you feel understood and under-valued?
Can technology make your onboarding faster and easier? Well, in practical terms, how about deploying a cloud-based file-transfer system to input client information easily and securely? And how about taking a moment to explain the value to your clients of the tech innovations you plan to roll out?
The more your clients know, the less they fear. And the less they fear, the more comfortable they are. Prospects and clients value advisors who can answer their questions — or provide access to third parties that can.
In your client-communication strategy, it’s good to differentiate between the dissemination of information and pure promotion. Nowadays clients want clear and concise information that helps them quickly achieve an understanding without feeling you’re out to sway them in one direction or the other.
How to accomplish this? Start by making sure you have the right channels set up,and all of the features in place you need to make sure your client-communication strategy contributes to their having an enriching experience with your firm.
We’ll touch on this concept more shortly, but as you read, keep in mind the importance of viewing the processes and services you offer through eyes other than your own.
Getting the most from your client-facing communications comes down to being relentlessly customer-centric. To resonate with clients, advisors must first understand exactly what their clients value, and how to disseminate that information in ways that are palatable and easy to digest.
Having fast and accurate responses to queries posed by clients is also crucial. In fact, it really means the world to your clients, and is a key factor of a polished brand experience. Furthermore, while a lot of this does come down to technology and data-sifting, we firmly believe the most important ingredients are empathy and bravery in the form of a willingness to express your essential humanity.
What does that mean beyond being a good person and a decent listener?
Well, maybe not too much, but expressing your humanity has vast implications for the extension of your brand experience. When I’m on your website, or using your app, I’m experiencing your brand. When I talk to you on the phone, I am experiencing your brand. When we meet face-to-face, then I am experiencing your brand. And when all three are consistent in tone and messaging, then you’re on the path to excellent client communication.
At this point, the client may feel at ease, but is she engaged? Is the information you need to convey displayed cleared and expressed in ways consistent with the experience you wish to curate?
Now, at this point in the process, as the client, I feel comfortable enough, but am I engaged? Is your information displayed clearly and in an experiential manner? Clients nowadays are accustomed to “stylized facts” — simplified presentation of empirical findings — and firms that don’t catch on to this will lose out by overexplaining. On the other hand, you have to be careful not to sacrifice comprehensibility on the altar of style.
I’m looking at you, Ikea. Imagine applying instructions cobbled together by Ikea to a concept like financial planning. Need we say more?
People engage financial advisors for security, not to be subjected to a barrage of sales pitches. Take that to heart. The world had no shortage of salespeople before the advent of internet and social-media advertising, and — with those things firmly in tow — it certainly has no shortage now. That’s evidenced by a barrage of marketing emails, white papers, blog posts, webinar sign-ups, etc., vying for our attention 24/7.
In this maelstrom nothing stands out like composure. Do you want to remind clients of your value to them? Then provide them with truly helpful information. This approach to marketing — if in fact you can call it that — provides recipients with truly new information, or looks at old problems from fresh angles. Even in small doses, firms that take this approach impress clients and prospects alike.
Mainstream advertisers are starting to see this too. They’ve shifted from “But, Buy, Buy” to “Hey, did you know?” and “Would you like to find out more? Then click this link for the full story.” Mind you, the usual aim of such forays is to nab your email address for future marketing campaigns, but in showing a bit of humility, advertisers definitely score points with consumers.
Keeping clients informed of changes at your firm can also make clients feel at ease. Staff changes, new initiatives, and market updates, reactions to Fed decisions, show that you run a firm that’s upfront, honest and unafraid to be frank.
Financial-advice firms can also do a better job conveying vital information, whether or not it’s mandated by compliance. For Curtis Wise of Riskalyze, a fintech company that helps advisors gauge investment risks, numbers are paramount — but they’re not always the best way to lead into a message to clients about portfolio performance. “When it matters, we use numbers,” he said in an online panel hosted by Chalice. But he added that advisors need to lose the habit of overwhelming clients with statistics and work on providing information in ways “where they can just get it.”
That’s where the “stylized facts” we mentioned earlier come in as an aid to effective communication. In this paradigm, generalizations are more useful than minute, numbers-laden particularities — always on the assumption the generalization in play actually reflects the client’s situation.
Discussions with clients along these can also arrive at an unvarnished view of your clients’ expectations and outlooks on investing. Contrary to popular opinion, Riskalyze’s internal data shows 52% of investors aged 20 to 29 aren’t “aggressive,” and investors aged 70 to 79 aren’t “conservative” — findings at odds with popular opinion. This contrariness suggests that finding out what your clients actually want in face-to-face conversations or phone calls, leavened by your genuine curiosity about their views, will improve client relations.
In short, you can know your client’s outcomes in detail and with perfect recall, but if you can’t communicate it effectively and respond in kind to their reactions, it’s all for nothing.
Different constituencies prefer different channels — an important for advisors looking to communicate with clients and prospects in ways that make them feel at ease. For example, members of Generation Y (born in the 1980s and 1990s), seem to prefer social-media outreach. Meanwhile older women are active on Facebook, and as clients may prefer that platform as a channel for communication with a financial advisor.
There are of course many new channels for interacting with clients and prospects, some still awaiting further study to ascertain demographic preferences. Among them are website chatbots, website live chat, and instant messaging, which are great tools to use when making your brand and experience.
The point is to be aware of these and other channels, both traditional and newfangled, within a selective multi-channel client communications strategy that addresses the clients you have and the prospects you want to attract.