A few weeks ago, I spoke about my computer programming days (read about my geek status) and technology use within the office. There’s more to this story — and that’s our outfacing technology use with our clients.
Think about all of the ways we interact with clients. Phone, email, newsletters, and face-to-face are the biggies and probably the most common forms. But what about social media, text messaging, video conferencing, online dashboards and portals, and mobile applications?
There are a significant number of advisors who are concerned that technology will compete with their business and make their services obsolete. But what these advisors are forgetting is that technology is a tool, and not a competitor. Technology can actually enable us to spend more time on what we do best, working with our clients.
I caught a webinar the other day and it took a deeper dive into this topic. The VIP Forum’s webinar, “Integrating Digital Channels into the Service and Advisory Experience,” outlined several wealth management tools and shared how some advisors are using them to improve their practice. Many of them are experimenting with iPads during client meetings and others are using client-led dashboards that show their entire wealth picture. Pretty cool stuff.
The overall message that I took away from this webinar was to leverage technology to enhance relationships, not replace them. And that’s really the key when it comes to using technology with our clients.
Technology can help you:
- Interact with clients more easily: Clients who use digital channels to reach their advisor (as opposed to only face-to-face meetings) are able to communicate more often.
- Address client issues more quickly: Clients who have access to their advisor via digital channels are able to solve smaller issues without clients having to wait days or weeks for an in-office meeting.
- Make better use of time: With improved technology features, clients are able to figure some things out on their own. The advisory-client conversation improves as clients are able to ask deeper questions that pertain to their goals.
- Build loyalty with frequent, digital interactions: Many advisors fear that digital communications with clients will decrease the value of the relationship, when in fact, it does the opposite. According to the webinar, clients were just as satisfied with shorter, more frequent digital communications as they were with the face-to-face ones.
It’s hard to argue with anything that will make it easier for you to connect, solve problems, and build loyalty. In fact, it sounds almost too easy.
When it comes down to it, you have to do what’s best for you and your clients. You may find that some clients only want to have face-to-face meetings (and that’s ok) while other clients (who are perhaps on the road and may not have the time to get to your office) may prefer digital channels. You can adjust your approach to their preferences.
What do you think?
Full disclosure: Back in college, I took four computer programming courses and even worked as a summer intern programming (in BASIC!) for a large financial services company. My friends ask me to help them set up their sound and video systems and my neighbors quiz me about social media and new devices. I am first in line for most new technology gadgets and toys. I guess you could say I let my geek flag fly. And, even as an admitted geek, I’m a little uneasy about what I see in our business today, technologically speaking.
What business are you in?
Over last few years, I have spent my fair share of time at FPA and broker-dealer conferences. The look of these conferences has changed dramatically. Sure, there are still booths filled with performance materials, wholesalers who can’t wait to tell you about their funds performing well (this week), and cheap trinkets. But the new golden children of the conferences are the technology vendors.
To me, this is troubling. Every time I pass these booths I ask myself, “When did the business change from helping people achieve their goals to running and managing technology?” Is this for the better or is it getting in the way of doing what we are supposed to do?
Has it gotten away from you, too?
Case in point: A few weeks ago, I was at a large RIA firm in the northeastern U.S. The firm was growing and adding new clients with higher asset minimums. As we discussed the challenges of running a successful firm, the lead advisor said he was frustrated because he was spending more and more time on technology issues and less in front of people. He said that his assets were increasing, but his margins were getting smaller. Not a good sign.
When pushed a bit further, we discovered that in the last twelve months, the firm purchased a new CRM, as well as began to implement a new performance reporting technology. He confessed that his technology budget was ”well into six figures,” even before he added in the cost of the staff hours and training. He was further challenged because these pieces of technology rarely “talked” to each other and if one of them had a new release or modification, it would throw the whole office into an uproar.
Change technology or change behavior?
Ask yourself the following questions the next time you want to purchase software for your firm:
- Is there a specific issue you are trying to solve for? Is it a fix for a problem or is it a “nice to have” item? Unless there is a demanding business reason that you install something new, why complicate your life more?
- Have you run a cost-benefit analysis on the purchase? Will the software pay for itself? Should that even be the goal? How much will training cost? If the purpose of the technology is to create efficiencies or systemize your practice, can you put dollar value on how much additional time will be freed up? Will it enhance the client experience? How do you know?
- Is the problem your technology or is it your processes? Even the best programs cannot read your mind – and technology can’t fix a crappy process. Are you willing to change office procedures, modify workflows and adapt to the needs of the new program? More importantly, does your staff feel the same needs as you do? After all, they are probably the ones who will be most affected.
I appreciate great technology, but I know it is just a tool —one that can easily take your eye off the ball if you let it. Too many of us spend more time in front of the computer than we do in front of clients.
In today’s volatile times, where should you be focused?
My last post, “Your Staff Doesn’t Want You to Grow,” caught the attention of more than one administrator. Guess what? You frustrate them. Here are a few reasons why:
Multiple Custodians = Multiple Headaches
Each custodian has different rules, different processes and different systems. If you want to be efficient, find one custodian and stick with it! In some offices, the staff has to deal with a transfer agent for a mutual fund, a large custodian, their BD platform and possibly a third-party asset management program’s custodian. How can anyone run an efficient office when the staff is consistently directing traffic between custodians?
You’re Distracted by Shiny New Things
It is great to go to a BD meeting or an FPA event and hear about a new product or solution. But you get distracted for a few weeks, then fall back into your old way of doing things. Your staff knows that and will just wait out the storm. If you really want to change, you have to be the leader of the change. Follow through and own it but don’t try to change too many things at once.
You Get Comfortable
An independent advisory business can become a “lifestyle” business. In other words, you trade what you could earn in the open market for the independence of being a business owner who can set his/her own schedule. That’s great for you, but your staff sees your lackadaisical approach to business and feels they can be relaxed, too.
Look at your calendar — is it pretty open? Time block with actives, meetings and even “thinking time.” It shows your commitment to running a business, not managing a practice.
You Don’t Make Changes that Would Benefit Them
Think about ways to take work off your staff’s desks. I would guess that many of you have a regularly scheduled “investment committee meeting” and a “marketing meeting.” Why not set up a process meeting? Meet with the group weekly for a few weeks to get started (then you can push it back to bi-weekly, then monthly). Look at all the functions of your office and document them. Is there a way to do it better? Is there a way to automate? Can you outsource that function? Ask yourself, why am I doing this function? If the answer is, “I don’t know,” then maybe someone else should be doing it.
You Don’t Make an Effort to Retain Them
Treat your staff like your best client. The cost of training and hiring new support staff is huge. Competent, quality support staff can make or break an office. Find out who the one or two most challenging clients for your staff are and decide if you can afford to “fire” them. Create unique benefits for your staff like rotating Fridays off in the summer or even health club memberships.
You Don’t Give Them a Reason to Participate in Your Success
Give them some skin in the game. In a FAInsights 2011 study on the advisory business: People and Pay, top firms (called standouts) outpaced others in all categories in providing performance pay for professionals. If you want happy and engaged staff, make sure they are participating in the growth of the firm. One firm owner that I know pays his staff a percent of gross revenue. His unique twist is that he pays monthly. Nothing says you are valued as an employee like a check and there is no better time in this fast-paced world than now.
Does your staff want you to grow? Do you make it easier for them to help you?
Last year, we conducted a poll asking advisors: “What source do you most value when learning about industry best practices around growth and other objectives?” More than 91% said “Our peers.”
Advisors put “learning from each other” at the top of the list on how to grow their business and create efficiencies in their businesses. In that spirit, our “cup of links” posts have become fairly popular (and frankly, easier for me to produce). Over the last six months or so, I have had numerous links forwarded to me from advisors and co-workers suggesting that they warrant an inclusion in the next post. Below are some of the articles that we have found interesting that you may have missed. Grab a cup of coffee and take look. Thank all for your submissions and keep them coming.
Whiteboard Animation: Brokers vs. Fiduciaries: HighTower Video on YouTube
One of the best videos that I have ever seen that explains your fiduciary responsibility. This YouTube clip from Hightower needs to find a way to your clients’ mailboxes right away.
Female clients more likely than men to make referrals: Investment News
Most of us grow our business by referrals. Of course, we are asking for them, but are we asking the right person?
Asked and Answered: Boost Your Business by Understanding the Wealth Cycle: Financial Planning Magazine
One of the biggest challenges for advisors looking to grow their businesses in this post-crisis environment is to understand the changing client. If you are trying to grow your business using the same old techniques and strategies, it’s not going to work. This article explains what we call the client wealth cycle. (OK, this one is a little self serving, as the article interviews me.)
The last six months have been pretty strong, what comes next? This article details some of the factors that investors should monitor as the rest of the year unfolds.
Over the last few years, client communications have become a major focus for all of us. Quality and timely communication has been a great tool for client retention, as well as a great prospecting tool. The use of technology has allowed many advisors to leverage their time and resources when many “lesser” advisors are still trying to figure out what to say.
Unfortunately, technology can be a double-edged sword. Just recently, an advisor was telling me how embarrassed he was when the online meeting he set up with a client didn’t work. He swore up and down that the meeting was set up correctly, but for some reason, they spent the first 15 minutes of the call finagling with buttons and saying, “Can you see my desktop now?”
Don’t let this happen to you.
Web-conferencing benefits are obvious — to both advisors and their clients. You can conduct cost-effective webinars from your office and reach a large group (or just a couple), and your clients get to sit back and relax in the comfort of their own homes and enjoy your presentation.
Now if you’re like most advisors that I meet, you’re interested in holding online events, but you’re not sure how to get started.
First, a few tips on what *not* to do.
- Don’t just do it. It sounds obvious, but ask your clients if this is something that they’d be interested in. If your client base is older, they may prefer only face-to-face meetings, so stick with the tried and true. However, most under-50 investors actually prefer meeting online. Adapt to meet the needs of this segment and watch your business prospects grow.
- Don’t “wing it.” Always test the technology before holding an event. Better yet – have your assistant set up the event (remember my mantra – spend your time on revenue-producing tasks). Have the client test the technology BEFORE the scheduled meeting, too.
- Don’t book back-to-back web meetings. Be sure to have time to prepare notes from the prior meeting and prep for your next call or meeting.
Now, take it from me. Here’s what works:
- Identify a web conferencing service. Some of the most popular services are GoToMeeting, WebEx or Live Meeting. Compare costs and ease of use. Most of these vendors offer free trials for you to test their service.
- Hold 1-2 meetings online per year, per client. However, be sure to treat these meetings as you would if your clients were in your office. Have your assistant call to confirm the meeting, send an agenda ahead of time, and prepare presentation slides as necessary.
- Hold 1-2 educational group events per year. Just as you would with an “in-person” event, be sure to send invitations – either by email or mail – and provide your clients with plenty of notice so they put it on their calendars (and better yet – so they can forward it to a friend or family member). You can be creative with the topics you’d present online, but one thing that consistently works is an economic outlook in the first and third quarters. Since the event is online, you can also invite guest speakers to present.
For more tips on developing a framework for your firm’s communication and technology strategy, download SEI’s latest Wealthy Young Investor Quick Guide: Communicating with the Under-50 Investor.
How are you incorporating online events into your practice?
The last few weeks have really been pretty crazy, to say the least. Alongside the very volatile markets and challenging economic news, someone decided to throw us an earthquake and a hurricane, too! No doubt the impact and usage of social media was in overdrive, as people are sharing their stories and commenting on the events.
As we all know, communicating quickly is generally a positive thing, but sometimes it creates unnecessary hype, panic and loss of focus on what truly should be the most meaningful message. I was pleased to see many of you reaching out to your clients during the last few weeks and it was great to see the messages of calm and reason. (I am cc’d on a lot of advisor communications, and “connected” with many more via LinkedIn. I would love to see more of your communications, too.)
Since more and more of you are using or beginning to experiment with social media, the following links provide some constructive tips on how to best use social media and in particular, leverage LinkedIn. Enjoy.
Three Ways to Use Social Media in Turbulent Markets – By Kevin Nichols in RIA Biz
In times of volatility and uncertainty (not including earthquakes), reaching out to clients and prospects only makes sense. Using social media as a secondary tool to communicate and calm clients provides a leverageable resource for all advisors. Also, being proactive to prospects when they are concerned can only strengthen your value in their eyes.
Making the Most of LinkedIn by Kristen Andree in Investment News
Two approaches to working with LinkedIn for your business – broadcasting and connecting. If you are going to use social media as a tool, then you have to have a strategy for its use.
When the market is bouncing up and down (along with the items on my desk this past week), that’s when growth advisors are contacting their clients. There are a lot of good tools out there to use and most of them are free. Start with a strategy and leverage the technology.
What are you doing to stay in touch?
Quick – what’s the first thing you do before you schedule a meeting with someone new or when you hear of a great prospect? If you’re like me, you’re likely to “Google” them. (And yes, “Google” is now officially a verb.)
Which leads me to my next question: Have you “Googled” yourself recently? What about your firm? If the answer is “no,” do it now. (I’ll wait…)
What did you think? Are you impressed by your online image? More importantly, do you think your next prospect will be? Could you even find yourself or your firm? If not, let’s look at a few fixes.
1. Use your website to address people’s pains.
Ahh, your website. Do you have one of those templated websites that you established when you first set up shop, but haven’t touched since? Today’s savvy consumer can see right through that. More importantly, what’s the tone of your website? Is it interesting and engaging to your intended audience?
It’s essential that you explain exactly how you can help them achieve their financial goals and solve complex problems, rather than discuss all of the reasons why you’re the best financial advisor in the world (although I’m sure you are). Don’t just rehash your corporate brochure, either. You may want to invest a few dollars in a copywriter to help you convey your brand online. I recently met with an advisor whom I had Googled to get an idea about his firm. Imagine my shock when I noticed the photo hadn’t been updated for at least 10 years. I made the mistake of thinking his father worked in the firm too!
2. Create (or upgrade) your LinkedIn profile, then actually use it.
You have one, right? That’s step number one. LinkedIn is considered the top professional networking site on the web, with over 100,000,000 users. Once you have one, it’s important that you complete all of the sections of your profile. Make sure that you have a professional headshot, and list your firm’s website and all of your job experience. Visit my LinkedIn profile as an example. (Add me to your network while you’re there.)
And when you’ve completed your profile, it’s important to use it for networking. We’ll discuss this more in a future post, but you should dedicate at least 30 minutes per week (could be all at once, or a few minutes a day) to online networking:
- Invite your clients and professional referral sources to connect with you.
- Look at who they’re connected to and ask for introductions.
- Solidify your place as an expert in your field – become a member of groups for your profession, for the local chamber of commerce, or for a particular niche that you target.
- Join groups where your target clients belong. Read what they are saying and how they communicate with each other.
3. Create a Google Profile.
Google Profiles has a simple tagline: “Decide what the world sees when they search for you.” A Google Profile will rank highly in Google results and allow you to populate information such as employment, education, and more. You can link to other sites, including LinkedIn – further showing your audience how “connected” you are. (You’ll need a gmail address to create a profile; whether you use it for email is up to you.)
And since you may not have heard of it before, here’s an intro to Google Profiles, written by Google’s product manager.
What are you doing to improve your online presence?
If you are affiliated with a Broker / Dealer, please consult with your home office on your firm’s social media policies prior to participating in any type of social media
Your Morning Cup of Links: Goals-based Conversations, Making Social Media Profitable and iPads on the Rise
Hopefully you all had a great Memorial Day holiday!
If you were mentally checked out over the past week, I wanted to share with you a few articles that you may have missed while you were golfing, entertaining clients, or spending some quality time at home.
Financial Advisors Need to Manage Wealth, Not Returns
All I have to say is, “Exactly.” Are your clients more interested in knowing if their portfolio beat a particular benchmark for the quarter? Or whether or not they will have enough cold, hard cash to retire?
Check out this article from Financial Planning to see further evidence on why you need to change the conversation. And, as you may or may not know, SEI can support a change to a goals-based conversation with tools such as our unique goals-based client statements.
How to Actually Make Money from Social Media
Here’s an interesting article from Entrepreneur Corner on social media, citing examples of social media use in various industries – including by accountants and financial planners.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about advisors using social media to help build their practices.
By All Accounts Survey Reveals Financial Advisors See Business Benefits from Tablet Computers
By All Accounts, Inc. recently released results from a nationwide survey indicating that over 40% of financial advisors have a tablet computer, and those who are using it are attributing increases in business productivity as a result. Surveys of SEI’s Strategic Advisor Council also reveal that iPad use by financial advisors is on the rise, with 46% of recent conference attendees reporting that they are thinking about using a tablet for work and 25% already using one regularly.
Are you on the tablet bandwagon? Or are you waiting to jump on this trend?
- Your Morning Cup of Links: Building Trust, Being a Joiner, Succeeding at Succession and More
- Fee-based: You Can Get There From Here
- Is It Time to Reboot Your Approach to Clients and Prospects?
- Styling and Risk Profiling: Time for a New Approach
- Continuous Client Service – It’s Time to Differentiate Yourself